Interviewee: Jeannette Cypress
Interviewer: R. Howard
28 April 1999
H: [This is Rosalyn Howard, and I am with] Jeanette Cypress. This is April 28,
1999. We are meeting at the Billie Swamp Safari Cafe. Jeanette, to what clan
do you belong?
H: When and where were you born?
C: February 4, 1956, Fort Lauderdale.
H: What is your Indian name?
H: Doshkeche. What does that mean?
C: My grandmother says it has something to do with distance or reaching distance.
I am not sure why she selected that name.
H: Was it your grandmother who gave you the name?
C: No. She explained it to me, but it was my grandfather who named me. She is
the one who said that it had something to do with distance. The man who named
me had died already when I got older, so I was asking her, and that is how she
explained it to me.
H: How do you feel about having both an English and an Indian name?
C: I just accept it as part of our tradition or our culture because every time a child is
born they usually give it an Indian name and an English name. So, it is just
something we grew up with.
H: Is there a certain context where you would use your Indian name?
C: Mostly family, the immediate family. I have cousins that I grew up with who will
call me by my Indian name, or my mom, or my grandmother, or people like that.
Not just everybody knows your Indian name, and not everyone uses it. Most
people just use your English name.
H: You had mentioned how you address elderly people.
C: Yes. When we were growing up my mom, my grandmother, or my grandma's
sister, they did not wanting us calling her by her Indian name. They said it was
disrespectful. If you are young, you do not say that. So we used to call them
mom, grandma, or aunt. My brothers and sisters, we called my grandmother
mom too. We never really called her grandma; we just called her mom. When
you are growing up they tell you that is not something that you do. Like my
grandmother, I did not know her Indian name until I was probably in my twenties.
H: And your grandmother's name is?
H: Do you know what that means?
C: I am not sure, but I think it comes from one of the medicine songs. Back then
they used a lot of the chants from the medicine songs, or maybe they would
select something that the father might have done when he was younger, or the
mom, or something like that.
H: And her English name is?
C: Susie Billie.
H: You mentioned that your mom also does the medicine, like your grandmother.
Have you always lived on a reservation?
C: No. I have lived in several places. I lived in Hollywood for a while and then I
lived here. I went to live with a non-Indian family in Fort Myers, and then I went
to the University of [New Mexico at] Albuquerque for two years and lived in
Albuquerque. But I always came back here. This was like my home.
H: The non-Indian family that you lived with, how did that come about?
C: There was a social worker that used to work for the tribe. I went to an Indian
boarding school, I think it was around the eighth grade, and I did not particularly
care for the school.
H: Why was that?
C: The sports and the extracurricular [activities]-I cheerleaded, I did a bunch of
stuff that I liked, but academic-wise I felt like they did not really care if we learned
or not. At the time they were just passing people. There were students who did
not really try but they still got promoted. I felt like I needed a better education, so
I was talking to him and he told me about this family out in Fort Myers. They had
two sons and they were interested in being like a foster home. So, I went and
met them, and I liked them. We all got along, so I moved in with them, stayed
with them, and went to school up there for a while. I probably would have stayed
there and graduated but I came home because my mom had hurt her hand. She
had cut her hand pretty bad and she needed help with the brothers and sisters.
When I was here I ended up-I was so young I do not know if it was love or
whatever, but I got in trouble with a boy and I ended up pregnant. At the time, I
guess everybody was thinking of me and saying, well maybe we will terminate
the pregnancy. But I decided that was not what I believed in or wanted, and
even though I was young, I do not know if that was the best thing to do, but I
decided that I wanted to raise the child. I ended up quitting high school, tenth
grade, and I went to work.
H: What kind of work did you do?
C: At the time I ended up working in the fields. There was a man that ran a field
nearby. They picked bell peppers. They did different kinds of stuff, so I worked
there for a while. He found out I was pregnant-I was probably about five
months pregnant-and he went home and he told his wife, there is a young
Indian girl working out there and I do not think she should be working out there.
So, he came back and he said, would you like to work with my wife? I said,
doing what? He said, she needs a teacher's aide. I told him that I had never
finished school and he said, that does not matter because she will teach for you
and you can work with her. He told me to meet his wife, and I met his wife. She
asked me to come to work, so I started working with the Head Start program. I
was a teacher's aide for a while. Then I have had different jobs. I went to work
for the Miccosukees for a year at their medical facility.
H: What kind of things did you do there?
C: I worked for the WIC [Women, Infants, and Children] program for pregnant
women, and transported patients to hospitals, and interpreted. I even took an
EMT [Emergency Medical Technician] course, and did different things. It is kind
of hard for me to remember the years, but along the way they told me about this
program that some of students were going to at the University of Miami. It was
called the HEP program. It was for different people, like Spanish [Hispanic],
black, Indians, white people, who wanted to go back and get a GED. They
offered it where you could apply and you stayed on campus, and they provided
the meals and everything. You worked with computers and you could get a high
school diploma. I applied for that program. I got in there and I got my diploma in
six months. From there I continued to work. I have worked for the social
services program in different departments of the tribe. I went to college a little bit
at BCC, Broward Community College, just picked up some courses. Then this
lady from Miccosukee told me about this Indian health service scholarship. She
knew I was interested in nursing. She told me that they were only selecting so
many Indians from the U.S.; I think it was like twenty students out of the whole
United States. She said, you have to apply, and you are going to have to write
an essay of why you want to be a nurse, and hope you get chosen. So, I did and
I got selected. They are the ones that paid for the education when I went to
Albuquerque. By that time I had two children and my relationship was not too
H: Relationship with?
