Title: Victor Billie
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Title: Victor Billie
Series Title: Victor Billie
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SEM 249
Interviewee: Victor Billie
Interviewer: J. Ellison
11 August 1999

E: Today is the eleventh of August. It is Wednesday. I am at the Big Cypress Billie

Swamp Safari and I am talking with Victor Billie. During his lunch break we are

going to talk about some things like his work here and about where he has come

from, his family, and so forth. We will start out just with the basic questions. Is

your full name Victor Billie?

B: Yes, sir.

E: And what clan do you belong to?

B: Bird Clan.

E: It seems like Bird and Panther are a couple of the largest clans out here.

B: Yes, Bird and Panther and the Wind clans.

E: Were you born near Immokalee?

B: No. I was born in Dade county, born and raised down there.

E: What part of Dade county?

B: Really in Jackson Memorial Hospital. Back in 1960.

E: That is like my brother, he was born in 1960. Was Victor your English name?

Do you have a Mikasuki name?

B: I have a Seminole name, Kalah-ki.

E: Would you have any idea how to spell that in English?

B: You have to pronounce it and write it down, I guess. [Laughter.]

E: I think I will give that a try. Could you say it one more time?

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B: Kalah-ki.

E: I am spelling it K-A-L-A-H-K-I.

B: That is close enough.

E: What does that mean?

B: My elders told me it means Old Man. Old Man.

E: Old Man. And how come and they chose that name for you?

B: The reason why they chose that name for me, you would have to ask my elder.

She passed away. She was an old woman at the time. She was the oldest

woman when I was born. She was in the last Seminole War; she was sleeping in

a Seminole Indian village and the military sneaked in there early in the morning,

attacked everybody, and killed everybody. She was the only one that survived

and she crawled all the way down to the Miami area-before it was Miami. She

crawled all the way down there to Big Cypress, before it was Big Cypress, and

told the Seminole people what happened. Then they got in their canoes and

went back to the Seminole Indian village to see what happened. What they

saw-they say, they wanted to scare the Seminole people to quit the war and

scare them off. They say they hung old people, old women, and young kids,

upside down and burned them. The person, the female that survived, gave me

my name, I do not know why.

E: What was her name? Was she related to you?

B: She was my mother's father's mother.

E: And she gave you this name. You do not remember her name?

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B: I will have to ask my mother. We are going to see her, so I will ask her.

E: Did you know her? Or did she pass away before you were old enough?

B: I knew her, but I was only about three or four years old when she passed away.

To me, when I talked to her, every chance that I talked to her, it was like opening

a book, or a television. It was like knowledge pouring out of her, telling me how it

was before the white people came into this land and after, and telling me what

roots I came from. She told me the stars, the universe, and even the land; she

told me about the medicine-where you can locate certain medicines, the names

of the trees, and even the birds. She was the one who taught me a lot.

E: Were there other people, also?

B: Yes. An old man by the name of Josie Billie, and Ingraham Billie taught me a lot,

too, about medicine, and life in general. At the time, Josie Billie was 125 years

old and his little brother was 120, I think, or 119. The things they taught me, it

was not to know the knowledge and push people around, or have knowledge to

make money. They gave me the knowledge-I took a little bit of knowledge from

them, and they told me to use it well and to help people with it.

E: That seems really important. And it seems very different than, maybe, the

knowledge you would get about your culture and so forth from any other place.

B: Yes. I went to school until third grade.

E: Where did you go?

B: Everglades, in Fort Myers. What I saw in school, they taught you to take for

yourself, to make money for yourself, not to share. They say, if you have

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knowledge, it is power to use it against people or push people around. My elders

always told me [that] what knowledge they gave me, it was not to use against

people to be a king or be a leader. [Instead, it was] to be yourself; to be strong

and help your village any way you can.

E: That is important. That is something that you did not see in school?

