SEM 237, Dr. Susan Stans
This brief interview covers some of the work that Stans has been doing among Brighton Seminole
residents with principally with education. Stans is an anthropologist who has an appointment with Florida
Gulf Coast University that is also partly paid for by the Seminole Tribe for work she has been doing at
Brighton. The important aspects of the interview are her discussions of the cultural education work she
does with Louise Gopher (see SEM 236); her discussion of alcoholism among Seminole Indians (which
summarizes her dissertation research); and her work with students interested in higher education. Some of
this will be useful in conjunction with discussions by Gopher and others (e.g., SEM 252).
Interviewee: Susan Stans
Interviewer: Rosalyn Howard
10 May 1999
H: I am talking today with Dr. Susan Stans of Florida Gulf Coast University. We just
happened to meet here as I was doing an interview with Louise Gopher on
Brighton reservation. Dr. Stans, can you tell me what it is that you do here and
what your position is?
S: Sure. I have a funded position at the Florida Gulf Coast University between the
Seminole Tribe and the university to work with the Seminole Tribe on their
education issues. I will be involved in their incentive programs next year and a
recording of all individual grades so that for all of the different reservations we will
be doing what Louise and I have been doing for the last three or four years,
keeping track of the children's grades so we can know when they are getting in
trouble in reading or math, or when they need different strengths, or when they
need to be commended for their efforts. It has been really interesting to work
with and find out, because of the response. Louise can do something to help the
kids-when we find out their grades are dipping she can talk to the parents and
things like that. And the other thing is to be a contact with higher education. I
invite a lot of the students over-and also the adults that might be interested in
continuing their education-to the university. Currently we are doing the summer
school project, which involves hiring, at a stipend, four Florida Gulf Coast
education students to come over here for the summer to work as partners with
Seminole aides for the two-week summer session. We are going to try some
innovative things because we can. We are going to do mentoring process, which
involves the teachers in getting the older kids to mentor the younger children, or
the ones that are a little bit ahead to help the ones that are [not] to bring up their
reading. We are also going to use whole language process, which we will have
somebody from the Tribe come in and describe what they do or tell a legend.
And then the aide, the Seminole aide, and the student teacher will think of
exercises that involve writing, reading, and math to go with that talk. And they
will have a chance to express verbally what they heard, make up new legends,
like say, how would you rewrite this legend? What did you hear? What was
important in the legend? We will write a story ourselves and then [they] will read
it to each other to reinforce how important culture is and to make some very
culture-specific materials to use. And we can house them in the library or at
education or someplace. At the end of the two weeks we will have a little
celebration where the parents will come out and see all that the students have
done to try and get them more interested in education and make it more relevant
to their life. Instead of having mainstream, white, middle class values thrust upon
them, we will be looking at Seminole values so that it can help their esteem about
who they are.
I did my dissertation research in 1994-1995, for twenty months I lived out here
with a Seminole elder and got to know Louise and helped her with the grades
then. But Louise and I, I had known Louise from school in Fort Pierce. We both
went to the same schools in Fort Pierce, except for Fairlawn. I did not go to
Fairlawn. I went to St. Lucie Elementary. Fort Pierce Elementary. I wrote my
dissertation about the community's attitudes about alcohol use, a very interesting
survey. It kind of points out the fact that a lot Native American groups and the
Seminoles have come to buy into that belief that they have something about
them that compels them to drink that is physical, rather than seeing it as a lot of
the studies, [which] are very inconclusive, to me. I believe it is more of a cultural
thing, an expectation, whereas a higher percentage of the people out here do not
drink, as compared to the general population, those that do drink, drink very
heavily. It is a different kind of drinking, it is more visible. I think that is where a
lot of the bad press, the stereotype, comes from. But, as with any group, when
you get to know them, it is not quite so simple as they have a problem with
H: But you say, per capital, there are fewer people who drink in this population than
there are in the general population.
S: Yes. But those that do drink are more likely to drink heavily. Not all the time, just
binge drinking. And so it leads me to believe, and [it is] especially [so in] some of
the young people's attitudes, that this is what Seminoles do; this is what Indians
do; we cannot help it; it is what we are supposed to do; it is in our blood. They
have come to believe that they cannot do anything about their drinking and that it
is expected. There is a party culture, just like there is among college kids,
especially as younger ones, that they get together with friends and drink and
have a really great time. It is really hard to not do that when it is such a part of
the social scene. And yet most of the people age out, which is that they come to
a point in their life that they just say, drinking is not-well, one person said, it
does not make me any prettier, richer, or smarter, so why drink? So he quit.