C: The first one, like I said, I was a teenager, and he told me, well I will marry you
since I messed up your life. I said no. I said, if I get married, I hope it is because
somebody loves me, not because they feel like they messed me up. He was
from Oklahoma. He was here for the summer.
H: Was he a Seminole?
C: He was Choctaw. He wanted to go to college and this and that. I told him, I
would rather you go and get an education because I do not think we are going to
work out if we stay together. So he left. In the meantime I met someone else
and that is who I had the other two children with. That relationship, I guess I
made a bad judgement in that one too. I chose to get out of it because he was
abusive and he got into the drinking real bad. He was Seminole. Finally, I just
decided it was not going to work out, and I was pregnant at the time with a third
child. I just told him it was not going to work out. It was either [stay with that
situation or] just leave him alone and go on with my life and raise the kids by
myself, so I chose that route and I left. Then I met my husband I have now,
Danny Tommy. He is Seminole. I met him when my youngest one was about
two-and-a-half years old. He was totally opposite from the other relationship I
had. I have been with him all this time and we have kids. I think that is the best
choice I have ever made. He had two boys. His first relationship was not too
good either. He had two boys and I had three [children]. I had two teenagers, at
the time my son was fourteen and my daughter twelve, and then the little girl.
We met, and we all got along. I took on the responsibility of raising the two boys.
I love them to death. They are just like mine. Then we decided to have kids of
our own. My first pregnancy was not too good; I had a stillborn. I carried full
term and I lost the little boy at the end. So we tried again the second year and I
miscarried at four months. I was like, God, I finally find the person I want to be
with, what is wrong? The third time I was pregnant, this was the third year, and I
started bleeding. I was so upset. I thought, here we go again. My husband said,
nope, do not even think that. Just calm down. Do not think the worst and we will
see how it goes. The doctor put me on bed rest for a week and my sugar went
up with him. I guess it was meant to be. I had him. That is my little boy that is
six. I had him and then my husband said, that is it, we are not going to have any
more because it is just too much stress on you and I do not want you to have to
go through that. So, I went on the shots that they tell you, are you sure that you
do not want any more children? I said yes. So, they put me on the shots and
they said, even after you get off the shots it takes about a year to eighteen
months to conceive. Well, I got pregnant on the shots. On the shots. I told my
husband one morning, I said, I think I am pregnant. He said, are you joking? I
said, nope. He said, well the doctor says . .. I don't care what the doctor says,
something tells me I am. He said, we tried so hard and now .... So, I went in
and he said, yes you are pregnant. I do not know how it happened, but you are.
We had nothing, no problems, a perfectly healthy pregnancy, and that is the little
girl. I already had two daughters, and that was his first daughter. Then we took
in a nephew. My brother and his girlfriend were really young at the time when
they got together and they had three children and they got into the drugs and just
never straightened up. So, we all split up [the children], and my grandmother
had the boy I had for a while, but she was too old. So, I took him, and he is
fourteen now. My mom took the youngest one, he was a baby at the time, and
one of our aunts took the little girl. We had to split them up because none of us
could not take all three of them.
H: They are all here on Big Cypress?
C: The nephew I have stays with me, and my mom and the aunt live in Immokalee,
so those two live in Immokalee and they get to see each other quite a bit. We try
to get them together for birthdays and stuff like that.
H: Tell me about your mother's education, and your father's.
C: My mom, at the time they used to send them to places like Cherokee boarding
school in the Carolinas, and she said, I think, she went to the third or fourth grade
and she dropped out and never went back. She speaks English, but it is kind of
broken sometimes, and I have to help her sometimes, like if there are certain
things she cannot read we will help her with that. But she does pretty good. She
has had to learn along the way a lot of stuff. But she teaches the culture
program, that is what she does for a living, out at the Immokalee reservation.
She has been doing that for several years. She teaches basketwork, patchwork,
and language classes. She will even work with adults if they want to learn the
H: Is the language she teaches Mikasuki?
C: Yes, Mikasuki.
H: So the Immokalee reservation is mainly Mikasuki speakers?
C: That is another thing. I do not know if other people you are talking to-our
language is kind of dying out to a certain point. You will have some families that
still speak the language, and then you will have some where they will go down
the generations, like myself, I am fluent because I grew up with grandparents and
they did not speak English. All of my brothers and sisters are fluent. My oldest
son is fluent-well it starts kind of dying out. My oldest son is fluent; the next
one, she understands everything you say, but responds in English. She does not
feel comfortable talking the language, I think because she thinks she is not going
to pronounce them right of something. My other daughter, she understands here
and there, and she will speak a little, but it is not enough to really just .... And
my youngest ones understand some, but they are the same way. A lot of it is
because-I think if I could have stayed home and spoken to them all the time, it
probably would have worked. But when you send them to Head Start and
preschool, most of the employees are not Indian and they do not speak the
language. So, they lose a lot of that because they spend the whole day hearing
English. I always tell them, even if you only learn a little bit, it is better than none
at all, so I still try to teach them things at home. But as far as traditional things,
like how to behave, or how you are supposed to respect your elders, they know
H: What about your father?
