Title: Michael Skeet Johns
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Title: Michael Skeet Johns
Series Title: Michael Skeet Johns
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SEM 251
Interviewer is James Ellison
Interviewee is Michael Skeet Johns

E: Today is Saturday, August 14, 1999. I am Jim Ellison, and I am sitting with Skeet

Johns. We are at the Native Village. What is the full name of the village?

J: It is known as Native Village, but the name of it is what we call NVT, or Native

Village Tours. It centers on Florida history, Native Floridian=s history, and the

wildlife and reptilian life that we have here in our area, introducing [them to] our

local schools [and] to many of the kids who have never experienced something of

this nature. Many of them, surprisingly to us even, were born here, have lived

here, are eight, nine, or ten, years old and have never even seen an alligator.

So, this is an eye-opening opportunity to show basically what is living in our

backyards. Some of them are ones you have to be careful with, like the snakes.

We do a very good snake demonstration using the snakes that we find in our

own backyard. A typical question that we ask our kids is what kind of poisonous

snakes do we have here? The initial feedback from the kids [is], cobras, cobras!

They are correct in their being venomous, but they are not found in our

backyard. So, we concentrate on the three most common snakes that we have

here, such as the pigmy rattlesnake, the water moccasin, and then the larger,

more dangerous rattlesnake, the eastern diamondback. We do show a coral

snake but only the model. This is due to the nature of the coral snake, not so

much because it is so venomous (it is considered the most venomous in the

North America) but due to its subterranean and nocturnal nature. Handling it

during the daytime for the lectures disrupts its basic way and sense of life.

SEM 251 page 2

E: So, you would have to kill the snake, basically.

J: Yes. If you want to show the snake, you can figure the snake is, in three

demonstrations or lectures a day, on average. This snake is going to wear down

in about two or three months. We do have wild ones on the premises if someone

really [wants] to get more involved in it. In special lectures, we will bring it out.

E: We are sitting outside here. How big is this area?

J: The entire facility itself encompasses just about an acre, and that includes the

parking lot. The unique thing about the place is how it is laid out with the plants

and everything. It shuts down your line of vision where it appears to be so much

larger. In fact, an average of a dozen times a week, people ask, which way is

out? And, you know it is not big at all. It is laid out [so] as you go through the

different areas, we show the different ecosystems and how things work. The

pond that we have in here is governed by the main source of water, which is the

waterfall. It is borrowing the water from the ground water table line, which is

thirty-five feet to reach good water. You can go deeper but we find that thirty-five

to forty feet are sufficient right now, and we have had no problems with it over the

years. With the waterfall being the main source, it drops down into a larger pond

(that you can see is directly behind me) and then goes underground to go all the

way back to the rear of the facility where it then feeds two other large ponds.

Basically, these ponds now are virtually self-supporting ponds. We do not have

to do anything to them, as far as introducing a tremendous amount of food on a

daily basis. Foods that are introduced are primarily introduced to the turtles. The

pond directly behind me has nine different species of turtles in it, all of them

SEM 251 page 3

native to Florida with the exception of one, which is the alligator snapping turtle.

That one is native to northern Florida. It remains part of the state.

E: And you have that in here, too?

J: We have those in here, also. A lot of the life that we have in this back pond right

here cannot be seen by the casual visitor unless the visitor has some time and

just wants to relax and sit by the pond and observe the activity. Then, it is

amazing. There are fifteen different species of fish in there. There are three

different species of crustaceans. So, it is quite a unique and simple little system.

It is very instrumental educationally in teaching our adults and even the kids how

the ecosystems work. Outside here, the ecosystem consists of Everglades itself

and its counterparts alongside, the mango swamps and the final destination, the

10,000 islands, (which is our big nursery of south Florida). If we do not wake up

here pretty quick, we are really going to do some irreversible damage.

E: I hear a lot of people talking about that. Lots of possibility.

J: Yes. One of my main complaints about the restoration of the Everglades at this

point, is that I think our organizers on this project should spend a little bit less

time worrying about putting the Everglades back to its original state. They should

not be so worried about buying up so much land to restore the Everglades. I,

myself, being a resident here of fifty years, half a century, have seen the

Everglades go through some unbelievable changes and, over the years, I do

believe we can save what we have. But, if we continue to try to keep adding onto

it and buying these borderlands and buffer zones, we are really going to lose

SEM 251 page 4

precious time in saving what we have. We should be trying, at least to maintain

what we have left right now with what is left out there.