B: In school, like I said-it is good to have knowledge of somebody else's

knowledge to survive and to exist among them, but it is not good to try to be like

them, to destroy your land, to destroy the air you breathe, to destroy the water

you drink. Those are the things that are very important on this land. If you go to

school and learn this technology, it teaches you to hurt and destroy. We have

survived on this land for a million years and the Europeans have been here five

or six hundred years and look at how much they destroy, each day. They are not

going to see the beauty of Florida and the United States in about twenty or thirty

years. The kids are going to see the beauty only when they open up a book or

put it in a VCR. And that is a waste. They are not going to feel the beauty, they

are not going to smell the beauty.

E: In your own lifetime, is this something you see that has changed a lot?

B: It has changed a whole lot.

E: From the time you were a kid?

B: Yes, it has changed a whole lot. When I was a kid, we were living in an Indian

village of our Bird Clan. When I got up in the morning, we did not have to walk

two miles or ten miles to fish. All we had to do was get up in the morning and sit

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on the edge of our chickee and fish, because the water was high and it was right

there. You did not have to go too far to catch a bass or fish or anything you

wanted to survive in the village. But today, the water is draining. The reason

why the water is draining is the sugar cane and the canals. They are digging too

much. The water is draining. You have to go drive around to fish and catch a

good fish.

E: Is the water polluted?

B: Yes, it is polluted; especially in the everglades, it is polluted a whole lot. In my

time, you could eat any kind of fish-as much as you wanted. When the sugar

cane company came in and drained the Everglades-the Everglades used to go

all the way to Okeechobee, and past. The sugar cane company came in and

drained the Everglades and made sugar fields. When they use the water over

and over to spray the sugar cane [they] contaminate it, and still they use it over

and over. They release it in the canal and it goes all the way down to the

Everglades and settles down. The chemicals that settle down turn into mercury;

the fish eat that mercury and live on it. Now you see a sign in the Everglades,

they say, you can eat two fish a day. It has changed a lot.

E: They say you can eat two fish a day and still not be harmed? That is a big

change. Are both your parents alive?

B: Yes, sir.

E: Do they talk about how it has changed in their lifetime?

B: Yes.

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E: Did your parents ever go to school?

B: No, they never went to school.

E: How did they make a living?

B: My father learned a trade-mechanic, welding, and fixing things by his hands-

through his father and working with non-Indians back in the early 1950s. He

used to operate bulldozers and all that.

E: And your mom?

B: No. When I was younger, when I was about six or seven, she never left the

Indian village. She always stayed and took care of us. But when we were living

near 41 [the Tamiami Trail], there was too much encroachment around them.

We could not survive like we used to so my father started working in farming, like

tomatoes, picking, for seasons. So, we had to move around. We had to go in

Fort Myers, Naples, Sarasota, all that. My mother started working then in the


E: She started picking. That is hard work.

B: Yes, it is; hard work and no vacation. You had to get up before the sunrise and

go home when the sun went down. You made about ten dollars a day,

sometimes less. I started working when I was about six or ten years old.

E: Doing that?

B: Yes.

E: Do you remember doing that?

B: Yes. All my brothers worked in the field.

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E: Do you have a lot of brothers?

B: I have four brothers and one sister. We did that to survive but we never tried to

push our way of life or our tradition and language away. We tired to keep it

strong in our family-especially my father. He always said, do not ever forget

who we are, and what we are, and what we came from, and where we are going.

If we forget who we were in the past, we cannot go forward, we cannot be


E: Did your brothers and sister go to school?

B: Yes. We all went to school but we never finished school. My sister never did,

never went to school.

E: Did your parents say that they thought school was-well, it sounds like you were

working all of the time, so you could not go to school.

B: The reason we went to school was our elders and some of our fathers and the

mothers; they knew how to speak English, but not very well, and they did not

understand it. They made the younger ones-they made us-go to school to

understand their language [English] so that we could use that to understand the

law in their language.

E: That is what I have heard other people say as well, that if the children went to

school, then it would help the older people when they were facing some of these

issues, facing white people and dealing with laws. So, they actually wanted you

to go to school for that purpose?

B: Yes.

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E: And you left after about three grades. What was the main reason that you left


B: The main reason was, in the non-Indian society, like the city, the main purpose in

life, to survive in the city, is money. We were living in the outskirts of the city of

Naples or Fort Myers and we had to have money to go to the doctor. We had to

have money to go eat, to buy groceries, and that was the main purpose. If it was

not, we would still be living back in the Everglades.

