Interviewee: Jacob Osceola
Interviewer: Rosalyn Howard
23 April 1999
H: I am speaking this morning with Jacob Osceola, who is Project Director of
Seminole Farms. We are meeting in his office on the Big Cypress Reservation.
Jacob, to what clan do you belong?
0: I belong to the Panther clan.
H: When and where were you born?
0: I was born in 1948, right here on Big Cypress Indian Reservation.
H: What is your Muskogee name, or were you given a Muskogee name?
O: My Indian name would be Wee-la-ki'
H: Could you spell that?
0: I would not know how to spell it.
H: Who named you that and why did they give you that name?
0: I forget who gave me that name, but I am a twin, so that means two, two persons
or two of an individual.
H: How do you feel about having the two names, Indian and European?
0: I think it is a traditional type thing and we do not give it much thought, other than
indicating that we have two worlds to contend with, the Indian way of life as well
as trying to live in the dominant society. When you have an Indian name, I think
it gives you a sense of belonging or some type of culture, that you know that you
are not white. Most of what identifies that you are an Indian is that you learn your
language and speak your language. I probably spoke Indian before I spoke
white. Making that transition in life, I think, and trying to be able to function in
H: Which one do you use most often?
0: I think it is up to the individual and what surroundings and what kind of situations
that he is in, whatever he has got to use. I think the two worlds parallel each
other, not only in gaining livelihood, even in a religious sense, or even in every-
day life. I think that you have to be able to be well rounded. To be strong would
be to know both and try to function in both worlds as best you can.
H: Have you always lived on the reservation?
0: I lived in Immokalee. I went through school in Immokalee. Seasonally, after
school was out, I returned to Big Cypress to live. But in actuality, for nine months
out of the year I lived on the outskirts of Immokalee in a chickee hut, and I went
through high school living in one of those huts. But when I would come back to
the reservation, at the time we would periodically live at what we called the pine
camp, or pine island strand camp, or probably better known as the Panther
camp. Then later on, we were able to get a brick house here, one of the new
developments they had back in the 1960s. It was kind of ironic. I lived in white
society in Immokalee but lived in a chickee, but when I came back here three
months out of the year, I would be on an Indian reservation but I would live in a
brick home. That was something else. So, I had to play both parts here in both
areas, so I think I got to be proficient in each area.
H: When you say it was the Panther camp, that was the clan?
O: That was the clan that had that camp.
H: What do you think about people who live on the reservation and work in the city,
or work off the reservation?
0: I do not know if there are too many personnel who do that. But then again, it is
according to whatever jobs are out there. And it could be what era of time. In
the 1980s, it might have been commonly practiced that you may have to find a
job outside the reservation in order to survive. I think maybe in Hollywood
reservation--we have three reservation in the Tribe---in Hollywood reservation
maybe there were more monies available and jobs that were outside the
reservation where individuals may have ventured outside. But here in Big
Cypress there were not that many jobs close by, [one would have had] to really
go thirty or forty miles to Clewiston to get a job. I think most of the jobs that might
have been offered in the 1970s were probably governmental jobs. Then in the
1980s I think because economical standards might of lifted up a little more, or
new programs might have come in, or if a male individual in a household might
have had a decent job in a governmental position, might have encouraged the
wife to become a secretary at some farmer's entity, or might have got a job in
Clewiston or somewhere as a secretary or something of that nature, but I think
seldom, a very small percent of the people might have left the reservation for
jobs. If they did, they probably relocated.
H: Tell me about your job here as project director. I also know that you own a
trucking firm. Can you tell me about how you came about. .?
O: This trucking firm? It is like anything else on the reservations, especially in Big
Cypress, very remote. You are talking about the closest town being probably
forty-two miles, which would be Clewiston, and the other one would be
Immokalee, and the bigger metropolitan area would be Hollywood, and that is
sixty-one miles. So, we always had a problem. I was the commissioner for a
housing project here and the problems that we had ...
H: When was that?
O: Well, I stayed in there for the 1980s and early 1990s. The HUD [Housing and
Urban Development] project was terminated or was dismantled. When I was a
commissioner, we were trying to get bids for housing projects. As far as earth-
moving is concerned, earth work had to be done, and sticks, and bricks, and
whatever else that had to go into building a house, and in order to get contractors
to come out here, it became a cumbersome problem, in terms of trying to get a
contractor to come out here. They had to charge an exorbitant amount to come
out here because of relocation. The materials had to be brought a long way, and
I felt, back then, that we could do this work ourselves. It was just a matter of
having the equipment and trying to learn how to do it and make sure it fell in the
guidelines with HUD. So, being on a commission and constantly struggling to try
to keep the costs down, it seemed like it was a never ending battle. I figured that
if I could get enough money to buy some dump trucks and get into the business,
then I could save the Tribe some money, and then I could make some money as
well. I gave a bid lower than anybody else. The material was here, and it was
just a matter of finding equipment suitable to go ahead and do the job. That is
how I got into the business. I think that I saved the housing authority some
money at the same time. We had a three bid clause that was in there and we
gave the lowest bid that we could to the Tribe. And they benefited from it, and I
benefited as well.
H: When did you take the position as director here at the Seminole Farms?
O: I took the position at Seminole Farms October 12th, 1998. Beforehand, when I
was also a councilman here on the reservation--I was a councilman from 1979 to
1985--during that time we were trying to find some way of best utilizing our land.