H: Is there a certain age at which they have that turn-around?
S: It varies, but generally about mid-life, about forty. It varies, it really varies.
H: Did your survey include any kind of correlation with the time that they stopped
drinking and any kind of religious affiliation?
S: Usually it involved some kind of revelation, self-revelation, such as, it was not
getting me anywhere, that was all I was doing. Some people had a very tragic
event occur in their life and they turned to the church. The church has been
supportive in fostering not drinking. They have been encouraging to a point
where it is really kind of restrictive, it is like something that somebody tells you
not to do. The church really does not allow for moderation and I think that is part
of the church that repels a lot of members. It is like you have to get cleaned up
and be pristine before you be part of the church. But, anyway, it is a really neat
community and so I just continued my association and have done a lot of things
with the Seminole elders. She [Louise Gopher] and I are re-editing a book to be
sent to press on Indian medicine-on the herbs, not on the magic practices, but
on the herbs that are used and their names.
H: What is your degree in, which field?
S: Anthropology, medical anthropology, and from the University of Florida in 1996.
But since then I have been doing all kinds of other things. I really have not done
much more with the study. Now I can't seem to leave. [Laughter] No, actually,
you probably knew John Moore before he left.
H: He is my Chair.
S: Oh, he is? He was on my committee, too.
H: He is still there.
S: Yes, I know he is still there, but I thought you said Allan Burns was on there.
H: The Chair is now Allan Burns, [Moore] stepped down as Chair.
S: He said, now, if you are going to work with the Seminoles, you have got to
remember that you just do not come in and out of their life. He said, you are
there for life because you get a lot of that. And I have seen people come and go
and it is the old thing, you are going to take away our knowledge and write it into
a book and become rich and famous. Well, you know that books do not make
that much money, but I really took it to heart, what he said. So, I am really happy
about our association and we have a lot of good times. We just had the first
Seminole student graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University: Jolee Johns. A
very exceptional young woman.
L [Louise Gopher]: We were just sitting here creating a job for her.
H: So she can stay around here.
S: Well, she wants to.
H: What is this job you are thinking of creating.
L: It does not have a title. It has a lot of duties. We want to put her it in a
motivational status. She graduated in ...
S: Social Sciences.
L: Yes, but she is interested in our juvenile justice program. We want to put her in
the prevention-motivation side of life instead of working with somebody that is
already in trouble. Go ahead.
S: No, no, that is good. The Tribe has always upheld education as a very strong
value and they pay for the students' education, as well, if they want to go to
college-any college they want to go to. And they promise them a job after
graduation, and so I was talking to Jolee and we said, when I think about it, if
you ask them to put you in a job, you just might shadow someone else. Why
don't we come up with something we need? I was asking Louise if she thought
that was a good idea, doing something downstream to help the kids, because
there are really a lot of really good kids out here. I look upon, immensely, people
like Louise, who I consider to be bicultural, they are comfortable in either in the
mainstream world or the Seminole world. I think that is the wave of the future for
the Seminoles because you have to deal with the outside no matter what you
think. And there are a lot of culture brokers, those people who live in-between
and interpret for both worlds. Louise is one, Alice Snow is one, there are several
of them. But I think that honoring the traditions and keeping that intact is as
important, but you need to know the code when you go out because it helps you
get along and makes your life a whole lot easier. And some people, it is really, it
is just incredible. I mean, Louise taught herself, and she probably would never
have said, oh, I am bicultural. But she is, and I think that is the key to really a lot
of different things. So that is it. Well, we could probably talk a lot more but that
H: I really wanted to find out what it was that you were doing and what your
affiliation was, and I appreciate your doing that for me, impromptu, fellow Gator.
L: Somebody told me you were coming but I can not remember his name,
somebody I met at the Florida Historical Society Meeting last week. I went to
their meeting in Daytona.
H: Possibly Milanich [Dr. Jerald Milanich is an archaeologist at the Florida Museum
of Natural History; Gopher referred to Dr. Julian Pleasants, Director of the
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University Florida].
L: He is being put on the board of Florida Historical Society.