E: Have you ever lived in the city?

B: As I remember, we did, but not for too long of a time, maybe about a month,

maybe a month and a half. Then we moved out and lived in the outskirts, and we

would make our own village in the woods. Even now, my people's village, my

home village, they are living on the property of the people my father's sisters

[work for], they are working on a farm; they are living on their property. It is

around themselves.

E: Right now, what you do for a living is here at the Safari lodge.

B: Yes, but I do a little bit of carpentry, a little bit of welding, a little bit of everything.

I could do almost anything-a mechanic.

They say racism is gone from this land, but to me it is strong and alive. Back in

the 1940s and 1950s, it used to be that you could show it in front of everybody. If

you did not like blacks or Indians, you could do what you wanted, if you were

non-Indian. Today, they still feel like that but they keep it deep inside.

E: So, it is there, but it is hidden?

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B: Yes.

E: Where do you feel that most? Do you find it when you go into town? Did you

see it in school?

B: I see it everywhere. I see it even here. I see it everywhere. When I go to the

city, even if I go to a little community of non-Indians, I see it every day. I deal

with it every day. But to me, like my father told me, if you want to keep strong

and put your head up, you have to learn your past, what your past has got to

offer you. That is what I did. Ingraham Billie, Josie Billie, and the woman who

gave me my name, my Indian name, always taught me: your past will give you

strength. If somebody pushes you down, you get up and dust yourself [off] and

push them. To me, the only people I do not like, and I do not agree with and I do

not associate with, are the people that do not associate with me and do not like

me. It might be white, Chinese, or black, or another Indian. Just leave me alone

and let me believe in what I believe. Do not let your belief force on me. If you

force it on me, I am going to push you back or we are going to fight.

E: I am thinking about school. I am thinking about this whole issue when you went

to school. It was a public school you went to?

B: Yes, a public school.

E: And now, are you a member of the Seminole Tribe?

B: No. I am in the Traditional Independent Seminole Nation.

E: What I was going to ask had to do with the school that is on Big Cypress now, if

you have had any kind of contact with that school and know what they are doing

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in terms of language and culture preservation, and what you think about that.

B: To me, what I learned from my traditional ways and my traditional language, is

needing to my elders ...


E: That is real loud. So you are saying that the elders ...

B: When I got my knowledge of traditional ways and our laws and how to behave

among people was when I talked to my elders. I was taught to listen, and when

he is breathing at me, that is the lesson, in there, put in my mouth and my

nostrils. The way that schools are teaching, they cannot get that effect. What

they are learning from school about traditional ways and the language is from a

book. It has no feelings. It has no soul. When I learned my ways, I learned

them from a person that was alive, experiencing, teaching me and giving me the

feelings and the pain and everything about him and about tradition. I cannot get

that from a book or from a VCR or cassette. And I want them to learn that way. I

do not want them to learn from a book.

E: Do you have children?

B: No. I have never had kids.

E: Do your brothers and sisters have children?

B: Yes, all my brothers and my sister have kids.

E: So, they are having an opportunity to grow up and learn the way you are talking


B: Yes. But, today's kids, there is non-Indian influence around them every day,

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even in the cars, even when they walk around, even if they are driving. It is

making them lose touch with our beliefs and our people. Some of the young kids

today, they do not even know how to speak their language. Even if they have a

full-blooded mom and a full-blooded dad, all they know is English, and

sometimes they try to speak it and they speak broken-Seminole language.

E: Do you understand Creek and Mikasuki?

B: I can just barely understand Creek. But I speak Seminole, not Mikasuki.

Miccosukee was established back in 1959 and 1960. It is a young tribe. I have

been speaking long before they were established, the Miccosukee. Our

language has survived millions and millions of years, long before it was

Miccosukee; so I am speaking Seminole, not Miccosukee.