I know the cattle industry was probably the backbone of the Tribe, or like a
forerunner in terms of entrepreneurship. However, the entrepreneurship was just
for the individual. It was not as a tribe as a whole to make the money, even
though the concept looked like it might have been, where the grazing fee and all
that stuff that were assessed to each individual might have gone to the Tribe.
But in actuality, the budget that came from the assessed grazing fees were put
into what they called a land use program, which actually went back to the cattle
owner in terms of pasture maintenance. Therefore, in actuality, the individuals
who did not own cattle, the tribe as a whole did not receive any of the actual
income, other than the benefit of land custodianship, where the cattle owners
themselves actually took care of the land for the tribe.
H: The land was owned ...
O: The land is owned by the Tribe. They have various programs that utilize the land
and then somehow a percentage of whatever the assessed fees are goes to the
Tribe. But in actuality, it does it in the cattle program. Back then, we were
talking about farms and we were talking about groves and trying to figure how to
be able to get into these enterprises. And in 1982, we did make an attempt
where I was the project director--a councilman as well as a project director for a
farm entity--and this is where I learned how to be able to raise pepper and the
technology they were utilizing at the time. I think [it was] the same technology as
here, except that it has advanced to a great degree and these technologies in the
farming entities are fast changing every year. We use a methyl bromide as soil
fumigate, and I understand that in the year 2001, there is going to be a cutback in
methyl bromide. So, we have to be able to utilize a different type of soil fumigate
to raise these types of produce. It is fast paced, fast changing. When I took this
farm over, there were a lot of expenditures that I felt had to be curtailed. I knew
that the farm could make some money, it was just how much and how big did we
want it to go ahead and achieve, the farm itself. So, the answer to the question
is yes, October 12th. And I had some experience in farming before I had this job-
-or I asked for this job and James Billie gave me his blessing.
H: What kinds of products do you raise here on the farm?
O: We are only growing bell pepper. At this time, we are growing about 900 net
acres of bell pepper. We shipped out roughly over 1.1 million boxes this year.
The pepper were real low priced this year. They were only averaging about $7 a
bushel, and the gross amount that was realized this year, or the gross revenue
realized this year, was $6.1 million. I think maybe next year, if the prices are a
little bit higher, we hope to gross about $10 million. In this business your
fortunes are made from other people's misfortunes, other farmers' misfortunes.
Therefore, this is a business that you cannot think that everything is well. Like
they say, the best fertilizer is the farmer's shadow.
H: About what percentage of tribal members participate in commercial agriculture?
O: When you ask that question, do you mean how many farmers do we have, or
how many people are working on the farm?
H: How many people are working on the farm.
O: Tribal members: one, myself, two, there is one person who is working as
maintenance personnel, I had an operator. You have to understand that these
are seasonal, so I had probably three tribal members who are from this
reservation who worked on the project since my inception October 12th. But next
year I hope to try to recruit a lot more. I was in a learning process this past year.
The type of farming that I did back in 1982 was just actually the farm itself.
H: What do you mean, it was just the farm itself?
O: The farm itself, I was just a farmer. Here in Seminole Farms we have three
distinct divisions: the farm itself, in terms of raising the plants out in the field; two,
you have a packing house that has to be run and all this produce has to be
washed and sterilized and boxed, and after being boxed it has to be brought into
the coolers, which is another division, where the coolers have to be put at a
certain temperature; then we have a seller, who sells the produce itself right here
on Big Cypress. It is shipped out where all the semi-trucks come to Big Cypress
and pick up the produce. So, we have a system, what they call avertive
integration, where we are able to go ahead and take all the profits from all these
phases. When I was farming, we only did that one part, and that was just
growing it. But now we are into where we are boxing it, and we are shipping it,
and we are selling it. Therefore, we take all the profits from all these phases,
where back then we had to rely on somebody else to do it for us. At the Seminole
Farms we are able to go ahead and do everything ourselves.
H: Can you tell me anything about the citrus crop business here?
O: The citrus was started by me over what you see across the road here. The citrus
industry, or the oranges, there is probably a little more than 585 acres out here, it
was through a grant by A and A.
H: And what is that, A and A?
0: I forget what that stood for, but it was funding out of Washington. Christine Billie,
myself, and Maureen Jaffe, we were looking around to find monies for a farming
project but we stumbled on funding that could be used for citrus. That is how that
citrus came about, with about $1.5 million funding, three-year grants that were
awarded to the Tribe.
H: When was that?
O: That was back in, I think it was in 1988 that we went ahead and got this grant
awarded and we put that citrus in.
H: Do people still practice subsistence agriculture here?
O: What do you mean, subsistence agriculture?
H: Kind of like what you were saying, when you just grow crops yourself, for your
0: Individual use?
0: I think like in any society that has to resort to alternative type of help, or they are
not able to go ahead and make any monies to buy the produce itself, they might
have grown it back in the 1970s and 1980s. I think there may be a couple of
individuals who may do that, but I have not seen any. I think it might have been
more commonly practiced in the 1970s and 1980s, or maybe not even in the
1980s. Because, next thing you know, the Tribe started to come into additional
revenues in their budget, as far as these revenues coming from bingo and
cigarettes, so they were able to go ahead, and dividends were given out, and
more jobs were given in terms of programs out here, and that sort of thing. So,
people more or less filtered into those job positions so I think farming for their
own needs probably phased out.