C: My father, I never got to know my father. My mother says that she was
seventeen when she got pregnant, and he was not Indian. She said that she met
him here, but I guess they went to Virginia, I do not know whatever job he had, I
do not know if he drove trucks or something. While they were there, I do not
know for what, but my mom says she got really aggravated with him and she
caught the bus home. Back in the 1950s they said they did not allow a lot of non-
Indians to just come on the res, and they said he came asking about me, but at
the time, I do not know if they turned him away, but I heard he never came back
after that. Then a lady from the Trail said she had seen him I guess near Miami
somewhere. This lady who works for the tribe was trying to help me track him
down, but we did not have enough information, we did not have a birthday, a
social security number, or anything, just the name. She tried for a while and she
found someone that was in the Homestead area around that time with the same
name that died from an automobile wreck. I felt like that was him, because my
mom had said that she had heard that he ended up in wreck and he was in the
hospital, but she never went and saw him, and she did not know if he died or not.
I do not know if she had a grudge, or if she was just mad at him, or what. So, I
just left her alone. It was like part of me wanted to know because I always felt
like, do I resemble him? Because you hear people say, you look like your dad,
you have your dad's height, and your hair coloring, and all this. Then my mom
married my step dad and he raised me since I was three.
H: Is he a Seminole?
C: Yes, he is Seminole. So, on my birth certificate I have mom's maiden name, but
after about three years old we started using Cypress, that is my stepfather's
H: What is his first name?
C: Herbert Cypress.
H: What are your ideas about the reservation school here, did any of your children
C: My little girl goes to Head Start and the preschool program, and my little boy
goes to kindergarten, and my two sons go to a private school in Bell Glade called
Glades Day. One is a tenth grader and one is an eleventh grader. My daughter
goes to Clewiston high school, she is in the tenth grade. My nephew goes to
Vanguard in Lake Wales, it is a boarding school and it is private. The reason I
chose to send him there was because he just was not academically doing well
here, because they just do not have the teachers to handle certain learning
disabilities that he had. I have been really pleased since he has been there, and
that is why I sent him there. My daughter went to the reservation school until the
eighth grade, my two boys went here for a while and then went to middle school
in Clewiston. My boys, mostly because of sports, we really do not have a good
sports program here and they like football, baseball, and basketball. They went
to Clewiston high school for a while but I guess they felt like they were not getting
a fair shake in sports, so they wanted to try Glades Day. So, that is where they
go. And the seventeen-year-old has a car and he drives so they ride together.
They are happy there and so they will probably graduate. And my daughter
chooses to stay where she is, she is playing sports there. She is going to stay
there. The main reason why I chose to send them was, I have nothing against
the education program here, or the school, but I wanted them to learn to mix with
other people because they are going to go to college and do things. Nowadays I
feel like you cannot go backwards. We are always going to be around other
people so they might as well adjust. I want them to be respectful but I do not
want them to be too shy either. I want them to be able to talk, because a lot of
things nowadays in this world, if you can not speak up, you are not going to get
H: What were your parents' attitudes about you attending these white schools that
you went to?
C: My grandparents are the ones that basically raised me because my mom-I
guess in some ways we are both similar because, like I said, I had a rocky first
start, and her relationship with my dad was not too good. When she met my
stepfather they started a new family, there was a sister after me. She had two
bad relationships. She ended up giving my sister to a preacher here, Frank
Billie. He is a preacher. My stepfather's mom and dad, he was a preacher and
she was a preacher's wife. Well, he was an only child, my stepfather, because
he had a sister, I think, that had some mental problems, I do not know if she was
mentally retarded or if something happened, and she died at a very young age.
So, he was an only child and they always wanted children. My mom, before she
got with my stepfather, met another Indian man and she ended up pregnant: she
thought they were going to get married, and he did not. My stepfather met her
while she was pregnant. He had been in the service and he came back. He fell
in love with her and he knew she was pregnant with somebody else's child but he
wanted to marry her anyway. So, he married her. When my stepfather married
my mom, she was pregnant with my sister Wanda, who would be the second
child. Financially, they were just trying to get on their feet. He had come back
from the service. So, they made the choice to give my sister to his mom and
dad, because they were better off at the time. They had a nice house and
everything else, and they wanted a child too. They felt like she would still be in
the family but she would be taken care of, so my sister got adopted out to my
stepfather's mom and dad. That was who she grew up with.
H: Was that here on the reservation?
C: Yes. So, my sister was like a preacher's daughter. [Laughter.] She grew up
here. I stayed mostly with my grandmother; that was who I got raised with. I
helped them a lot, and in return-they always wanted me to get an education.
They wanted me to learn traditional things but they wanted me to get an
education because I was the one that, when we went shopping, I had to read the
prices and names of things. At an early age I helped them do a lot of that stuff. I
think it was good for me. I got to live in chickee until I was twelve. We did not
have the luxuries, we had to go in the woods to the bathroom, and pump water
for baths, and sometimes you heated it up. I grew up more like that. I think it
made me appreciate things a lot more.
H: You attended a boarding school for just one year?
C: Yes, one year.
H: Did any other members of your family attend boarding schools?
C: My sister graduated from Clewiston high school. The rest of my family, they
never went to boarding school; [perhaps] my cousins, but not my brothers and
H: Do you know much about the aspect of culture that they teach at the Ahfachkee
C: They also have a cultural program. We had this bilingual education program
back in the 1970s and I worked in that. When I worked there we were doing
legends and transcribing them into English to work with the kids, and recording
numbers in Mikasuki and English so the kids could learn. We were doing a lot of
that. There was a girl that came from Gainesville, I had to work with her on that
H: Was she from the University of Florida?