E: Because these destructive processes are ongoing.

J: Right. We are never going to get all the people to move back out, to give up

land. I do not believe the sugar corporations are into giving up too much more

land, and they have been pretty generous in here in the last five years or so.

Some people may disagree with me. I, myself, do not have a whole lot of love for

sugar corporations because of all of the changes I have seen over the years of

living here. I was born and raised here. There is too much time being spent right

now worrying about sugar corporations and the damage that they have done.

We cannot repair that, but we can save what we still have left, you know, if we

keep moving in that direction. So far, I think, with the combination of all the

organized groups and even getting right down to individuals, we are seeing a


E: There is definitely a lot more people talking about it these days.

J: Right. Depending on how successful it is going to be, I do not think we are going

to see that until somewhere around 2010, 2015, or even later, perhaps.

E: Did you build this place? Did you build the pond we are sitting next to and whole

works here?

J: I built this all on a lot of the ideas on how I felt about the environment, how I felt

about how we should look at it and go beyond just appreciating it. Take a couple

more steps beyond the appreciation and really get down to realizing just how

SEM 251 page 5

essential it is to our own survival here. If we lose this, we have really lost a major

battle, so to speak, in the war of industrialism versus the environment.

E: So, would you say that this place...?

J: This place gives people an idea. A lot of times, especially if I have a small group,

I will start from the waterfall, noticing how clear the water is and how natural

everything seems to be. All the fish are bedding. There are babies everywhere,

and stuff like that. Then, we come down to the lower area where we see a slight

change but still, looking at the pond at any given time, there is life everywhere,

and you can see it in the constant movement of the pond itself. Then, if we go all

the way to the back and finally end where the deer pen is, we get now down to

what I call >before man= and then >after man.= We get down to the solution, the

end result, at the pond. We have plants back there that filter the water, and the

water returns back with no other means but saturating right back into the ground,

the sand, returning to the aqua filter systems. We do lose some to evaporation

but, other than that, the system that we have here is quite remarkable. But, even

then, the system will fail if we lose our pump. The pump is basically the heart of

the whole facility. What we will see here is something on the same line, as we

would see in a drought in the Everglades. The water is going to go down. It will

not completely disappear. In some of the ponds, yes, but others will hold life.

Whatever area the water remains in, we would not have to regenerate any of the

other ponds of fish. That would be the big pond here, and when the waters came

back in this case, we got a new pump and got it hooked backed up. The waters

would come back up, and it is quite remarkable how nature is able to bounce

SEM 251 page 6

right back. Again, the whole layout of this facility is to give us some insight on

how it works outside there. You know this is a scale model of what it is like out

there. Over the, approximately, twenty-two years the place has been operating,

we have fascinated many a visitor here.

E: So, you built this in the late 1970s?

J: Actually, the chief started this...

E: James Billie?

J: Yes. [He] started this somewhere around 1976, the idea. You have to love our

chief. He has ideas that sit up here and there and all of a sudden, it becomes

reality. That has always been something that has just been remarkable about

the man.

E: He seems extremely imaginative. He is always coming up with things.

J: Yes. His mind basically never sleeps. The other thing that I have admired so

much over all the years is in aspects of dealing with people, especially in his

leadership position. I have heard many people say he is getting away from the

old ways and things like that. Well, I look around and I look back at these people

and remember certain things that he has said in the past: if we do not start

looking around and start seeing what is happening, as a people, we are going to

disappear. Through all these years, he has never lost contact. As I mentioned

earlier, I am a very silent observer. I do my own little notes and jot down for

future reference and stuff. But, he is by no means, in any way, going to let the

old ways disappear. He has gone to too many painstaking areas where he has

SEM 251 page 7

virtually saved the language. It will be in written form for younger tribal members

to be able to learn the dialect, since it is still a spoken dialect. The only means to

learn the language right now is to speak it within the household. But, now that

we are finding the younger generation is the one that is here in just a couple of

blinks of the eye, which is just a few years, we are going to see this generation

becoming leaders of the Seminole tribe. As he mentioned way back, going into

his first term of office, (of the parents still resentful about getting the kids off to

school), the main key to our success in the future is that our young generation

has to be educated. We have to get as smart as the other guys out here if we

hope to get close to what is going on and catch up. As he said early on, we are

not trying to become any better than anybody else. All we are asking is to catch

up. Then, through economic expansions of the tribe as the years will pass by

ahead of us, this will make Florida better for everybody. So far, in my opinion, he

has done just that. Not only has he advanced the tribe, he has restored

something that I, myself, always found a very difficult thing. That is the lack of

pride within the people themselves. This always has made me very sad. Then, it

got down to the lack of pride that I saw in the individuals, themselves. But, a few

key words in certain talks that he has had, with tribal members, basically, like

what we would call a campaign, maybe, speeches and stuff like that, he has

done a tremendous job retaining the old way but moving forward, too, at the

same time.