H: Who are the key consumers of the crops that you raise?
O: That we raise here on the farm now? We have a seller that sells to brokerage
houses in Atlanta, we sell to Winn Dixie, Publix. We have a seller that has
buyers that stretch all across into Canada and everywhere else.
H: Is there any kind of extension program that goes on out here?
O: What is an extension program?
H: Farming extension. Programs through the government, where people come out
and give you advice on growing crops.
0: I have not utilized any. But we generally have .... My expert recommendation
comes from a consultant firm that does come out here and give us
recommendations. It may be in terms of insects, bacteria, that sort of thing. He
is on staff and he comes out here two days out of the week and walks through
the field and he gives me a report as to what he saw and what he would
H; So he is on staff with the Tribe?
O: He is on staff with the Seminole Farms, two days out of the week.
H: This is a non-Indian person?
O: Yes, this is a non-Indian. He is Dr. Deck, from Homestead. But as far as the
extension programs, we generally go to their seminars, whatever new
paraphernalia they may have been utilizing in the field, new drugs, or new spray,
or whatever they have found. They have a seminar in Immokalee and they give
us brochures, or they give us the invitation to go to these, and we generally
H: You mentioned how people out here raised a lot of cattle. Has your family ever
been involved in the cattle industry?
O: Yes. We have been. My father, Harjo Osceola, from Brighton, was probably
one of the first personnel to own cattle with the group when the first inception of
the cattle program came into the Tribe. And here, I also owned cattle before, in
the program, but as of today, I have leased my pastureland to the farm itself
here. Therefore, I sold all the cattle I had and got out of the cattle business and
leased the property to this farm here. They have a five-year contract with me,
and then after the five years, depending on what my partner wants to do, if he
wants to get back in the cattle business or wants to go into something else, then
we will probably get into that.
H: So you mentioned that you leased the land, but before you said that the Tribe
owns all of the land, how does that work?
O: Tribal government has x amount of land, and if an individual wants to use certain
portions of the land, then they go to the tribe for leases, grazing rights. Then that
is where you get into the cattle program and whatever the constraints are and
what you have to do to be in the cattle program. If you have a significant amount
of land, to house seventy-five head of cattle, then you can get into the business,
in this situation, using the Best Use of Land clause, saying that the farm needs
additional property to go ahead. And it was good farm land. So, we in turn lease
the land to them, even though it is like a sublease, I would say it is a sublease to
H: Are there differences in the work that men and women do in the cattle industry?
O: In the animal husbandry world, I think that they do whatever work has to be done
to the cattle, if they are the owners. You are talking about male owners and
female owners, that sort of thing? Well, generally the program itself provides the
labor for them, so the female has to show up on that day to make sure that there
has been a roundup and that sort of thing, and she or he makes a decision in
terms of the cattle, if it is not bred, or makes a decision if it is going to be sold, or
if he is going to keep the cattle for next year and see if it can be impregnated
again, and that sort of thing. But no, I think as far as ownership is concerned, if
the cattle owner, male or female, generally shows up at the specified work days,
they make a decision of whether the cattle should be sold or if it should be
eliminated or however.
H: So that very similar roles ...
O: Yes, very similar roles.
H: In addition to calves, are there any other principle products of the cattle industry?
O: The calves? It is only a cow/calf operation. So, you are only waiting to sell the
calf at so many pounds, and they are probably weaned out in August, when they
pick up the cattle. They have what they call the keepers. Keepers are female
cattle that could be used for brood stock later on. They have a yearling pasture,
and a two-year-old pasture. Therefore, they put them in the yearling pasture,
and then when they become two years old they move them over and the next
crop comes in. So, it is a cow/calf operation, where they keep the females for
brood stock later on if they have the confirmation and they are good sound
H: How has the livestock industry changed over the last thirty years? You
mentioned your father was one of the first cattle owners, so since that time how
has the business changed?
0: I think probably the cow itself, in regard to the breed of cattle, has changed.
There was probably a lot of, especially in Brighton--what is that white-faced cow?
I forget the name now--they had a lot of Brahma and Hereford. They had a
Hereford and Brahma sort of mix. At that time, I remember we had a lot of
problems with what they called the pink eye, it was a cancer of the eye, so we
lost a lot of calves back in the 1960s due to pink eye. And now, with the cross-
breeding and trying to get the best heterosis out of each breed, they have been
able to achieve a good calf since the 1970s. In the 1990s, we are realizing a
better weaning weight and also probably a better brood unit for mothering and
that sort of thing.
H: There is going to be a cattle sale tomorrow. Can you tell me a little bit about that
and how that plays into the livestock industry here?
O: Cattle sales, that could probably be answered better by people like Mitchell
[Cypress], who are really into the cattle industry. But the Tribe did, on the board
side-when I say the board side, [that is] who is probably in charge of the cattle
program-make great strides in selling the beef themselves. I think beforehand
we had governmental personnel that were out here and probably made their
deals and that sort of thing. But here, the Tribe has taken it where they have
what they call a video cattle sale. I guess it is still probably practiced. I have not
been to one of those in probably about four years. What they have done is taken
a picture of cattle out in the pasture and they make these videos. They go to four
or five different places in the United States and they show the film
simultaneously. All the buyers watch the film and then, on the intercom interlink,
they all make a bid for that certain lot. It is a fascinating concept in terms of
selling cattle. I think the Tribe was probably one of the first to come up with that
concept and has been very successful in selling cattle through video cattle sales.