C: Yes. I remember her name, it was like Maria Derek, and she ended up, I think,
marrying a guy from Peru. She spoke different languages real well. That was
what we did when we first started, but the tribe funds this one and she does the
crafts, Theresa Jumper. And James [Billie], the chairman, is really big on
wanting to preserve the language. So, she will do some language classes. I
guess they have a certain time set aside for each grade. They pull them out of
class and work with them for that time and then they go back to the classroom. I
think it is doing good, because my little boy comes back and he tells me about
what they learned.
H: You work for James Billie, right? What is your job with him?
C: We are called Administrative Assistants but we are really like-you know how
people have political aides or people who do stuff in the community? That is
what we do. There are usually one or two people on each reservation that work
for him. I guess you met Pat Diamond. She works up in Hollywood. I first
started off with her. I was working up there for a while. Then, this is my home,
so when James said, I need someone to work out in Big Cypress, I said I would
love to move back out there, so I came here. I did not really care for Hollywood. I
do different stuff, it could be anything, like if someone dies, there is only a few of
us that collect the plants, so I will collect the plants and help people get ready for
the medicine. Or I might sometimes shop for an elderly person if she cannot do it
herself, or drive her to a doctor's appointment, and I attend meetings. I sit on a
lot of higher education committees for college students. We have meetings. I
am the vice chair for the Education Advisory Committee, I stay active with 4H. It
is a bunch of different pre-school meetings, PAC meetings. Those are the
Parent Advisory Committee meetings for different schools. I read mail for
people, if an elderly person comes in and wants me to read their mail. It could be
anything, just giving somebody a ride home. I do a lot of social work, that kind of
stuff. I never know from week to week. I have even cleaned someone's house
before. Just different things. I enjoy it.
H: You mentioned that at one time you were very interested in the health field.
What are the major health issues for the Seminole tribe?
C: I think the biggest thing that we are working on is probably diabetes. We have a
lot of diabetics and the tribe has really gotten into [assisting]. They have
wellness/diabetic day at the clinic where they have an interpreter in case some of
the older ones do not understand. They have a diabetic breakfast that morning
and they will do screenings and talk about medication, any questions. We have
a nutritionist on board; we have a person who does exercises now. We have a
real nice gym here equipped with weight machines. We even have Tai Bo and
aerobics and that kind of stuff now.
H: How many people actually participate in these things?
C: It is just like anything else. You will get a whole bunch at the beginning and then
you will have the faithful in the end. But, I think as long as that lady has even
one person she does not care. She says if it is making a difference, she will
teach that class. Sometimes she will have seven, nine, sometimes two, or one.
H: Is it mainly the younger people?
C: It is mixed. She will get some of the older people, and middle aged.
H: Do you think that the change in diet has had any impact on that?
C: Yes, I think so. I see my grandmother, and then I see my mom. My mom is
younger and mom is already struggling. Do you know what I am saying? My
grandma is over one hundred, she says, but they have her down as ninety-nine
in the tribal enrollment. But they have to estimate; they do not really know. They
have her down January first, 1900. My mom is diabetic. She has had some
problems with high blood pressure and she is probably sixty now, fifty-nine or
sixty. My grandmother, she still does really well. I think a lot of it is because of
the exercise and the work. They did not have all of that junk food that we eat
today, and she had to work hard. They traveled a lot. They walked a lot. She
got a lot of exercise. I think that has a lot to do with it. And now, everything is so
fast paced, and junk food, and we just grab everything and go. It is not like it
used to be. To me, our life style has a lot to do with it.
H: You mentioned that your grandmother knows the medicine. Has she taught your
mother and you?
C: We grew up in a family where my grandfathers all practiced it. We all used it
growing up and I think, like I always tell my husband, I think I am destined, like no
matter what you do you always go back to something. I think it is one of those
things with me because I think my grandmother is determined that I am going to
know it whether I want to or not. At this age, she always wants to have it done.
So, I am the one who has to go get the plants. When I first started, I might pick
the wrong plant and she would send me back out. I have been going back, and
now I have learned quite a bit from her. My mom is really knowledgeable and
she knows a lot of what to do, how to prepare, and what it is for, but she has had
a really hard time with the singing and the chant-prayer part because she said
her memory just can not seem to pick that up for some reason. It is like a totally
different language. A lot of it is like the old Mikasuki, and then you have some
Creek thrown into it. Myself, I can understand certain words when she sings, but
there are parts where she has to stop and break it down and tell me what she is
talking about so I can relate to it. I always tell people, it is like going to medical
school; like you have people come and go, what is this for? If you tell them Bay
Leaves are used for something, they think you can grab a Bay Leaf and use it. It
is not that way. There is a lot that goes into it. If you really want to learn, you
have to devote a lot of time. You have to go listen to her and she has to repeat a
lot of stuff and break it down and explain it to you. And then, when you learn the
chant, then you have to know what kind of diet you tell your patient: what they
can not eat after they use the medicine; how to use the medicine; whether you
bathe in it or drink it. Then you also have to learn the plants that go in it. My
grandmother used to go out and pick the plants, prepare it, and do everything.
H: But she does not now?
C: No, because of her age. She cannot see that well, and she does not get around
as good. So, we are the ones that she will tell; I have to fix something for
somebody, can you go out and get these for me? Then I go get them. There is
an exchange that goes with it. It is not money. It is like a certain color fabric.
