Joe Dan Osceola, President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc, 1967-1971
Joe Dan Osceola won his election in landslide victory (9) and left that office to work first in
health services and then to pursue entrepreneurial activities. He helped organize shop owners to
regulate prices on tobacco (31-32). He is currently the Tribe's ambassador to foreign countries,
which helps James Billie cope with his schedule (24).
Osceola was the first Seminole to graduate from public high school, which he terms a "dubious
honor" (3, and see 5) because others before had been prevented. Attending local schools,
Osceola stayed with a White family some of the time, which was a different experience than his
grandfather could have had (21-22). He recalls that people in the area were not really racist;
rather, there were racist laws until the early 1960s. By being good at sports he and others
received support (6). In fact, he at one time wanted to be a coach to give back to his people in
this way (7). Osceola was perhaps not a usual Seminole child. He loved to read at an early age
(23), and he did not want to work with cattle, an occupation of many in his family. Instead, he
preferred urban life and wanted to go to college-although some of the elders did not know what
college was (22-23).
Osceola has strong concerns about history and cultural preservation. He suggests that preserving
language is a losing battle, since children speak English in school and watch English language
TV. Their parents use English at work. Consequently, some people have lost the language
completely (14-15). The Green Corn Dance preserves culture (15). However, that arena too is
changing. The church recruited people away from the dance, which is bad because churches are a
source for the loss of culture and language (17). Osceola sees that Europeans know more about
Native Americans than Whites in the US since those in the US still try to hide the history of
stolen land (19). His discussion of deceit in history and the loss of land is lively, including a tale
that White people came with Bibles and Indians had the land, and later Indians had the Bible and
White people had the land (19-21). The museum is good for the tribe and the public, and Osceola
feels that the Tribe should spend more money on it (33). He also believes that Seminole clothing
is important for preserving tradition; he wears it and encourages his children to wear it as well
The most important economic activity of the Tribe is gaming, "bar none" (25), and Osceola
discusses some the benefits it provides. Most White people do not have problem with Indian
sovereignty, Osceola feels, but a few rulers do not want to compete, although they have no
problem with Indians selling trinkets (26). He notes that with economic improvement there is a
new pride in being Seminole. He explains that there is no envy between the Seminoles and
Miccosukees because both together "came down the hard row to hoe" (27). Noting that diabetes
and drug abuse are the major health issues (28), he also considers the substantial improvements
in health care: formerly one could only be sick on certain days when a doctor would be available.
Now the Tribe handles its own programs, away from the State and the BIA (30).
Interviewee: Joe Dan Osceola
Interviewer: R. Howard
30 June 1999
H: I am talking today, which is June 30, 1999, with Joe Dan Osceola. Joe Dan, can
you tell me what clan you belong to?
0: I am a member of the Panther clan, or the Cat clan. Panther, really.
H: When and where were you born?
0: I was born out in Everglades, near Mile City. It is not on the map. At the time it
was just a logging camp, when the people were cutting the Cyprus logs and
everything. It is not too far from Everglades City-I will say not too far meaning
probably thirty or forty miles.
H: And did you give me the date, your birth date?
0: I was not going to, but... [Laughs]. December 20, 1936.
H: Do you have a Miccosukee name, or a Muskogee ... ?
O: Yes, I am a Seminole. Yes, I do have a name. At birth they named me, the little
boy's name is Tipehyih. Tipehyih means whipping someone with a whipper-to
whip with something. And the warrior's name is Golahtee. That is my name.
H: And what does that mean?
O: Golahtee is the name of a warrior or leader during the Indian war. They did not
identify who this individual was, but that is how they pick the names, by a
medicine man, and they give it to you when you are just a little boy, ten, twelve,
fourteen years old. You have to go through the ritual of the Green Corn Dance.
At the Green Corn Dance, that is where you get the name, little boys get their
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name. And a lot of times weddings take place, and in the olden days that is
where, at the Corn Dance, they used to take the punishment of the individuals. I
can get into that a little later, briefly, on the Corn Dance.
H: Have you always lived on the reservation?
O: Yes. All my life, other than the ...
H: Which one?
O: Brighton. I only have one life. [Laughter.] Just kidding. Yes, after my father
died, when I was ten or twelve years old, I moved-my family, my mother and
little brother and little sister went on to Brighton reservation, about 1949, I believe
it was, or 1948. Then we lived there ever since, until I moved up here in 1967.
H: Up to Hollywood.
O: Here in Hollywood, right.
H: Yes, we are meeting in Hollywood at the Seminole Tribal Offices.
O: Not just anywhere ...
H: Not just anywhere, but in the Chairman's conference room. Do you ever use
your Indian name?
O: Hardly ever. Now, about the only time I do use that as a formal name is during
the Corn Dance. At the Corn Dance, that is about the only time they are used.
Everyday life is, I would say, the English name.
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H: Tell me about your parents, your mother's name and your father's name.
O: All right. My mother was in the Panther clan and her name was Tiger, her
maiden name was Tiger.
H: And her first name?
O: Annie, Annie Tiger. Her father was Frank Tiger. My father was Richard Osceola
and his father was Jimmy Osceola.
H: What kind of education did your parents have?
O: Formal education, I do not think it is recorded, other than that the education we
are talking about would be like what they learned in the Everglades and in
everyday life. At the time they were in an area where the Native Americans
could not go to public schools. I was the first Seminole Indian to graduate from
public high school, in 1957. This is not really a great honor, it is a dubious honor,
I would say, because there were several Indians who wanted to go to school and
they did not have an opportunity, other than to have to go to boarding school
there in Cherokee, North Carolina. They would have had to be away from their
parents nine or ten months out of the year, or go to Oklahoma for boarding
school. So several of them went over there, but as far as the recorded history, I
was the first Seminole who graduated from public high school.
H: Which high school was that?
O: That was Okeechobee High School, near Lake Okeechobee.
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H: So, how is it that you were fortunate, or not so fortunate, as you say, if it is a
dubious honor, how did you mange to become the first graduate?
O: Well, when my grandfather was over one hundred years old, he used to tell us
about the stories and mythologies of the Seminoles. For entertainment, we used
to sit by the campfire and he would tell us about our histories and little stories
here and there. But he was blind at the young age of anywhere from five or six
years old and up, I remember him telling me.