H: Do you know much about the rodeos that go on, and are they as important or
more important today than they were?
O: I do not know that much about them. I think it is part of the cattle program that
stemmed off from it. You can't work cattle all the time, you have got to have
some kind of fun. I guess maybe that was part of the concept there. [End of
Tape One Side A.]
H: What are the schools that you have attended?
O: The only one that I attended was Immokalee High, which I barely graduated out
of, and that is the only schooling I have.
H: So, you had no elementary schooling at all?
O: Oh, yes, elementary and junior high school, then high school.
H: And were those public schools that you attended?
O: They were public schools, yes.
H: Have any members of your family ever attended boarding schools?
O: Not in my family, no.
H: You were raised primarily at the Immokalee reservation?
O: Immokalee, yes. There was no reservation there at the time I was growing up, in
H: Okay, so there was no reservation school.
O: There was no reservation.
H: What were your parents attitudes about you attending these white public
O: My mother was very supportive. I came from a broken home, where I was raised
by a solo parent, my mother. She was very supportive in getting an education.
And the other thing was that Johnson-O'Malley Funds, I do not know if you have
ever heard of that. It is funding from the state called Johnson-O'Malley. It is to
help .... It is like a migrant food program, if you had a low income or you did not
have any income, then they gave you free breakfast and free lunch. The only
reason I went to school was to get the free lunch, get something to eat. That was
called Johnson-O'Malley. When we would go to education conferences back
years ago, when I was a councilman, we would tell the band leaders in the bar,
when we were drinking our cokes and stuff, we would tell the band that was
playing that today is Johnson O'Malley's birthday. [Laughs.] And they would
play a Happy Birthday song to Johnson O'Malley. And all the Indians would just
laugh and crack up.
H: You say you came from a broken home, did you know your father?
O: Yes, I knew my father all the time. They just lived separately.
H: What kind of education did he have?
O: He did not have any education at all.
H: What about your mother?
H: What were their occupations?
O: Well, my dad kind of kept the cattle intact in Brighton all those years, and we still
have those cattle. My mother was just a field worker, picking tomatoes or
whatever that we had to do to make ends meet, in Immokalee.
H: I want to make sure I have this straight. You grew up partly in Immokalee, partly
O: Well, my father was in Brighton.
H: So, you spent some time there?
O: Yes. But mostly here in Big Cypress.
H: Do you know many people who have been to Oklahoma for school or other
O: I think most of the people who are in my peer group from this reservation
probably went to boarding schools. I do not know if you are doing an interview
with Mitchell [Cypress] and them, but Mitchell would know exactly who those
people are. We used to be able to identify those people who went to boarding
school by their tattoos. That was the thing. I mean, when you went to boarding
school, you got a tattoo. Maybe that was a sign of whatever that was for leader
identification, but that is what we used to identify them with.
H: Were these voluntary tattoos?
O: Yes. [Laughter.] I think it was voluntary, I don't know. Ask Mitchell if he has got
a tattoo when you go and interview him.
H: I will have to ask him about that, if it is in a place where he can reveal it.
O: He might have to show you, I don't know. [Laughter.]
H: I want to talk a little bit about religion now. Some people have adopted
Christianity and others have not. How has that affected relations between tribal
members, the ones who have and have not?
0: I think by not knowing fully and understanding both sides. Like they always say,
you are supposed to go to church every Sunday or something, or darken those
doors somehow. I have never really darkened those doors so I cannot really
expand on it. And also Indian religion, I have never really practiced that the way
it should be practiced. I am probably in the middle of a crossroads here. And
then also the same time when the question is, how has that affected . ., I think
in time, if you are talking about the 1970s, then I think on this reservation we
might have been gung-ho Baptists. But in the 1980s, then I think maybe after
time, they started poking holes in the concept, and some of the individuals might
have seen that it is not all what it is sometimes cracked up to be. The same thing
with the Indian religion. It might have been not whatever. So, I think the
individual who might have had some kind of open mind might have been able to
utilize both and probably be a pretty sound person. But, I think there was a lot of
misconception, and having people, having individuals not fully understand. There
are theologians today that expand on religion. Look at Ireland and look at a lot of
these Catholics and Protestants fighting and killing each other. What does it say
in the Bible? It says, thou shalt not kill. One of the Ten Commandments. I don't
know, there might have been fifteen and he stumbled and dropped the other
ones. [Laughter.] But there were ten commandments and we can not even
follow the ten, much less twenty-five, or whatever the commandments were. I
think there has to be a lot of explanation or education in religion in both areas to
actually give the people enough vision to try to either take one as whole or even
take both. I do not see any difference in terms of both areas. They run on the
same parallel level because you take the old Baptist brimstone, fire, and all that
stuff, and it has got constraints on how you have to behave yourself or how you
have to be to go to this heaven, and Indian religion is the same way. I mean,
they have constraints, and they have certain rules and criteria that you have to
follow. There has got to be only one heaven, I hope that there is. I understand
there are probably over a hundred types of other religions in the world, but there
has got to be only one God as far as we are concerned and there has got to be
only one heaven. I do not know how you get there and how many doors you
have to go through to make sure that you are going to be, the thing that I always
heard in brimstone and fire, you are going to be walking on streets of gold. What
is that concept? I mean, gold, is it worth anything? So how did gold perpetuate
itself into heaven? I do not understand that. Is it the color, or is it the materialistic
value in the elements of what makes gold? I do not know. I could not understand
it. I would rather have platinum than gold. Maybe the streets should be made
out of platinum. Or diamonds for that matter. But some holy-roller Baptist guy
says, you are going to be walking on streets of gold. And since we were poor,
starving Indians out on the reservation in the 1960s, we said, Oh, man, that is
what I want! The concept that I have when I sit there listening to walking streets
of gold is that, I am going to give you one of these pieces of gold. [Laughter.] I
did not quite understand, I just got more confused than ever. Well, Christmas
was the worst. I hated Christmas in the Baptist world.