The person who is asking you for the help might have to bring you a certain color
fabric or beads or something.
H: Is that dependent on what kind of illness it is?
C: Yes. So, when you are learning different things, you have to learn a lot of stuff
that goes with that one illness. That is why it makes it complicated. It is
interesting, but it makes it complicated.
H: You say this is being preserved?
C: Yes. We are working-the chairman was really interested in trying to preserve a
lot of stuff. In the old days they used to tell you that you cannot record it, you just
have to learn it. But now, if you do not record some of this stuff, it is going to be
gone when someone dies. So, me, my mom, and my grandmother agreed and
we all sat down and discussed it and I felt like it is a way of preserving her if she
passes on. There is something of her. And my kids and other peoples' and my
grandkids will probably benefit. So, we decided to record some of this stuff. I
have experimented, I am trying to grow [and] transplant some plants to see how
they do, and do a little bit of studying just so I can help somebody else that is
trying to learn. See, that was her church.
H: Do you go to Church?
C: Yes. Not on a regular basis, but I go to church. I believe, like I said earlier, there
is a God, Jesus. And I believe and respect whatever everybody else wants to
worship. I go, and I also believe in the Indian medicine, so I put everything
together and work with it. Like my kids, I will take them to church, but not all the
time. But if they chose to go on their own, I am not going to say, no, you cannot
go. But I also teach them about traditional medicine and try to tell them to be
open-minded, because in this world you are going to meet a lot of people with
different ideas and a lot of beliefs and you cannot sit there and say, my belief is
better than yours. You just be open and just listen and that is how you learn. I
told them, everyday you are going to be learning something so you have to be
H: Do you see any conflict between people who believe in Christianity and people
who do not?
C: I think we all live together, I do not know if it is in harmony, but I think we all live
together and we respect, we do not try to force .... Like the preacher might
come to your house and say, I am just visiting you and would like to invite you to
a revival. Everybody lets him in and they hear what they have to say, but they do
not try to force it on you and say you have to go to church.
H: Has Christianity drawn some people away from the traditional [practices]?
C: It has. I think you will have different types of people. You will have some that go
to church and they will feel like Indian medicine is the devil's way, so they might
not use the medicine, they might just strictly stay with the church. Then you will
have some that might have been that way at one time but then, because of
health reasons, and they have tried everything else, they will come back to Indian
medicine and feel like maybe that is where they need to go. So, it just all
depends on the individual.
H: Are there any particular medical issues that are best treated at hospitals or by
white doctors versus traditional medicine?
C: To me, that is kind of hard to say because it all depends on the individual.
Sometimes I think some people's illnesses could be in their minds, like you might
be depressed or something might be wrong and you are thinking of something
else, and I think some things, if they find relief in Indian medicine, go that route.
If you feel more relieved with the other way, I would say go that route. If you feel
like you have to have both, do both.
Like my grandmother, she still goes to the white doctor, even though she does
medicine. She will go to the white doctor, but she never gives up her Indian
medicine. I do not care how many other doctors she sees. She has never had
surgery. Last year she had a gallstone; she got really sick and she was throwing
up, and she wanted to go see the medicine man that night. So, I took her, and I
told her, I think we are going to have to take you to the hospital because at your
age you cannot keep throwing up. You are going to get dehydrated and your
stomach hurts real bad. It could be your appendix. She did not want to go to the
hospital, but I took her, and it was a gallstone. They did that procedure where
they did not have to cut her open. They go inside your mouth and if it is
something they can push through or pull back out, if it is small enough, they do
that. She had that done and that was like the first major thing that she has ever
had done. She was in the hospital room-this was two years or a year ago-she
was in the hospital room and I waited for her to recover. I talked to her until they
took her in, they brought her back and I was waiting for her. She was really
hurting; she was in a lot of pain and she was crying, and she made me feel bad.
We took her back to the room and she was lying there and I remember she said,
I need some Indian medicine done. And I [thought], who am I going to go get?
We were in Naples. [While I was] thinking she said, you are going to do it. I
said, I do not know if I am ready, I can not remember a lot of stuff. And she said,
you are going to do it. I said, but how? And she said, well, I have some stuff in
my purse and you are going to cut it up in a paper cup and you are going to use
the straw and you are going to sing after me and [if there are] some things you
do not remember, ask me. We are going to do it. So, she was my first patient. I
feel proud that I could help her.
So, I have done medicine on her but I have not done it on anybody else. She
says, you will know when you are ready. You will probably have to be older, and
you will know when you are ready. She said she learned when she was
probably-she started learning about ten or eleven years old. She said, they
used to get mad at me. The men and women would be sitting around and they
would be singing songs and teaching each other, and she said, I would always
be right there and get in the way, and she said some of her relatives would get
mad at her and tell her, you are too young. She said she had one relative say,
no she is not; you never know, she might be the one to help people some day.
She said she never gave up, but she said, I learned, and some of the things that I
thought I would never learn, I did. When she got older she started practicing it
after-usually women, they kind of want you to be already in your menopause
state, so she started after she already had her kids and went through
menopause. Then she started helping other people.
H: Before menopause, I was told that women can only treat women, other women.
But after that they can treat men also?
C: Before menopause, I think you can probably-like I said, I have done her, and
she said I could probably do my family. But, after that, then I could [help] more
H: After menopause?