H: What was his name?
O: Jimmy. Jimmy Osceola. My father's father, my grandfather. Anyway, I said,
when I grow old am I going to be in this situation? So, ever since then, that I can
see is more of a motivator, and plus my father. My father, Richard Osceola, was
the interpreter before the Tribe was organized. The Tribe was organized in 1957,
but in order to get to that point of organization, it was a tremendous, tremendous
effort to have it organized. At the time, Billy Osceola, who was my uncle, brother
to my father, he was Chairman for the first ten years, but he was also the founder
of the Tribe-and there were several founders of the Tribe. There are two or
three of them [who are] still very much alive now.
H: What are there names?
O: Billy Osceola is one of them and Bill Osceola, they were cousins in the same
clan, the Bird Clan. One was the chairman and one was the President. Jackie
Willie was one of them. There were several from each tribe. Frank Billie, Laura
Mae [Osceola,] and Betty Mae [Jumper]. Laura Mae Osceola was the secretary
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and treasurer for the first twelve or fifteen years of the Tribe and she was
interpreter. They had been very strong [in the] leadership of the Tribe from the
beginning of the organization.
H: So is that how you became, what you were saying earlier, kind of the unofficial
ambassador for the Tribe? Is that because your father was so involved in the
O: Yes, I would think that ... Well, first you asked me about how I came to be the
first ... I do not think I finished that. So let me say that. I remember one year
that I was going to go to Cherokee, North Carolina, because that is where all of
my friends were going and I was in school in Brighton Reservation Day School. I
was like in the top, what I mean [is that I was among the] older students over
there. One teacher covers the first five grades by himself but he would spend a
lot of time with the younger children, so it was obvious that they needed more
help in the formal education, starting off. But then the older students were kind of
neglected. That is when my cousin, Dorothy Osceola, was married to the
Chairman of the Tribe, Howard Tommy. The other person was Polly Osceola,
also that we had going to Okeechobee, enrolled in school there. We were the
first three students enrolled in Okeechobee. We toughed it out because there
was no bus service, and we had to go about twenty-five or twenty-six miles one
way, but we toughed it out for the first year. Then the second year, as luck would
have it, in a good way, the students used to go to North Carolina for boarding
school and everything, they had to revert that to going to school in Okeechobee.
They might have sent a few students, but they used to send a couple of busloads
down to Cherokee, North Carolina, from three reservations of the Seminole Tribe
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here in Florida. So that is when I stayed back. It did some good because the
children were able to stay with their parents and still go to school. The bus was
sent to the reservation and we started going to school. The people in town and
the teachers and the students, they did not have anything against the Natives
here in the state, or anyone else. It was just one of the laws that was recorded
some time ago within the state of Florida and that was that nobody with dark skin
would go to school. But then finally, as we all remember, there finally was
passed, in the early 1960s, I guess, the civil rights law. So we started going to
school a little before that.
H: So, you did not receive any bad treatment at school?
O: None whatsoever. As a matter of fact, we are pretty fortunate that we had
athletic skill on the reservation. We started playing ball-football, basketball, and
baseball. We were treated much better than the other students who were playing
ball. As a matter of fact, I was the captain of my basketball and football teams in
my last year of high school.
H: Did you go on for any further schooling after high school?
O: Yes, ma'am. I was going to Florida State [University] but then they did not see it
that way because I did not pass the entrance test. I missed by a couple of
points, and I took the test twice. I was on the reservation one summer and
Reverend [Genus] Crenshaw-bless his heart, he has gone to Happy Hunting
Ground, or Heaven, he would have called it-he had talked to me about going to
college, the college where he had been before, which was Georgetown College
in [Georgetown,] Kentucky. He got me a scholarship, so that is where I went for
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four years: two years straight, and I spent a year out, and then another two
years. So, I spent four years up there in Georgetown College in Kentucky. But I
did not receive my degree. I was studying business and I was going to be a
coach at one time, because that is what got me through high school, I thought,
because I was so interested in sports and I wanted to be a coach. I was going to
return the favor to young people that were coming up. But, instead, I also
majored in business.
H: And today what is your primary occupation?
O: Well, let me take the other one before that, first.
H: I am glad you have a good memory.
0: I have been interviewed a couple of times. [Laughter] After college, I went back
to the reservation, the one I was from, but before that they offered me a job in
Washington, D.C., with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to work in a wonderful
program up there. But I told the people who were involved that I went to college
without the help from Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Tribe-the Tribe had just
started to organize at the time, so they did not have any kind education fund, so
with the help from the Church of Saints and Sinners, they were helping me for
the last two or three years and my last year in Georgetown College. So, I told
them that I had been going to college to, hopefully, help my immediate Tribe. If I
go to Washington, I know I will get lost in the shuffle up there and all the
bureaucracy. So, I wanted to stay within the Tribe, which I did. They finally
offered me a low-paying job on the reservation where I was from. I did not mind
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because I lived there without a job before, so I went back to Brighton reservation
to work under a special education program in the evening program.
H: And what were those programs about?
O: Adult education program, for the adults. Night school.
H: Like literacy?
O: Yes, reading and writing and that type of program, but the daytime I would work
within special education because I was the interpreter for the people that needed
interpretation-attorneys, doctors-and I did that. The person I was with, my
immediate supervisor, got into trouble with the policy, against the BIA [Bureau of
Indian Affairs] policy, against what they should not be doing, so he was
transferred, or I think that they retired him. They sent another White man to run
the program on that reservation, so I worked with him for a year, or it might have
been two years. Then he wanted to transfer out in the West because that was
where his heart belonged, he said. So he and his family left. By then the people
in power in bureaucracy, BIA, figured I had enough knowledge, and of course I
knew the language, that I deal with the programs, so they changed my position to
a special field agent on the reservation and I carried on the programs.
Then finally in 1967 there was an election coming up in May of 1967 and the
people had asked me to run because I was able to travel from reservation to
reservation within the BIA program. By then they got to know me pretty good,
and the election, the May of 1967 election-there were seven candidates in there
including myself-the election was a landslide. The first election to be held that
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was a landslide-we had only been organized since ten years prior to that, 1957
to 1967, [and it was] a landslide meaning that if the other six candidates were to
total their votes together they could not have beaten me. That is where I went in.