E: Is it important for people to have any kind of education, like vocational

education? You said your father did his mechanics. Is there value in people

learning those kinds of things in an educational place? I guess that is a hard

question because it ties together this whole issue of how people are going to

interact with non-Indian people in this society that is encroaching, that you talked


B: It is good, [except] when they are born they do not let them learn their way first.

The first time a Seminole baby is born, after it is born, about a year later, when it

is one year old, they force him to go to school. Do not do that. Let them learn

about themselves, about their culture and their language [until] they are about ten

or eleven years old. Let us teach them first, then let them go to school, if they

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want. They do not do that. They let them go to school when they are about one

or two years old, and they forget. My elders once said, when an Indian boy or an

Indian girl goes to school, they have two brains. Two brains cannot work

together, like Indian and white. They fight among each other and the Indian way

will die and the white man will take over and [the Indian] will lose his language

and lose his way and lose his direction. That is what happens today in the

reservations. They do not know what they are going to do, which direction they

have to go. That is why they are using drugs and alcohol. They do not know

who they are.

E: Because it is this split, part dealing in the white world, and part dealing in the

Indian world?

B: Yes. And the Indian dies inside of them and they want to kill the pain. That is

why they use drugs and alcohol.

E: Is it less of a problem where you are living, in that community?

B: We have the same problem. Look at me; I am talking about traditional ways and

this and that, but me, I am no angel myself. I used to do drugs, and alcohol, too.

I am not a perfect man. But, when I found my direction, it was an Indian way

and it made me stronger, so I do not drink alcohol or do drugs now.

E: And the Indian way showed you the way out of it.

B: Yes.

E: And that is the important difference?

B: It is good to learn both ways, but I want to keep my Indian ways stronger than

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English or non-Indian ways, and have a trade, like a mechanic and all that, to

survive in their world.

E: I see on this reservation and in other parts of South Florida there are Christian

churches that Indians belong to, and for generations Indians have been joining

Christian churches in Florida. The people in the community where you live, are

any of them Christians?

B: No, we are not Christian or Catholic or Baptist or anything. We have our own

belief, our own God. Our God, we call him Fosa Kimechi, the Breathgiver. We

do not want to kill our God and his teaching and his law that were given to us to

satisfy somebody else's law and God. I do not want to go in a church and kneel

down and pray. God is everywhere, to me. God is the water; God is the land;

God is the sky and the universe. I do not need to go in a building and kneel. All I

need is God with me and inside of me to survive. Even if we cut a pole or a tree,

we give thanks to God. We are very religious people but not in a Christian or

Baptist way.

E: It is a different religion. Do you think that when other Indians have joined the

Christian church they have forgotten or left aside some of this? They have

moved away from it?

B: Yes.

E: Is that a problem, do you think?

B: To me, when they did that, it was their choice. I cannot force my belief. But, I

am going to tell you how I feel. I cannot force my belief onto another Indian or

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another person. I do not want to let him kill his God to understand me. I want

them to understand me with my God and with their God and with their belief. If

they cannot understand me with my God and my belief and my tradition, and they

want to go with their belief and their God, do not try to kill me, or do not try to

force me to do something. If you force me to do something like killing my God

and my language, I am going to do something to you, back.

E: One of the things that I am interested in seeing is, you are talking about a big

change in the way a lot of Seminole Indians have dealt with culture and their own

traditional practices. It has been changing a lot in the last one hundred years

and in the last generation. One of the things I am asking about, that I am curious

about, is Christianity. By people joining a church, do you think that is a move

away from, or something that works okay, with some traditional or cultural

practices? I am not trying to say, is it right or wrong? I am not trying to ask you

to speak against something, or to tell somebody else how to believe, but I am

curious if that is a move away from some of the practices and ideas that maybe

you see as important.

B: How can I answer that?

E: I am not sure. Why don't we leave that one aside, because I think it will come up

in some of these other questions, maybe in a different way. Let's shift gears and

talk about health issues for a minute and then from there we will see what comes

up. In looking at Seminole Indians and non-tribal members, and Indians of South

Florida, what do you see as being some of the major health issues that that

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people face, if you could say that this is the primary health problem?

B: The primary health problem on each reservation, to me, is drugs and alcohol.