C: Yes. But, as far as her, I have helped her do stuff like that. I enjoy it. I told my
husband. He always teases me. He says, golly, take off in the woods and [it will]
be six-thirty in the morning and she is running around in the woods. I said that I
guess that is just part of my life now. I enjoy it. At first it was like, oh, God, I do
not know if I can do this. I do not have time. It was like I was finding all sorts of
excuses, and certain things just kept going back, and my grandmother was pretty
persistent with me about it. I think, in her own way, she really wants me to learn
because when she is gone, I think she feels like maybe it is gone to be all gone.
I think it bothers her. Then a lot of things too is her last child, who has Down
Syndrome, her last son, I think part of the reason she holds on so long is she is
hoping that he will pass on before her, I think. My husband and I were talking
about that one day.
H: Who takes care of him?
C: She does. He is pretty self-sufficient. He bathes himself.
H: How old is he?
C: He is in his fifties. He bathes himself; he does things around the house, it is just
that he could never live alone. He is hard of hearing now. She chooses to live
just the two of them. We have to check on her. I got her a phone. She can not
dial out; she does not know how to dial, but she can at least answer it the right
way. She used to pick it up upside down. She would be yelling in the opposite
direction. We check on her. My mom says, I think you have got her spoiled, she
always asks for you. I said, well, I am the one that had to doctor her up when
she was sick. We just check on her. The Spanish girl that came here, I have her
clean her house two days a week to help me out. I was getting really stressed
out from trying to run my household and her household. She had broken her hip,
she fell and broke her hip. One night she got up to go to the bathroom, and she
had put this piece of rug down that was kind of worn. I had found it and I was
going to throw it away. I had stuck it in a closet, and she went back in and got it
and put it down. She got out of bed and must have just stepped on it just so and
it moved, and she fell and broke her hip. You know how they say elderly people
with their injuries; I was so upset because I thought she was never going to get
any better. Well, it took about four months-to bathe her, to take care of her-
but she got back on her feet. She gets around good.
H: In the church on Big Cypress-there is an independent church and then there is
the First Baptist. Which one are you a member of?
C: I go to both. When I was younger, I used to go to First Baptist, pretty much, and
then when I got older, when I lived in Fort Myers, I went to the Church of Christ
because that family went to Church of Christ. My sister's family is the one that I
told you runs the church on this side. If they want to go to Brighton, I will go to
church up there sometimes. I go to different ones.
H: The clergy, the ministers, are they all Seminole?
C: The ones out here, yes, they are. They do their sermons in both languages
sometimes, English and Mikasuki.
H: Does your grandmother ever go to church?
C: She does. She usually goes to the First Baptist Church. She used to go more
often but now she does not go as much. I think a lot of it is because she does
not get around that good. I mean, she still gets around good but not...
H: What are some of the roots and herbs that she uses? You mentioned Bay Leaf.
H: What is that used for?
C: She told me that is one of your most important ingredients, because if there is
nothing else, you can use that.
H: For what kinds of things?
C: They use it when someone dies. They might use that to help prepare for the
family, during their grieving time. Or they might use it when a child is born, for
the little bundle they make. It is used in a lot of different stuff. That is one of the
things that they put into a lot of the mixtures they make.
H: You mentioned bundles that are made when a child is born. This is a traditional
thing? Is this still carried on today?
C: Some families do it and some do not. Some young people grew up where the
family did use it and they still try to, and then you will have some that never used
it. You will have some that maybe their parents did not really teach them, but
now that they are older they want to learn. So, they come and they will ask.
H: The medicine bundle that is made for a child, is that something that they keep all
C: A lot of them, they put it on beads and put it around [their neck]. It is like a little
pouch that they put on their necklace or you might put it by their crib. It is for
their protection, to make them healthy. [End of Tape Side A.]
H: How do people become recognized and acknowledged as certified or bona fide
C: Probably by word of mouth. Once someone starts treating people, then people
start coming to you and then they will tell another person, oh, so-and-so can do
that for you. That is how they get well known. My grandmother told me that
some people will be specialized, just like you have your gynecologist and
pediatrician. When they were growing up, one person might be better at one
thing they treated than another, so they would say, go to that one because she
does good with that. One person might be so knowledgeable in everything that
he will do everything.
H: Now there are far fewer medicine people, so is the emphasis on trying to teach
the person to learn everything well?
C: I think that is what her goal is. She is hoping somebody will learn everything but
she is teaching some men from Miccosukee. They come on a regular basis.
She has one in particular that she has been training for a while and he has
picked up quite a bit. There is one medicine that is specifically for women, that
could be for after you have a baby or you could have problems with your period
or a cyst, or those kinds of problems, and that one, she is the only one that
knows that and she has really been wanting to teach it. The man I am talking
about has pretty much picked it up. The only thing about that is they have
restrictions on that medicine. If a man is going to treat other people, she said
they have to be pretty old already and not too sexually active. It cannot be a
younger man, it has to be someone that is an older man to treat women and the
man can prepare the medicine, the chant and the prayer, but a woman has to
collect the plants. It cannot be a man touching the plants; a woman has to collect
the plants, and usually a woman that is older, that cannot have children anymore.