That is where I came to this Hollywood reservation as the president of the Tribe.
When I had served almost four years another program came up, the Indian
Health Service. I was involved ... the Tribe was young and there was a lot of
new programs throughout the whole United States. As a matter of fact, that is
when [people were in] the hippie movement out in California and all kinds of
different movements, the AIM movement-the American Indian Movement. But
the Tribe itself was moving in the right direction, evidently it was in the right
direction. Several programs that I mentioned that I was involved with at the
beginning ... the Governor's Council of Indian Affairs that we organized at that
time is still existing now. The other one is USET, meaning the United South
Eastern Tribes. We just a couple weeks ago had a thirtieth anniversary for the
organization and it was good to see the founding members and the former
President and executive directors. We met from four tribes-I had better mention
that-it is the Seminoles and Miccosukee from Florida, Choctaws from
Mississippi, and Cherokees from North Carolina. Those four tribes had
organized [USET] back in 1967 and now the present count of the tribes that
belong to membership is twenty-four. At the time we did not envision this would
get to be this strong. As a matter of fact, the different regions here in the United
States, there is an Indian organization to help them within the group, everybody
is competing for federal money. If you do not have any kind of voice or any kind
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of power with the congressional group, senators, you are not going to have too
much support for your people. So it is with the same voice for supporting the
Indian programs that we are able to get more money for health education and the
welfare of the reservation. So that is what we did. The other tribes in the
southeast saw that and they joined. We have tribes all the way to New York,
Wisconsin, and they are in the southeastern parts of the United States. And they
have another organization which is out in the west, like in Oklahoma. In
Oklahoma we have seventy-two different tribes, so if you want to start competing
for the money, the federal money, you do not have a prayer of a chance because
there are so many tribal members and so many constituents out there among the
political groups for where the funding comes from. [There are] some out in
California. The whole United States has different segments of the Indian
H: So this USET organization lobbies congress on behalf of the different tribes that
O: Yes, we write letters and [make] telephone calls. Yes, ma'am.
H: You were telling me about what you used to do, now what is it that you have
been doing currently?
O: I was with the Indian Health Service until 1979. I have seen too many
bureaucracies ... I had worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs then at the other
part, the Public Health Service, for the Health Program. [That is] how I got out of
being President when I finished, actually I left three or four months before my
term was expiring. Then the position for the Service Unit Director for the Health
Joe Dan Osceola
Program was coming up and they could not hold [it]. We had been delaying for a
couple months because I was chosen already to lead the Health Program. But I
could not go in right at the time. Federal programs, sometimes they have a way
freezing the programs, and once they freeze a federal program it is hard to open
them back up. So the people told me it would be best to go ahead and accept
the position now instead of staying with the other program. Being the President
was a very exciting position at the time, and still is, being in power with Seminole
Tribe of Florida. I was in there since 1979 and after that I resigned from the
position and that is when I became the entrepreneur. I started with the cigarette
shop called the First American Tobacco Shop now. We have been open since
1979. That is twenty years in existence and the irony about it is that we are open
twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, we never close, even the holidays.
Thank goodness that Virginia helped me with the programs that we have now
with the First American Tobacco Shop. A couple years later, in 1983, we opened
an art gallery and a museum and a souvenir shop, where we sell Indian artifacts
or Indian handmade [crafts] from different Indians from all over the United States
as well as Canada. And also I build huts. I have been building tiki huts for about
fourteen or fifteen years now. I travel all the way to Key West much of the time; I
even went out of state to work on huts. Then I have this job, I opened up a cigar
store called Smokin' Joe's cigars. We have cigars from all over the world,
practically. Plus raising a family. We have five beautiful children that are
exceptionally smart, intelligent, according to the grades that they have been
receiving. I am not just a parent bragging, the teacher thinks so too. And they
are exceptionally gifted athletes. We are quite happy about it. Virginia and I
spend a lot of time with our children.
Joe Dan Osceola
H: Virginia is your wife?
H: All right. We are resuming our interview after a two hour interruption. We are
now at Joe Dan Osceola's home and, Joe Dan, when we left off we were talking
about how you were raising your family and earlier you had told me about your
daughter-your children, rather, and how they were doing. I would like you to tell
a little bit of that on the tape. How many children do you have?
H: Immediate family, we have four girls and a boy and as a matter of fact there is
one of them, that is Courtney. Say Hi to Dr. Howard.
H: Hi. Your oldest daughter, you were mentioning, too, is a basketball player.
O: Yes, she plays basketball, and the next three ...
C: All day.
H: All day, Courtney says.
O. Yes, she just got back.
C: She takes a long time.
O: Natasha and Jojo play as well.
Joe Dan Osceola
O: [To Courtney] You want to play basketball, too, when you get older.
O: Okay, you look forward.
H: The schools that your children attend, are they the public schools here, around
O: The school is only probably about three miles from here but it is a private school.
So the tribe has been ... we have been fortunate where our Tribe picks up tabs
for us but we pay part of that. The Tribe, one of their main goals is school and
higher education. The Tribe has been really lenient towards my family for
children to attend school. As a matter of fact, all five of them are in private
H: A long time ago some Seminoles had very negative attitudes about schooling.
Can you talk a little bit about how that has changed over the last thirty years or
O: Well, the Seminoles, education and paperwork has not been their main tool in
any of the lives of the grandparents. All they were familiar with was being out in
the wilderness and to hunt and live free. As a matter of fact, they were not even
accustomed to paying the taxes, property taxes, because one thing is the federal
status, the federal reservation does not require us to pay property taxes. So that
is something that they have never been accustom to. For the longest time we
had the hardest time making them realize about the income tax, the federal
income tax that we have to pay. But finally I think it is settled. They know they
Joe Dan Osceola
have to pay the income tax and several of them have bought property outside the
reservations, so they could pay property tax, too. It was just something that they
were not used to, since they were not allowed to go to school in the public
schools, so they were just not used to the rules and regulations of the law of a
country. They were from two different eras in this continent.
H: Is there a reservation school here at Hollywood?