H: Why is that?
O: Oh. You prayed and prayed. I wanted that bicycle. And somebody had the
audacity of buying a bicycle and sticking it in front of the Christmas tree at the
church. Somebody had a big old bow attached to a Western Flyer. Oh my God,
I knew it was mine! I prayed and prayed and, sure enough, somebody else got it.
Where did all my prayers go? Maybe it did not go through some of the doors or
something. Maybe I did not open the door fast enough or something. Somebody
else did. I do not know what happened, but apparently that Western Flyer,
somebody else got it, and I was heartbroken for years and years. So, if a person
explains to you, if you pray, it is answered, I do not know even if that guy ever
prayed because it was just economics. They had money to go ahead and buy it
for him. But I thought that it was going to materialize out of whatever the prayers
were. Somehow or another that miracle was gonna happen and I was going to
ride down that road with that Western Flyer with the fringes just dancing in the
air. And the batteries you could put in there and the little lights would come on.
Oh, man, I see that Pee Wee Herman with his bike. That was it right there.
[Laughter.] That was my vision right there. My bicycle. This is what some of the
misgivings of some of these religions that were expanding throughout
reservations were. Maybe it was to give us hope. Maybe that is what the
preacher was looking for, or that preacher probably went home and told his wife,
you see all them Indians, man, they had a high hope. And they ate their meatloaf
with mashed potatoes and said, man them Indians, I think they gave us $50 in
the offering plate because I gave them hope! And they would go out and get the
Western Flyer. And they would go ahead and pass the offering plate three times.
I tell you what, the only thing we had to give was probably a chicken. We had to
cut his head off and put it in the offering because that was all we had. Some of
the things that went on at the reservation, I mean ...
H: Tell me about some of those things.
O: Well, we had some people who came from South Bay who had a bus out here,
and we had to give our tithes. If you did not give your tithes to the Lord, it was
condemnation. Boy that was it; man, you were going to burn in hell. And you will
not even get that little drop of water on your tongue just to cool your body off.
We had all kinds of snake-oil circuses that came through here, and people were
so poor that they believed it. They believed that this heaven, this stroke of
miracle that was going to happen, that we were just going to be unearthed of this
burden, economical burden. But I think it has been lifted now because of the
word sovereignty. The word sovereignty probably-I heard James Billie say it
one time-it is going to be worth its weight in gold. Those streets of gold came
back through the word sovereignty.
H: Do you know if some of the people who adhered to those Christian beliefs of the
good times to come, do they associate the success of the Seminole Tribe now,
financial success, with the realization of those Christian teachings?
0: I think the street-level personnel may not know the mechanics of how the tribe is
successful in finding revenues, but I think that they have their own vision as to
how we got there and I think that, rather than burst that bubble, just leave it at
that. And we know, a few of us in the tribe-past councilmen, and past
presidents, and board personnel-know how this thing got there. It was not
because we prayed. There might have been some ... it could be. But I know
that these individuals were a highly important part, and hopefully they prayed and
got the necessary wisdom, and also maybe God empowered them with better
health to go ahead and make sure that they had clear vision, and to achieve
whatever has been achieved now.
H: When I met Sonny Billie, who is a medicine man with the tribe, I was asking him
were there other medicine men and women who continue the practice and, also,
are they teaching a younger generation that traditional knowledge. He
suggested that I ask you about that.
O: There are individuals who have been taught, younger individuals who are taught.
But the thing is, it is just like college. You have to want it. You, yourself. There
is no medicine man or apprentice personnel who is going to go ahead and take
you out of the midst of whatever you are doing and say, hey, this is what you
need to learn. There are individuals who see the light, I think. Like we were
talking about, in the Seminole tribal members, there are probably some
individuals who still believe in Indian traditions and an Indian way of life who have
been taught by their parents, and they kind of continue that on. But sometimes
they fall by the wayside because some of these ways of life are a much more
constrained way of doing things, day to day. It is easier to live in a non-Indian
world than it is in the Indian world. Therefore, sometimes they do not want to do
some of those practices. We believe that if you do practice to your best ability
some of these constraints and rules and regs of certain movements and certain
ways of doing things, then it is easier to run to the white world. So, some of them
will lose sight of the thing. But some do return, some do return to learn the
medicine, and I think more of them have returned in the 1980s and 1990s than in
the 1970s or half of 1980, I would say. Within that stretch, I think more have had
an opportunity to kind of visualize what they need to do to have health, other than
just using white medicine. I think they are starting to get into both, utilizing both.