That is who they want to prepare it and get it ready if a man is going to do the
medicine. And then, the older woman has to be the one to bathe or fix it for the
girl. She cannot even touch it herself, the one being treated. That one is one of
the stricter ones. That is the one that she was specialized in because hardly
anybody knew that one. So, she is handing that down and we are trying to learn
that. I have learned all of the plants. There are about seventeen plants that go
in there. I have learned how to do it, how to bathe the individual, I just do not
have the chant down yet. It takes a while. It is long. It takes a lot of time. So,
we are working as a team, mostly. The guy, he is an older man now, so he
practiced on her first, and now he is learning. He will call me and tell me, so-and-
so needs this, can you help me out? And I am the one that goes out and gets
the stuff together for him.
H: So, you have really gained a lot of knowledge about the plants already?
C: Yes, I am pretty comfortable with that.
H: Does the tribe still have an annual Green Corn Dance?
C: Yes, they do.
H: Have you ever attended?
C: Yes. I grew up going to those, except I never was too active in the dancing when
I was younger. I had to watch my brothers and my sisters because my mom and
my grandmother and other people danced. We used to go to the one in
Miccosukee quite a bit. When I met my husband, he went to the one towards
Brighton. They have grounds out that way. He leads the songs and he is more
Creek, so we used to go that way. Now we go to the one that is here that Sonny
Billie has started. That one, they are doing it where there is no alcohol at all. I
do not know if they told you about that one. We go to that with our kids quite a
bit because I like that atmosphere. My sons and my daughters, they dance, and
they get out there and help me cook and do stuff.
H: What is the purpose of the Green Corn Dance?
C: My grandmother always said it was like a time to get together, to celebrate, to
see your friends, to be like one big family, and the boys kind of grew up and got
their man names. That is the way I perceive it. It is a time to be happy and not
argue, we all get out there and play ball. It is kind of like a New Year for us. That
is the way I see it. It is a good time to teach your kids certain things because you
have all the other relatives there. Maybe if somebody is not that good at cooking
bread, they will show them how to cook something.
H: What about scratching? Is that something that still goes on?
C: Yes. That is part of the corn dance and it will probably always be there.
H: What is the purpose of that?
C: I think it is a time of cleansing for the men; the boys, when they get to a certain
age, they get to get scratched by the men, and for some of them it is a big deal.
Oh, look at me now, I am macho. I am grown up.
H: It is only the boys and the men who are scratched?
C: Yes. The women do not. The women, we used to get scratched when we were
bad, not behaving or something.
H: What about fasting? Have you ever fasted?
C: Yes. My little boy gets scratched so sometimes he will fast for half a day, since
he is smaller, and I do not want to eat in front of him. A lot of times the women
will fast with their little boys.
H: What about the sweat lodge? Have you ever visited a sweat lodge? Or is that
only for men?
C: I think it is only for men. Other tribes have sweat lodges where, I think, women
and men go in it.
H: How does the annual fair, the powwow that is put on, how does that help to
preserve or change Seminole culture?
C: It is hard to say. I think, to me, it is more of a get-together, for everyone to see
each other that they have not seen in a while, but culturally I guess maybe it
makes the women want to try to do the patchwork and their artwork and their
crafts. That is probably a good thing because they compete. They try to be
better at the basket or the clothes, and in that way that is probably helping
preserve. It is cool to make a jacket or wear your own traditional clothes. In that
way, it probably does. We have other tribal members from other places come
and they socialize and they have powwows. I guess if you want to just get
together and see people in powwows, I think it is good. I think if you really want
to try to teach your child, some people do not like to go, but I think the Green
Corn Dance is probably your better bet for culturally wanting to ask questions or
learn certain traditions.
H: Why don't some people want to go to the Green Corn Dance?
C: It all goes back to the Christianity thing. Sometimes I think they feel like if you
are a Christian, you should not go to those, because some people perceived it as
worshiping something else. And then some people think it is a place where a lot
people just go out and get drunk because of some younger people drinking, and
they do not see what it really stands for. They think it is time to get together with
your friends and party. That is probably why they made that [dance] no alcohol
H: That is been for the past couple of years that they have had that no-alcohol one?
C: This one is probably in its second year.
H: Skills like canoe making, I spoke with Henry John Billie yesterday and he said he
is really not teaching anyone that skill. Do you think that is a bad thing, that no
one is learning that to pass on, like you are learning the medicine?
C: Yes. I think everything that we have done as a tribe, that or our ancestors did, I
think it is always good to learn because that is part of us and I think it should
always be there. Even if you think it is making basket, that is part of our culture,
so I think they should keep it.
H: Have you ever been to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum?
H: What do you think of that?
C: I think it is a good thing.
C: Probably because it gives the public a better image of us, and they can ask
questions and really learn from us and not through somebody else or through a
book or a newspaper. I just think it is good for the tribe.
H: What about ecotourism? Do you think that is a good thing?
C: Yes. I think so.
C: I think tourism has always been a part of life for us. That is probably how we
survived before we got gaming and other things. I remember going, as a
youngster, to this village in Miami. My parents had to go there and sew and do
things in front of tourists. I did not think of it as being bad. And then I worked at
a village, when James Billie used to run the village in Hollywood, I was like a tour
guide. I always felt like I was out there promoting the tribe in a positive way. I
did not want people to stereotype us, like, oh, drunk Indians. You know, you
hear that all of the time. So, I guess it was a way for me to tell people. I had kids
asking me, can you see in the dark? Where are your feathers? It was one way
to tell them who we really were. I never thought anything bad [about it]. Like
here, I think this was a good thing to do.
H: This Swamp Safari?