There is cancer and diabetes among my elders, but that was by the ways of

getting closer to the non-Indians. That is how we got those diseases. Drugs and

alcohol is their choice. It is the individual choice to be sick. That is more

damaging and more hurting to our beliefs and our ways of life.

E: How do people overcome that kind of problem? Is there a good way for people?

B: An Indian person is a strong person, to me. A female or a male is a strong

person. If he wants to, he can put his mind [to it] and can move a mountain and

can reach the unreachable star. A teenage Seminole Indian can do that. But he

puts an obstacle before himself, like drugs and alcohol, that makes it bigger [so]

that he cannot go around and cannot go under and cannot go over. He is

making it bigger each day in relying on those drugs to ease the pain or release

himself to live better-but it is not. Like I said, they can do anything, they even

can quit doing drugs if they believe in themselves, and if somebody, like another

Seminole or an elder, believes in them. But today, we do not have a connection

among each other; like I said, we do not have communication and love for our

own brothers and sisters. We are kind of jealous among each other, jealous

because they got a new car, or a new house, and a status that they are looking

at, like money. They are kind of jealous of each other. We are like that. That is

how we are killing each other. We do not want to connect anymore. When I was

a child, when I was growing up in the village, if somebody got hurt twenty or fifty

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miles away, and if they heard it, some of our elders used to gather some clothes

and some food and walk way down there, or be in a canoe going down there, to

help them because they had that connection, that love and respect for each

other. Today, we are in to too much non-Indian ways and beliefs. We are losing

that connection and love and respect for each other.

E: I am a little concerned about the time because you are going to have to go back

to work. I am going to ask a couple of really quick questions and leave a lot of

this behind. Is any of the work you do here-when you are taking people out-

does that help? One of the things I see happening on this reservation with the

museum, for example, and the safari, is that there is an attempt to do some

preservation. The museum is trying to preserve a lot of cultural traditions and

present them to people. The safari seems to me to be trying to preserve some of

the natural environment and present that to people. Do you see, in your work,

that you are able to do some of that? Do you feel like you are doing preservation

work here, or do you think that maybe that is not what is happening?

B: What is that word you used, preservation? I cannot pronounce that word. It is

doing that, but not as much. This area is made for making money. They

preserve, but in time they are going to change it again to try to make more

money, trying to make it more interesting. Sometimes it is heading the wrong


E: I guess it does not recreate the kind of community that you were talking about.

B: Yes.

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E: And a lot of the people you deal with here are people like me, they are outsiders.

Is that important at all, to talk with the tourists who come?

B: Yes, I think that is very important. Since the time of the European arrival and

Spanish arrival, we have never sat down like human to human and tried to come

together and try to communicate. We always thought, this is mine and this is

yours, and do not trust this and do not trust past this. We have fought and killed,

I have fought and killed your brothers and you have fought and killed my brothers

and my sisters, like I did to you. And of all that fighting, nothing good ever came

of that. We need to sit down and really communicate and ask questions from our

hearts, not to take knowledge but to use it to scratch each other's back. We

need to sit down and communicate and ask questions that are very important

questions; try to communicate one-to-one with each other's heart. Not in here; in

our soul and our heart, in our hopes and our beliefs. I think that is good when a

white man and an Indian, or a Mexican, or a black man, sit down a really

communicate and ask questions among each other. We might yell and scream

and all that, but with that yelling and screaming, we might create something that

the whole world might use to understand.

E: So, in that sense, some of this does some good, it brings people to where they

can interact with you or others. I am really worried about your break.

B: Okay, me too. It is past anyway.

E: Because we are interested in trying to talk about the changes in the last

generation, is there anything else that we have not talked about that, in a couple

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minutes, you want add about what you see as being some of the major changes

in the last generation? Is there anything that you want to say?

B: Like I said, the most important problem we have today is hatred, [and it] is getting

bigger, and the policing is getting bigger. We are not going to survive too long if

we keep on hating each other and keep on destroying this beautiful earth. We

are not going to accomplish what we need to in the future. That is all I have to


E: Okay. I am really grateful for your time. I am glad you could do this.

B: Nice talking to you.

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