O: No, we do not [have one]. The only thing we have that is anything in the line of
school would be kindergarten. In kindergarten the teachers are able to teach
them some Indian language. We do have a language but it is not written and, as
Daisi can tell you, if you see anything in writing of an Indian word, the language is
so difficult. English is so much simpler because we go by the phonetics, the
sounds, the phonetics of the language. School is so near by, public schools and
private schools, there is an abundance of them, so the Tribe just spends money
on education-higher education. We are the first families to start private school
at this school we are at now; it is called Sheridan Hills Baptist School [in
Hollywood]. A lot of them from the Hollywood reservation are going to school
H: So you say that your family were the first Seminoles to go there?
O: Yes, in that particular school.
H: Are you making efforts to keep the language alive with your children?
O: Yes, but I think we are fighting a losing battle because they have been taught by
the school in English. When they come home they immediately watch TV, and
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that speaks in English. Meanwhile, the father and mother are trying to earn the
money to pay the bills, so we are losing the battle slowly. A lot of the families
have lost that completely. So, if it had not been for some families, the language
would have been lost some time ago. Like I said earlier, we should start at
school age because I know a lot of tribes in the West that have lost their
language completely. They just speak in English. Even the culture, because this
is how .. this is one of the things .... The Bureau of Indian Affairs wanted us to
forget who we were so we will not know our history, culture, and language, and
the whole nine yards. But the tribes, the Seminoles and the Miccosukee, are the
only two tribes that have been able to maintain their culture, meaning the Green
Corn Dance, and that has been one of the highlights in their lives.
I keep saying sometimes Green Corn Dance, and I can tell you the purpose of
that, why I think it is still important. It was important in the earlier days of
recorded history of the Seminole tribe and the Miccosukee. The Green Corn
Dance represents the culture and language. The things they do are very, very
secretive at one time. Not secrets among their own tribe, but the outside world,
because there are medicines that they use. And let's say if a medicine man is in
charge, then he should not marry or date a non-Indian, meaning especially the
White woman. But now we have seen that is happening too, about the two
medicine men that I spoke to you about briefly earlier, their girlfriends are White,
non-Indians as well. They know it is taboo, due to the teaching, their teaching.
They have known this all of their lives. And yet, it is happening. I think there are
more White female friends available than the native tribal members that may not
be available as much. I do not know what the story would be. But then, the Corn
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Dance, again, that was the judgment for the person that had done wrong even
though it might have been last year. They have a Corn Dance every twelve
months, in May or June. If they have any kind of a problem, broke the law,
Indian law, then they have to face the punishment, even though a lot of times
they get severe punishment, as well. And yet, they have to return because they
believe the clan system is so strong that, not just the immediate family, but the
whole clan system would have a bad rapport among their own tribe. That is why
a person who had committed a crime had to return and face the music, you might
say. A child who is old enough to get the manhood name, that is one of them;
the wedding took place; and it is to make the things they go through, to scratch
the body, to let the blood drain from the arm, chest, and legs for the new blood to
come in. This was May or June, it depends on what part of the month that it
comes up, the full moon, then that is the new year, that is how it starts. Then
they cannot eat the corn, the green corn on the cob, well actually corn on the
cob, from January on up until they go through the rituals. You get scratched and
that is the only time you can eat. So that is taboo to eat about six months out of
the year, the corn. That is just a small segment of the things that I am telling you
on that because they still wanted to maintain some secrecy. I cannot go into full
detail. That is just the highlights of what I see that I see nothing wrong for the
public to know. Much of these stories might have been told, maybe more than
that. If any in-depth report were to be done, it has to be done by a medicine man
of a high priest or the people who are working within the Corn Dance itself. I will
not have anything more to say on the Corn Dance. The Corn Dance used to be.
the Seminoles had hardly any cars, they used to have this cart pulled by a
horse or an ox .... Once a year they used to stay one whole month-they knew
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when it was going to be so they would get there and just visit and socialize. That
was the social event of their whole life, at one time. And now we can visit all the
reservations all in one day with the amount of modern transportation we have,
the car or airplane, so that is why they only go like four or five days for the Corn
Dance, because they see each other all the time.
The church came into the picture about, I would say, 1940. I have seen the
report, the date on it, one time some time ago. I think it was maybe late 1930s or
it could be the early 1940s that the missionary came from Oklahoma. They sent
an Indian down here, Southern Baptist mission came down and converted a lot of
the tribal leaders and that is why they do not go to the Corn Dance anymore. But
then it got to the point where the Corn Dance itself, there had been a lot of
abuse, [what] I call abuse. Where it used to be strong social events and
gatherings, it turned out to be not so great any more after that when alcohol
started getting involved. Family fights, friends fights and drinking and so that is
where the church came in and recruited a lot of the people going to the Corn
Dance. A lot of them are doing so good, going to churches and everything, but
meanwhile there are advantages and disadvantages in both ways. They go to
churches and they only speak one language, which is English, and they start
losing the culture as well as the language. So that is another social event,
churches, you know how the people get together on the weekend and now the
Christmas. Tribal members celebrate the Christmas and each reservation
celebrates the Christmas holidays and Thanksgiving and Easter. They are able
to get together and socialize among their relatives and friends within the tribe
more than ever before, and now that the tribe has been able to have their money
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for transportation or even Bible transportation they get a loan from the Tribe to
work with and for the family. Now the tribe is in the best shape than anytime ever
since the White people got here. I know because, like I said earlier, I was a
historian and I used to read how in the olden days the Indians used to be so
happy. They have not been happy for a long time because we were
discriminated against so much by the people in power, meaning to us the White
people. They would control the schooling, and I guess racial discrimination that
took part somewhere along the line because we have a lot of Florida crackers,
Florida rednecks. They were not called that at the time, as I remember.
H: What were they called back then?
O: Probably Florida crackers, but not too much rednecks. They did not use that
terminology until probably some time in the late 1960s, I was thinking.
H: You mention that you have been a historian. In that capacity, what do you do?
Do you tell the history of the Seminoles to outsiders or do you keep the history
for the Seminoles? What exactly does that mean?
O: Well, I have been able to work with this among the young people, about the tribal
history, but more in depth has been with the different kinds of organizations
within the cities or towns that want to know more about the Seminoles. You must
remember that a lot of the Seminole history here in the state has never been told.