C: Yes, I think it was, because it also provides a place for our elderly, if they want to
go somewhere and get something to eat or socialize without having to drive all
the way into town. I think it is a good public image too. I do not want everybody
to think, all they do is casinos, and gambling, and bingo. They do not realize we
have citrus and cattle and we are normal like everybody else. I have had people
think that we do not pay taxes, that everything is for free, and they are in shock to
know that we have to pay for everything. I even had a person ask me one time, if
you break the law, because you are on the reservation like this, if you kill
somebody, they will not do anything to you, right? And I am like, where have you
been? It is like people think that just because people are different colors on the
outside that everything is so different, but really it is not. We might have the
cultural things that are a little different but still, basically, we all have the same
H: Do you wear any traditional Seminole clothing?
C: I do. I wear it to work sometimes, but not all of the time. I have different types of
dresses, some for when we dance at corn dance, I have the longer ones and the
capes and sometimes I wear a jacket, but I do not wear it all of the time. When I
was growing up I had to wear quite a bit of it because my grandparents sewed it
a lot, so that is what we wore.
H: When you were growing up, what type of house did you live in?
C: I lived in a chickee because I stayed with my grandmother and her husband, my
grandfather, and we lived in a chickee until I was about twelve. We did not have
a bathroom; we had to go to the woods. We had the pump. I remember her
when she used to wash her clothes in the canal, there was like a pond behind us.
H: After you were twelve what kind of house did you move into?
C: They started making homes for senior citizens and then they started making the
wooden homes. My parents got one of the wooden homes, and I ended up living
with them. I came from a family of seven and I was the oldest, so I helped with a
lot of the brother-sister stuff.
H: And your mom, you said she was in Immokalee?
C: Yes, she lives in Immokalee.
H: She teaches culture there?
H: Does she make baskets also?
C: Yes. She does the dolls, the baskets, and she sews, she does a lot of crafts.
H: Do you do any of that?
C: I can do beads but I am not too good at sewing. The baskets I can do. I am not
that great because I do not devote enough time to it. Like I said, I preserve a lot
of the plant stuff and the culture stuff, but the craft stuff, I did not devote that
much time to it. I ended up devoting more time with my grandmother and she
takes up a lot of my time now too. Being old, she wants attention more, and then
with all of the kids I have I spend a lot of time on the road with sports and trying
to be there for them, and trying to work and everything else.
H: Tell me what you know about Seminole history, like the wars.
C: You mean, like the books and stuff?
H: Well, you can tell me where you learned it from, but did your grandmother pass
any of that down to you?
C: She tells me stories about different things and how they grew up and about their
food and how they traveled in canoes and the carts with the oxen, I guess you
would call it. And about her aunts and their grandmas telling them about how
they used to run when the soldiers were coming. One of her aunts told her that
she was young and she would cry and they would tell her to be quiet and she
would get tired, and how they used to leave their babies behind sometimes so
they would save the rest of the family. She has told me things like that. As far as
books, I read a little bit about it but I have not really-I could not sit here and tell
you like, the Dade battlefield, nineteen whatever. I mean, all the years, I just
never really got into that. I got into more of the verbal history that she hands
down, telling me about things and stuff they did, what they ate, some of the foods
H: What were some of those?
C: When I grew up, my uncles hunted a lot. We ate a lot of fish and turtles, roasted
turtles, ducks, curlews, a lot of things that you can not kill anymore. They used to
make stuff out of this leaf they would wrap around, and I taught my daughter that.
Different kinds of drinks they made out of pumpkin and guavas. So, I guess I
have been spending so much time trying to absorb what I can from her that I
have not really got into-because I feel like I can always get a book, if I want to,
and read it, but I cannot get that from her once she is gone. That is it.
H: Well, I want to thank you very much. Shonabish.
H: Is there anything else you would like to add that I have not asked you about, that
you think would be important for us to know?
C: I think you covered just about everything.
H: The physical environment here on the reservation has changed. How has it
changed in the last thirty years?
C: I guess it has changed as far as building more things, like the museum, the rodeo
grounds, but basically I think we still have quite a bit of woods. I just do not think
we will ever destroy anything. We have had to do ditches because of the water,
certain things have to flow a certain way, but I think we try to keep our home sites
in certain areas and try to make sure it is nothing that is going to really impact
something environmental-wise. I think we are pretty cautious about it.
H: You mentioned that when you were growing up there was a lot of hunting and
fishing going on. Is that still?
C: We still have a quite a few people that fish and hunt and eat a lot of game. It is
just that we fall into the same guidelines as everybody else, so we can not kill a
H: What is a curlew?
C: An Ibis. Ibis are those birds that have that weird beak. I think it is one of the
endangered [species]. Certain things you can not kill because it is the law, but
we are still allowed to get deer meat, if we want it.
H: Do people tend to rely as much on the environment for subsistence as they did?
C: Probably not as much as they used to because now, like I said, everybody goes
to town and eats Kentucky Fried Chicken. We still have quite a few people that
fish and eat fish. A lot of younger guys, they will go out and catch fish or kill a
deer and bring it to my grandma because they know that is the kind of stuff she
always ate. They will bring her turtles, stuff like that. She still has a few guys
that come and do that for her.
H: It seems like the elderly are still held with high respect.
C: Yes, I think that is pretty much [the case].
H: Is it as much as when you were growing up?
C: Probably not as much, but I think it is still there. And it is nice to see that, that it
is still there, because someday me and Daisi are going to be the elderly.
Hopefully they will still respect us. [Laughter.]
H: Again, thank you very much, Jeannette. I appreciate it.