And it is just like everything else, you have rulings. Like when you go to dietitian
and they tell you not to take a lot of carbohydrates, or you exercise, and these
are some of the rulings, a lot of rules of Indian medicine. When you take some of
this medicine, it tells you not to eat certain things for four months, or four years,
or however long the medicine man feels that you have to stay away from those
things. It is a mind control where you have to control your body and your
cravings and that sort of thing. I think sometimes it is hard, but once they learn
how to control that, it is the same thing. It is just like the doctor telling you that
you have an allergic reaction to certain things, they tell you to stay away from
them, no matter what your body craves. It is mind over whatever it is. You have
to stay away from it for your better health. It is the same thing.
H: Why do you think there has been a change in the 1980s and 1990s, that people
have gone back toward the more traditional medicine?
0: I think in the white man's religion there has been a lot of controversial issues.
Like Jimmy Swaggert, he got thrown in jail for taking all the money. I mean,
some of the individuals may not read newspapers every day, but they do catch
the tube once in a while. I have a black and white, I am saving for a color
television. You know the channel CNN comes on and here is Jimmy Swaggert
and all these other religious, high profile persons who have been thrown in jail
one way or another, and you have some people who try to practice those things
and maybe did not make a go of it. So, what they believed in, in the individual,
you have to believe in the individual himself, as well as what he is preaching or
that the information he is trying to convey to you is correct. And when they go
and get thrown in jail because they took a lot of money, it would go ahead and
say, wait a minute, why am I listening to this individual who is going to jail? So,
maybe that sort of thing. And also, I think the Bible and religion itself is a very
profound subject. And some of these people who were standing out there might
have said, John 3:16, and the Psalms, and they may quote this sort of thing. But
they might have not exactly understood what that concept was from the Old
Testament and the New Testament and how many books there are. You can get
two theologians to read the same book and say, well, this is exactly what it is
saying, but it is not. And some poor guy is trying to figure out how to see this and
convey that information back to the Indian people? Now, you probably lost 90%
or 60% in the translation of it. And what is it? The Bible was written in Hebrew to
begin with and it was transferred. They lost some credibility there. So, where
does it all go? I do not know, maybe that is what they finally saw.
H Does the tribe still have an annual Green Corn Dance?
O: Yes, they do.
H: And do you participate in that?
O: Yes, I do.
H: Okay, What is the purpose of the Green Corn Dance?
O: I do not know. I go for the corn, myself. I go there for the corn. [Laughter.] Eat
H: And what happens when you eat the corn?
O: You get nourishment for your body.
H: Who is in charge of the Green Corn Dance?
O: There are clans, and each clan has got a responsibility in the Corn Dance.
H: Do those responsibilities change each year, or are specific jobs assigned to
O: Each job is assigned to a specific clan. Each clan has got a function there.
H: Are outsiders allowed to attend, or just tribal members?
O: Mostly tribal members.
H: So, there are some outsiders who are allowed to come in? Who would that be?
0: I think some of them may be intermarried. Interracial marriages may have to
have .... I mean, you go out there for four days and your wife is running around
out there in the streets or something. If you are going out there to help yourself
and all of sudden you come home and somebody has run off with your wife, how
is that going to look? [Laughter]
H: So, they take the wife to make sure she is not going to run around the streets.
0: I guess. I do not know. What I am saying is that you have some interracial
marriages. But that is something the male and the female should have thought
about before they had the interracial marriage. But sometimes the hindsight is
better than the foresight. Is that what they say? So, sometimes there are some
things that cannot be helped. But you finally woke up one day and whatever the
damage is done, you can't just go ahead. I guess maybe there have been
divorces that have happened because one of them is Catholic and one of them is
Protestant or whatever. So, the same situation may arise here, too.
H: How has the Green Corn Dance changed over the last 30 years?
O: There should not be any changes.
H: I was told there are Green Corn Dances held on different reservations and that
there are differences in them, especially as regards alcohol use.
O: This one here, just recently one of the medicine bundles was moved from the
Trail area, around the Miccosukee area, and they brought one bundle up to this
area. And here I think it was a consensus among most of the clan personnel
who were running the event, who had the responsibilities, and felt that alcohol
should not be utilized. It was actually never utilized, probably, back in the 1800s.
Alcohol is probably something that recently, in the 1920s and whatever, might
have perpetuated into each group during the events that took place. Here, I think
it was a consensus among them to feel that we want to go ahead and try to let
people have their gatherings soberly so they could understand what the concept
is, so the younger people coming up can also see what it is all about, that it is not
a drunken bash. And this is something out of respect for our forefathers who
were here, who fought long and hard to go ahead and stay here. And I feel that
the Green Corn Dance itself gave the Indian tribe sovereignty because this is
when things had to be dealt with. This was during the time when punishment,
sentences, and that sort of thing was carried out. And all of the clans personnel
were there for their argument and more or less their day of judgement as to the
situations that might have happened throughout the year. So, if there were any
kind of punishment or rulings that had to be hammered out, or if there were some
type of problems between families or between clans, then this is the time that
they were to bring it up and address it. Therefore, I guess maybe when the
United States finally ran off the Indians and put them on little reservations, they
probably did not want to deal with Indian problems, they had other things to deal
with, they maybe felt that, just give them sovereignty and say, hey, they have
something that controls that so maybe they can control their own. And so this is
where sovereignty came to give us that right.
H: When you talk about the judgements that are handed down, one of the tings that
is done is scratching. Have you ever been scratched and what is the purpose of
O: It is a symbolic purification.