You do not read this in school; if you wanted to know more about it, you just
have to make the extra effort to check certain reference books out of the library.
But only one out a million persons does that to know about it. Because of the
pace of our lives in the modern-day history of time allowance it is just not
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available in school for us to know more about it. People in European countries,
meaning Germany and France, they know about the American history [more]
than the American citizens themselves. I can see that because they try to hide
the facts about how the land was stolen from the Native Americans-not [just]
the Seminoles, but the other Indians, the tribes of each state. We gave up so
much for so little. There was someone who spoke about Native Americans, that
when the White people first got to this country we had all this mass of land in our
possession and the White people came with a Bible. Now the Indians have a
Bible and the White people have all of the land. You can see it was not quite fair.
It says, so you want to go to heaven, but you cannot go to heaven until you die,
which is good, and then you go to heaven, but we had our own where we wanted
to go, the Happy Hunting Ground, they called it the Happy Hunting Ground.
Indians have always been, the majority of them, good, good people, too kind to
people that arrived here. I read in one history book that says the Native
Americans wanted to share what they had-the food, property, real estate, and
things they had. The people who came here, meaning White people, they were
so used to having land to themselves, the property to themselves, and they were
very possessive. When they got here they had a field day with us. They took the
land away. The Indian mythology is this: when they first met White people, they
said, we want just a piece of land where the hide of this buffalo or deer skin.
It can't be too big so we do not see why not to let them have it. But what they
did, they stripped the whole hide with just a very small skin strip and made it
bigger. And that is how it started off, they got a foothold. Then the next was that,
now that we have more people coming in, we [would] like the area within the
distance of our gun sounds. And they said, guns, they do not make too much
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noise, too far. But then they brought in a cannon, and the cannon, of course, had
a pretty loud noise and they had people stationed every so many quarter mile,
half mile, on down the line. And that is how they took over, they say. Somebody
came up with that theory of how we started losing the land. Then, plus, moving
the natives added up land wherever that had belonged to them for centuries and
H: So a lot of this you learned from books. What kinds of history was passed down
to you by your elders?
O: That would be like mythology and stories. Like I was mentioning earlier, we used
to sit by the campfire and let the grandfather tell you the stories. Some were just
a story to entertain you. Then the others were to tell you [about] the Indians, how
come our skin was red and some darker, some white, and some yellow, and they
go all into the fine details, what causes them to have that kind of skin, they tell
you. And from there they tell you how the people originated to here and to this
different continent. And to me, I liked that better than what White people tried to
tell us, that we came from an Oriental area, or from Hawaii, Polynesia. First of
all, we know where the Spanish came from, Spain, where Englishmen came
from, England, and the Blacks came from Africa, and yet they tried to tell us that
God forgot to put anyone in this continent. They are always trying to tell us that
they came from the Bering Straits. Now, that latest thing is that they are trying to
tell us that we came from the Atlantic Ocean toward this way. Why is it that they
cannot face the knowledge that we have always been here, because they have
found the artifacts here in this continent that [indicate] how long ago the Natives
have been here on this continent. They just cannot face the reality, again, the
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same thing, that somehow the natives are going to be strong enough to get some
of the land back that the White people hold. I think this is the biggest reason.
H: Big fear that they have.
O: Oh yes, they still have that to this day.
H: We were talking earlier about how you have been kind of an unofficial
ambassador for the Seminole Tribe, telling people in the public about the Tribe,
and now, just recently, you have been appointed officially as this ambassador.
Can you tell me about that? [End of Tape Side A.]
O: When I was younger, in high school, the people in town, the non-Indians, were
able to help me because they could see that first of all I needed help.
H: What kind of help?
O: That I could stay with my classmates. One thing they were able to help me with
was this. I used to play ball in high school and I was exceptionally gifted in that
part. I was lucky. That is one thing, you want to be good at it but if you are not
talented enough, you are not going to be able to make it. I was talented enough,
from the Great Spirit, that I was able to play ball, and the people noticed that I
was able to play ball above average. And the people, the classmates, the
parents, they were so kind to me. They helped me by letting me stay in town
because the school we had to go to was like twenty seven miles one way, to go
to school. I would practice ball and go home with one of my classmates and stay
with the family for about one whole year, one time, when I was in school. But
eventually I went back to my home to go to school from there every day. But I
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could see that there were a lot of people and White friends who wanted to help.
That is what I know, despite what my forefathers, especially my grandfather, told
me, that you should never trust a White man because they will tell you lies and
steal land from you. And in his life, he was not telling me a lie.
H: What was your grandfather's name again?
O: Jimmy Osceola, which was my father's side, my father was Richard. Then, he
grew up in that kind of life, but now the law has changed and the people have
changed for humanitarians. And, of course, there are a lot of bad White people
that would not give you the time of day. We all know that, anywhere in this
continent. I was fortunate to grow up in a small town, there in Okeechobee City,
which is the north side of Lake Okeechobee. So, I knew that eventually I would
move out of there because my life would not be as a cattleman, a cowboy, or a
farmer, I wanted more in life than that. I did not know what was in the future for
me but I did know that I was not going to be a cowboy. When I told the elders in
my tribe, elders meaning the people older than me, a lot of them were cattlemen
and they used to laugh at me because I told them that I am not going to be a
cowboy. And where my brother would saddle up the horse at six or seven
o'clock in the morning, and he would ride off to help out, they used to laugh at me
when I would go up there about ten or eleven o'clock toward a cattle pen. They
thought I had been sleeping all day. I told them that being a cattleman is not my
goal. I am going to college and I am going to work in another area. And a lot of
people did not know what college was.
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H: What was it that made you feel differently then most of the people around you?
Can you explain that?
0: I just knew what I did not want to do. I just was not going to be a cattleman. I
had taken part in it and it is hard work, being a cattle person. There is nothing
wrong with that if your life is in to that. There are people who have different
talent and different interest in that. I was just one of the guys that did not fit in the
program. Being out in the country I used to hunt. When I was a kid I used to
hunt and fish among the best. But that got old later on and I have not hunted
since then. I have taken my boy out there to practice [with] a gun every now and
then because I know my son needs that. But I just was not going to fit in to the
country life. I would rather be in town, go to a big stadium to see a professional
football game or college game. That kind of life I crave more. Not just that, but
there are theaters, some movies that I had seen some time ago, classic movies. I
am not really much into opera, but there are some concerts that I like. In order to
be in that life that is why, once I moved here in 1967, I never went back.