H: Is fasting a part of the Green Corn Dance?
O: Yes it is.
H: So you have fasted?
O: Yes, fasted, and then you go and get the scratches, and then you eat the corn.
That is what I like, I like eating the corn.
H: Have you ever had black drink, something called black drink?
0: I have never seen it, I do not know. What is it? A Jack Daniels Black, or what?
[Laughter.] I might of heard of that back years ago. Diet Coke? That is black.
H: Have you ever used a sweat lodge?
O: Yes, they have them there.
H: What do you consider to be the largest health issues that the Seminoles face in
this community today?
O: Diabetes. I guess it is probably the number one killer of Indian people across the
United States. And that is something that has plagued Indian tribes, plagued me
and my family, for a long period of time. Through generations I guess they have
not come up with what really causes diabetes, and I am a victim of it.
H: So, you say that it has been something that has plagued your whole family.
O: Maybe it is genetic, I do not know
H: Do you think that the changes in the eating habits of the Seminoles ...
O: It could be. I think that my grandmother .... Like they say, it may skip an
individual. Whatever genes that we have. In the scientific world, I think they
identify certain genes that could have cancer, and you do not want the insurance
companies to find out that you have that gene, they will not be able to insure you.
I do not know what that sort of thing is in our genes or if it is our eating habits.
My grandmother lived to be 104 years old, when she died she did not have
diabetes. But then again, who is to say that she might of had it and it just never
was diagnosed. I probably had diabetes three years before I was finally
H: But her diet was much different than succeeding generations.
O: Yes, I think so. After we started getting dividends, we would run down to
McDonald's, and Burger King, and Taco Bell. Yo quiero Taco Bell [as a popular
advertisement states.] The next thing you know, we would go get the Taco Bell
and we were happy. We would catch the television, and we would watch Ally
McBeal, and we would think that, boy, I want to be a lawyer, I should have been
a lawyer. So you can have these suits and climb that corporate ladder. And
eating Taco Bell. [End of Tape One Side B.]
H: What are some of the other main illnesses that are faced by Seminoles?
O: I am not really sure, you might have to ask those in the health field, people that
are in the health field would probably have more knowledge of that than I do.
H: Do you ever wear traditional Seminole clothing?
O: Like jackets and that sort of thing? Yes, I wear jackets.
H: But you never dress up in full regalia?
O: I used to do that when I was councilman. We used to ride on horses, and ride
through the parades, and wave at the people, and that sort of thing, but not other
than just for that purpose.
H: How is the standard of living different today than it was thirty years ago, in such
areas as income, literacy, access to health care?
0: I think people thirty years ago were willing to work for the honest buck and that
sort of thing. Well, this used to be a good country, too, thirty years ago. But I do
not know what happened to this country. However, I think we have the same
type of situation on Indian reservations. I think people that were willing to, who
were able to work, went to work. But now, today, there are various programs and
various assistance that may give the back seat to some individual that sees the
advantage of that and would rather go ask for assistance than go to work.
H: But the standard of living, how well they live, that has changed a lot?
O: That has changed very remarkably, as far as housing is concerned. Houses are
a lot better. Maybe there are not enough now; however, I think some of the
revenues that are coming from the Tribe have built houses. They have gone into
their own construction and stuff like that. I think housing is going to be a lot
better for individuals in the coming years. I think HUD probably only gave us
about a 900-square-foot living space, and it was dependent on how many people
needed homes. So, if you had fifty people that were in dire need, and there were
people still living in chickees, and we sent an application to HUD saying that we
had fifty people who need housing, and they only gave us $200,000 for those fifty
people, they said, well, you said you had fifty houses, you have got to do it with
$200,000. And that only gave you a cardboard box, or something. HUD was, in
a sense, good some years and some years the square footage was remarkably
cut down. I have a house that is out there on the reservation right now about 900
square feet. That is probably this room and the next room and that is it. Enough
for a bunk bed, that is it.
H: How did that change the dynamic of family interaction?
O: Well, this is a matriarchal matrilineall] system. The mother, that is where you get
your clan from, from the mother. Most of the time, in the matriarchal system the
grandmothers and the mothers taught their young how to speak, what the cultural
aspects were, and that sort of thing. I think there was some period in time when
the government needed to get the Indian out into the flow stream, so the only
way to actually break that tie and disseminate them into the mainstream was to
get them to get away from their culture. And housing was one of the avenues
that they used. The reason why I say that is because we had a camp setting, like
I was talking about the Panther camp. If you married into a Bird clan or Otter
clan, then the male had to move into that camp. Males were just like drones,
they went to work, they went and hunted and that sort of thing, and the parents
and the mother and the grandparents taught the young ones what was their
responsibilities and that sort of thing. So, when the father came home with a
deer and whatever, then he would go ahead and show how to skin it and that sort
of thing. However, the main, basic culture was given to each offspring by the
grandmothers and the mothers. And so when HUD came along, or housing
came along, and built houses side by side in a little subdivision, then you had a
Panther clan that may be living here in a brick building, and you might have a
Bird clan sitting side by side, so that family structure was disassembled. So, that
was the purposes of trying to get the Indian to try to wear the white man's suit.
That was one way of actually breaking up the system.
H: We have talked a lot about how there have been major economic changes with
the tribe in the last thirty years. How have these changes affected your life?
O: One of the changes, I think, is in terms of employment, where I am able to
receive a pretty good salary. Businesses that I am into, I have learned how to
run a cigarette shop--I will not say a business because built-in profits for a certain
venture is not really a business, that is regulated by the tribe. So, the only best
business in cigarettes is probably best locations. It actually does not induce the
entrepreneurship, to go out and do the best you can to make more money. It is
just the best location that is going to achieve a better realizing of the income from
that product. I think that in the last thirty years the Tribe has helped individuals to
get into businesses, and may not be business per se, but it gives them a step in
that entrepreneurship. Those things are the cattle industry, now cigarettes, and
hopefully maybe the next thing would be individuals that are farmers. I think we
have a good land base here. It drains well, irrigates well. I think some of our
individuals may not all want to be cattle owners, and may want to go ahead and
dabble in sugar cane, truck farming, watermelon. We have one individual who
borrowed money from the Tribe to get into farming and he is doing that himself.
And that is a loan from the tribe. So, if does not make any money, then he is not
going to see a dividend for a long time. But people are willing, tribal members
are willing, to take that chance. Back then, back thirty years ago, I think the only
entrepreneurship that we might have had would have been probably people
wrestling gators or maybe I would say having a truck and trucking out these
vegetables for S&M back when all this land was leased to S& M Farms to put
these pastures in. They had a ten year contract in here, to farm all this land,
clear it, ditch it, and dike it, and so forth, to make it conducive to farming.
H: After that ten-year lease the Seminole people took it over?
O: It became cattle pasture. That is how the cattle got into existence.
H: Some of the changes have included eco-tourism. Do you think that is a good
O: What do you mean by eco-tourism?
H: People coming in. For example, the Swamp Safari place, taking airboat rides
around the Everglades, and things like that. Bringing people in to see the
O: There has to be some kind of dissemination of information about certain groups
of people that have existed through the years in their own back areas, as the
Seminole tribe have existed. I think it is a good way of disseminating information
on what the Indian tribes are about. I think that sometimes the dominant society
has this Hollywood sort of vision as to what an Indian is, and the Museum and
the Swamp Safari shows them a different light, other than Tonto and Lone
Ranger and High-Ho Silver, away, that sort of thing. So, I think that sort of thing,
like the Swamp Safari and the Museum that we have, gives them a new light on
the subject of what Indians are about.
H: And that is a positive thing.
O: That is a positive thing, yes. That is positive.
H: Some of the changes have also included computer technology. Do you use that
in your business here at all?
O: Yes, I think Debbie does most of our requisitions and our invoicing, and all of our
sales are done on computers. But I do not work the computer.
H: Do you think that has been a positive development?
O: Yes, it is a must in our business. We used to have, I guess back then, we had
files and that sort of thing, but the computer is a lot faster, and internet and
information at new speeds.
H: Do you think that has had an impact on Seminole values at all?
0: I think in certain businesses that they are in it requires a computer system. But I
do not know about throughout the reservation as a whole, or tribal members as a
whole. But I know that in business, a computer is a must. And if an individual is
in that business, it might have an impact on him.
H: Well, I appreciate your time very much.
O: That is it? Man!
H: But I would like to give you the opportunity to say something you want to say that
I have not asked you, that you think might be important to include.
O: Not really. I do not have anything to say. The days of the hookworm, and where
we had to take the old horse pills in the morning before we went to school, and,
boy, I remember those things used to make me sick.
H: This was the medicine to get rid of hookworm?
O: Yes. To get rid of the hookworm, we had these big old horse pills we had to take.
H: What did you tell me the other day about that? You said they would give you the
medicine, but they did not give you shoes to prevent this from happening again.
O: We went ahead and shot them in the foot. I think for a group of people that
survived probably overwhelming odds, and to be in one of the top corporate,
money-making tribal groups in the United States, it is remarkable, because they
gave you a piece of property out here that was probably worth nothing. And to
carve out a livelihood, as well as making money off of it, there is something to be
said for that tribe and the leadership to make that happen. And I do not know if
we had visionaries or if we had, not missionaries, but visionary personnel that
might have come from wherever, might have come from the man upstairs, and,
of course, it came from the man upstairs. But, what instrument did he use? Did
he use them in terms of the holy rollers, snake-juice circus, or did he use the
medicine man who would sit back there and wait until he could go ahead and find
the individuals, the disciples, that he needed to send back into the bulk of the
tribe to go ahead and wake up and say, hey, the fighting is not over yet. I think
maybe it says it well that the Seminoles never stopped fighting. But I think it is in
another era and on another economic level where, I think, health is probably the
most important thing now. It needs to be addressed, and I think that we are not
looking at a lot of individuals who may have health problems. We have fought
one of the battles, and I know that you cannot fight two fronts at one time.
Napoleon tried that for years and that did not work. And that is where you do not
burn the bridges, you have to run back, if you have to run back, regroup and
recharge. So, I think we have done, and the leaders have done, a terrific job in
economic standards, but now we need to really look at the cultural aspect as well
as the health aspect, and I think that is what we are lacking today. And I hope
that in due time we have other visionaries who do come, and there are some
young individuals who are there, who see where the rough edges need to be
knocked off and polished. And I think that the Tribe is striving to probably find a
solution to the health problem by combining the Indian medicine and the white
medicine to overcome whatever plagues the tribe. And I will leave it at that.
H: All right. Thank you very much. This is April 23rd 1999.