H: So you were able to get exposure to a lot of outside interests?
O: At an early age. Yes. And I used to love to read history books about the Indians,
and I was able to maintain a lot of books.
H: Was that through the school you were at in Okeechobee?
O: Right. So I guess from there that being an unofficial ambassador is to carry on or
expose the history of the tribe to the non-Indians for a long time. Then finally I
was officially appointed last month. So, this is a new job. The Chairman told me,
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it will not be a full time job but do what you can do with the public relations and
being an ambassador, I want an ambassador to foreign countries so I want to
send you to different places. So, my first official trip will be coming up in about
July to Austria.
H: So what is your official title?
O: That would be the Ambassador to Foreign Countries of the Seminole Tribe.
H: You mentioned that it will not be full time, but what are the duties that you will
have as the ambassador?
O: The Chairman says that the Tribe is expanding so much and they are getting to
be well known, not just here in the state, but throughout the whole world, and he
is unable to attend all of the functions and also the invitations he cannot accept-
the invitations extended to him as a tribal chief. So I would be working directly
under the Tribal Chairman as ambassador. The chairman tells me, work on this
program, this project, just like he does with the other programs. My capacity
would be to work within that department of Foreign Country Ambassador.
H: And you are going to Austria. What is it that you will be doing there?
O: The grand opening was about in May, that they have Indian villages, Native
Americans in the villages. As a matter of fact they invited a lot of different tribes
to participate in the crafts, as dancers, or as singers. Each of the different tribes
is gifted in different ways: artwork, craftsmen, and even singers and dancers.
But the Seminoles are not one of them. They do not even have a hut. Over
there they have native housing where they live wherever tribe is from. But the
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Seminoles and the Southeast Natives were not included, so that is one thing I will
be checking on. That is what I will be going over there for.
H: Will your job have anything to do with developing tourism for the Tribe?
0: I am pretty sure that will be one of them because the Tribe is always looking to
expand different methods in marketing. Natives, the Seminoles have been
talented in making the basket weaving . [Tape Interrupted.]
H: What do you consider the most important economic activities of the Tribe, the
different ways that now the tribe is engaged in different enterprises? Which of
those do you consider most important and how is that different from thirty years
0: Important means to me, I guess, derive more money for the Tribe. I would say
Seminole gaming, bar none. There is not another program, not with the
Seminoles but the Native Americans, different tribes. They had leased the land,
of course, leasing land does not pay that much but it did keep the program, the
reservation, going at one time. Selling it, we could never sell, luckily, because a
lot of tribes were in dire need of money because we do not receive any kind of
money from the federal government unless it is for health, welfare, and
education. Welfare, they do not give us a welfare check. But the education, they
allow a certain amount if you go to boarding school and none for the college
program, hardly. So health has always been under budget. They never gave
you enough money, you run out of money in June-before June, that is when the
fiscal year starts. So those are the things that have been the history of our lives,
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not just the Seminoles, but I would say ninety-nine per cent of the tribes here in
But just recently, the Seminole tribe was one of first tribes to test the sovereignty
rights within the State of Florida and we were able to get a favorable [outcome].
We had a law suit that we were fighting with the State of Florida that started off
with the cigarettes. Then they [said], no, you cannot sell this, blah, blah, blah.
We have sovereignty rights that were given or bestowed way before some of you
people ever-talking to the people in power of the state-were ever born. Not
just that, but we proved to them we could sell this at a certain price, meaning that
we did not have to pay county or state tax. That would make it much cheaper
than people outside the reservation could sell the cigarettes, so we were able to
start that first. Then the other one was gaming. That started off with the
Seminole bingo, then they got the machines, and then they tried to put an
injunction on us and tried to stop us. They tried to close down the gaming. The
White people, unfortunately, the majority of White people, they do not have
power, but there are a very few people that are in power that we have a lot of
problem with. You cannot make a judgment on all of the White people, of
course, because people in power are the ones that make your life miserable, if
they vote against your best interests. You want to take care of your people on
the reservation, but they are happy as long as you do not make money, as long
as you sell the trinkets, beads, beside the road, as long as you are not in
competition with anything they do. In education, it is hard to send your child to a
private school by just selling trinkets and beads by the side of the road. You
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cannot even drive a fairly good car, a fairly good truck, without having that kind of
support from the Tribe.
This tribe has led many. I do not remember how many major tribes we have in
the United States now, but the Tribe has been up there gaining recognition,
mostly [through] revenue. The biggest thing has been Seminole gaming. The
other, Miccosukee tribe, which is a neighboring tribe, I wish you would see the
modern facilities of gaming and the hotel that opened up a couple weeks ago
with the grand opening. This is one of the major breakthroughs for any tribe, to
be so proud of their group, their tribal leaders, what they are presenting to the
modern world. And not just the gaming, they are doing the hotels and they are
concentrating on the conventions that are generally held pretty much in Miami
Beach and different parts of Florida during the winter time. They have this
gaming, [but also] convention rooms and everything, they even have a children's
daycare right inside the establishment, so we know it is going to be good. We
are happy for them. That is one thing that the Seminoles would not have, envy,
because all of us came down the hard row to hoe all this time.
H: So the Seminoles are happy for the Miccosukees in building this new facility?
O: Yes, very much so.
H: One of the things you mentioned when you were talking about the things that the
Tribe has been able to provide because of the monies that have come in is
improvements in health care. What do you consider to be the most critical health
issues among Seminoles today?
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O: Bar none, diabetes. The other is alcohol and drug abuse, like in major cities,
sometimes you read about that in the newspaper and some kinds of magazines.
That is hitting us right between the eyes, the drug and alcohol abuse.
Unfortunately, our bodies are not immune to this kind of abuse given by the
drugs. Diabetes, of course, is genetic, it comes from the parents; it is inherited.
But I really do not believe that. You might have had that kind of life as a
youngster. You have no choice but eat that kind of food-fried food and too
much starch-when you are younger and then carry on, but to me it is not in your
genes. It is just the way that you are brought up and it is hard to change after
being an adult. A lot of people did not change and they are suffering now. But if
they know what it can cause and what it will do, they will do their best to change
their ways or their eating habits. For the longest time they did not have a
refrigerator, they did not have stoves. The only thing they were able to eat was
fried food all the way through. And because of that, I know that a lot of tribal
members, their health is suffering because of that and not enough greens in their
system, hardly ever. The children are growing up into adulthood. So I would see
that those are the two or three different things that are detrimental to the health of
Seminoles, and not just the Seminoles but most of the natives throughout the
H: You seem to know a lot about other Native American groups. You mentioned
that one group, USET, are you involved with many other groups around the
O: At one time, back in the late 1960s and 1970s, all the way to 1979, I used to
travel with . I was the first President of United South Eastern Tribes, formed in
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1969-1 mentioned earlier the thirty-year anniversary we had that two or three
weeks ago. Then, besides that, the Governor's Council, that is within the State,
but I was with the Americans for Indian Opportunity, based out of Washington,
D.C., then finally out of Albuquerque-I think it went back to Washington, D.C. I
used to be able to travel out in the West for the meetings and then there was one
time that I was representative for the United States Health Program. It was
based out of New York.
H: What was that about?
O: I was the representative of Native Americans. They generally give a report to
people in power about the health program, to the congressional group for that
part, they have the Chicanos, the Blacks, and then the Whites, of course, of
different regions and different ethnic groups, so I was representing the Native
Americans. For four years I was involved. I used to travel four times a year to
New York City for the meetings. Besides that I served as Unit Director from 1971
to 1979, when we originated the Health Programs for the Seminole Tribe.
H: Did you live in Washington?
O: No. I always lived here, since 1967.
H: So, through those different positions you were able to get to know people from a
lot of different tribes.
O: Yes. From that I met a lot of tribal leaders, and not just the chiefs but the tribal
community leaders that were involved and were gracious enough to share some
of their thoughts. The things I am telling you, I did not originate a lot of them. I
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implement this into my way of thinking and I always try to analyze, why did this
happen and why is this. I am not sure my analysis has been one hundred
percent right-nothing is one hundred percent right, anyway-but I think I may be
a about fifty-one percent correct. [Laughter]
H: Can you tell me the names of some of the Native groups that you have been
involved with, had contact with, through these different positions?
O: Yes. Seminoles and Miccosukee are in the State of Florida. Then the Choctaw
and Cherokee, I worked closely with them, even when I was working with the
Indian Health Service. I used to be in charge, being the Unit Service Director for
directing the health care we have now. It used to be under the state and they did
not have hardly any program. No program; the doctor only came once a week to
the reservation. If you were going to be sick, you had to be sick that day in order
to get any kind of medical attention. If you were not, then you just had to wait
one whole week. Luckily, we had a man who was involved in it, an Indian from
Oklahoma. His name was Key Wolf. He was Program Director for Indian Health
Services. That is the way they had given us the power to contract the money out
of Washington. [That is] what the State was doing, but the State has a problem
handling their own programs anyway for the State of Florida. So, that is why we
took the program away from them. From there we were able to maintain our
records and have better health care. Now, I do not know whether you have had
a chance to see the clinic; we have a clinic built on each of the reservations now.
H: And staffed with a doctor, each one of them?
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O: Yes. A Nurse Practitioner, and also Dr. Steele comes. If we are unable to
handle either clinic, then we have contract doctors in nearby towns and the
hospitals. The other reservations, other tribes, a lot of reservations are so
isolated. The nearest town could be fifty miles, maybe one hundred miles, but
here in Hollywood we have been fortunate enough so we are able to have
contract doctors. There are a lot of tribal members out of Big Cypress and
Brighton who generally come here for the medical attention, for the hospital. So,
we gear towards that instead of building a hospital, the building itself, on the
reservation and trying to staff it with equipment and staff. So, that is what we do.
H: So you deal with the Miccosukee, the Seminole, the Choctaw, and what other
O: Cherokee and Choctaws and then the other Indians, I have not been able to
attend a lot of meetings since about 1979, when I got out of the civil service.
That is what the civil service is for the Service Unit Directors under the federal
programs. Then I went entrepreneur. I started the tobacco shop over where we
were this afternoon, one of the drive-through cigarette shops. Then I created the
association. Once you start a business then the people come from each
direction. The first shop, we generally have more customers and they would be
able to control it. If we did not have any regulations, anybody to regulate that,
they would go a little bit lower than the next person down, and they would get all
of the customers. I saw that; I could visualize that it could happen. So, I created
that. If you are going to start a cigarette shop, then we had the council to
approve that. We have these laws and regulations, rules and ordinance, that
everybody sells cigarettes at the same price, so that if one cigarette shop has a
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lot of customers, then they would go to the next one. If not, then they would line
up all day. The customers-buying cigarettes or anything, I guess-if they can
buy cigarettes for five or ten cents below the [cost of the] package in the next
shop, they will stay there all day long. People will be lining up. So, that is why
that is one of the things I created and I am thankful that it was approved by the
council and the voters-the other people who could sense what could happen. It
was approved and we sent it to the council and they acted on it. We have this
tribal attorney who is a tribal member, his name is Jim Shore. He has been very,
very helpful on getting some laws passed and legal matters. But as far as
attending a lot of meetings, I have not since about 1979 or 1978, I guess,
because we have a tribe [that is] able to maintain different dignitaries to go to
different meetings, and I was not involved in decision making anymore. My last
major decision making was on the health program and I got out of that and I was
involved in more of the entrepreneurial and private business and everything.
That is what I have been doing.
H: So, you have not been on the council or on the board, anything like that?
O: No, the only time I was with the board was when I was the President of the
Seminole Tribe, from 1967 to 1971. That was the only time that I was on the
H: You were the President when Betty Mae Jumper was the Chairman?
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H: The museums that are here, the Okalee and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museums, how
important do you think they are in maintaining the Seminole culture?
0: I think the Tribe needs to put a little bit more money in it. If you ask the Tribe,
they would probably say that they put too much money in it already. But this one
tribe in Connecticut, the Fox... [asks Daisi a question in Mikasuki]. There is a
tribe over there that has a casino and they spend like fifty million dollars on a
museum and the village and all of that. And when you go up there, you see a
certain object, like a village, and you push one button. If they have twenty people
there, they do not have a lecture. They are just high tech. You get an earphone
and you push a button and they will tell you everything that has been there.
Each of the different people can push the button and they will tell you everything.
We have not been able to spend that much money on modern technology for the
Indian village. Right now it is just more of an Indian village, and gator wrestling,
and more of an Indian village of a souvenir type, and we have this museum that
has been up to date about what of the Seminoles has been recorded in the
history. So, that is something good for the public to know. It is better than not
having anything. I would think it is good for the public and good for the tribe.
H: Your wife, her business is making the beautiful Seminole clothing. Do you wear
O: Yes, I believe in wearing the traditional jackets. That is a modern jacket,
however, what I generally wear. There are two different types of, I would say,
shirts or jackets. The older type, as I call it, the long shirt, is where the Natives
used to wear one long shirt all the way down to the knees. That is really
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traditional, and the leggings-when they used to be out in the Everglades and tall
grass that may cut their legs, the saw grass. Saw grass has blades that are
pretty sharp, so they used to wear leggings. Then they got the modern sewing
machine that they [use to] make the jackets and the smaller designs and
everything-and as a matter of fact, I was wearing one today, a modern jacket. I
do believe in wearing jackets. And it is exposure to the public to tell them who
you are. A lot of times, nowadays, when they see you, they think that you could
be Italian, or you could be Cuban, or a Latino, other than Seminole. When they
see you wear jackets, that tells them that you are a Seminole. A lot of times you
do not have to tell them. Of course, anyone can wear a jacket and everything,
but today was hot so not too many people are wearing jackets. But I do. I
encourage my children to wear them and keep the culture and the tradition going.
You met my daughter while ago, she is very traditional. Not just her, but all of
our children, they take part in the Corn Dance, and we encourage them to speak
Indian language. It is like fighting a losing battle. It is hard, especially when it is
not written down. But you just have to keep talking to them, and they would say
a word. But a lot of times it is where you put the accent, in our language. Our
language is very simple, but it is hard to speak it if you do not put it [the accent] in
the right [part, the] front part, the middle part, or the last part.
H: So, you encourage your children to go to Green Corn Dance and be traditional.
Are you also Christians?
O: I am a Christian, but my family, they do not go to church.
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H: You do not see a problem with being a Christian and also adhering to traditional
values like the Green Corn Dance.
O: No, I do not see a problem other than it is hard to maintain both because the
church, of course, the Bible says that God said only have one God, and they feel
like you have two gods if you go to Corn Dance plus going to church. It is one
way or the other. But since they go to a private school, established by the
Baptist Church, they have been talking about going over there. We will find
ourselves in church one of these days, sometime soon.
H: Now I would like to ask you a little bit about changes in the environment here in
Hollywood. You mentioned that you moved here in the late 1960s, 1967.
O: Which one?
H: Hollywood. What kind of changes have occurred in housing here, when you first
got here versus now?
O: Well, when I first got here there was no housing authority. And as a matter of
fact, the federal government did not have a housing program for a lot of the
reservations and this was one of them. They had lived in the huts and they did
not know they were eligible for a lot of programs because the Tribe had only
been organized for ten years. We were so far behind in things; we did not know
what was available. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs was no help. And if they do
not say anything to us, then we do not know, and they would not have the added
obligation to their tour of duty. A lot of them have been dedicated workers, but a
lot of them, I think the majority of them, were not. The majority of them were just
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for the payroll, you know, to get the weekly check, the monthly check from the
federal government. And now the Tribe took over their own programs, a lot of
different programs, and they stress that they do this and this has to be done or
lose the job. We like this better because we could not fire civil servants, even
though I have gotten rid of a couple superintendents in my lifetime, due to the
election I was involved in and the superintendent was taking sides to it and he
was not supposed to. And I proved it to the people and the proper authorities.
They were finally let go.
H: So when you first came to Hollywood, people were living in chickees?
O: Some of them were, and there was no money available for housing or anything.
But being the President, you have to live on the reservation. This is mandatory, it
is written in the regulations, the constitution and by-laws, for the tribal officials.
This way I was borrowing money out of Washington to build this house and I
made it bigger and bigger as I went along. It was just only like two or three
bedrooms at one time.
H: It has really grown. It is a beautiful home.
O: It was just a regular terrazzo floor then. Since then I have been able to put in
more things. I try to design, I like to design. I did that.
H: How about the physical layout of the reservation? Was this bridge that was built
across the river here, did that cause a major change in the reservation?
O: The turnpike, you are referring to, I guess. The turnpike was put in back in the
late 1950s; it was here already in when I got here in 1967, and I think it was
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opened up in the early 1960s. That changed a lot; it took a lot of our land
because it went through our reservation, right in the middle of it. Most of the
industrial part of it is on the east side, and the living quarters are on the west side
of the turnpike. So, it has some kind of effect-not effect, changes. We used to
go through ... if you want to go east, you can only go two streets, two exits go
toward that way. Only two.
H: Well, I think that is all the questions that I have for you. I would like to give you
the opportunity, though, to tell us about anything I have not asked you about.
O: I think, as a matter of fact, that it would be tremendous idea to come up with
some kind of program for the island that you mentioned, for both sides,
Seminoles and your people, the Black Seminoles that we mentioned earlier. I
think the Seminoles would be happy to come down and visit the island and
maybe even put on a pow wow, and the Indian food, and the whole nine yards. I
think the Seminoles have a lot to offer with the crafts and also the Black
Seminoles at one time had lived there. I do not know whether it has been
recognized as that now, but still we take great pride; there are tribal members, I
mean Black Seminoles. I think it would be a good idea to check into this a little
further, so you let me know anything that needs to be worked on. I would be
happy to work with you on that matter, Dr. Howard. It has been a pleasure to talk
to you and Daisi. Anytime you are in Hollywood, give me a call. You have my
number. Give me a call and I would like to meet with you again to see the
progress of this report and research you are doing, which is a fine thing for the
Seminole Tribe as well. Thanks.
Joe Dan Osceola
H: Thank you, very much.