E: I have heard him speak about the same dilemmas, the same issues, and I have

heard other people across the reservations talking about these same dilemmas.

SEM 251 page 8

It is something that is on everybody=s mind as they go about their lives these

days, about preserving the old ways. Of course, with his music, he does some


J: There are a lot of messages in the songs that he does. What he has given back

to the Seminole tribe, from what I see, is a reputation or a nickname that the tribe

has held for 100 years plus, and that was AThe Unconquered People.@ He has

restored that back to us. I have seen a residential area that would be classified

as one of the lowest income or one that had lack of respect for their

neighborhood, turn into a mass of landscaping and green grass and painted

houses. I mean, you can see it in the residential areas right here on this


E: On Hollywood?

J: You do not see the old beat up cars, half a dozen cars sitting in the front yard, or

mounds of garbage or broken windows or doors hanging off their hinges. You

can see it in the way they live now, the way they care for things. There is no

more of the passed out tribal member, who we used to see so frequently years

ago, which was commonplace. Some of these individuals even turned

themselves around. They have come again to believe in themselves, going back

to their ancestors, that far back. There are certain tribal members I remember

[from] when I was young, thinking, boy, they are never going to live if they keep

this up. I see some of these tribal members, now, are complete opposite, just

SI could probably name dozens of names, but one man especially.

He is one of the last of the best canoe makers there are turned back around. Not

SEM 251 page 9

only has it been beneficial for him, but also it has been beneficial as a single

individual with the well being and mental attitude of the whole tribe: Henry John,

a remarkable man. Here, again, whether he admits to it or any other person

admits to it, the center of all of this is the leadership. The word sometimes is

spoken harshly, but true words. James has done a remarkable feat, getting back

the pride to the people. As he always said, proud Seminole.

E: Right. So, you said earlier that you were born and raised here, in Hollywood?

J: No, in west Davie, out on Pine Island Ridge. I do not like to compare myself to

the Native Floridian or the Native American. I feel this way as an individual being

a non-tribal member, about the land and stuff, you know, I saw my way of life


E: With what, population growth?

J: Population growth. It is just incredible. On a good day where I was born and

raised, you could smell the ocean from there. I could stand on Pine Island


E: And that is a couple of miles from where

J: Yes, as the crow flies here, it may be five miles away. I was born and raised on

the north end of the Pine Island Ridge where Nob Hill Road came out to State

Road 84. Nob Hill was just a tiny dirt road less than a mile long that went north.

My problem here is that the cities like Pembroke Pines, Miramar, Cooper City,

Tamarac, Lauderhill, Lauderdale Lakes, Coral Springs, these places did not exist,

not one building, not one telephone line. They did not exist.

SEM 251 page 10

E: You are talking about when? Like the 1960s, or the 1950s?

J: Yes. Well, the 1960s were when we really saw things changing real, real rapidly.

I do not know how familiar you are with the area down here, but everything west

of Hiatus Road and north of 84 was a huge cow pasture. If you are on 1-75

where you can look out and see the southernmost northern section of the

Everglades, right next to Markham Park, well, Markham Park was one big orange

grove called Murphy=s. From that, all the way to Hiatus Road was all

Everglades, all the way up to Oakland Park Commercial Boulevard, all sides


E: Yes. Of course, now it is roads and strip malls and

J: 100th Avenue, or what they Palm Avenue now. Well, firstly, where the state

mental hospital is on University, everything [was] one big huge beef cow pasture

on the west side of the hospital. But, from right there where the power lines

were, Everglades all the way to Snake Creek, which is the Dade-Broward county

line, out to 27 and then all the west of all the way up to Westin Road

right now, or Road, was Everglades. Rolling Oaks, Rolling Hills,

Sunshine Ranches, all of that, nothing but Everglades. I mean, I ran every

square yard in there on airboat.

E: When you were younger?

J: When I was young, yes, like nine years old. There is a lot more time that has

slipped by than I would like to realize myself. It is just that the way it was is still

so vivid in my mind. I think one of the reasons I have stayed here is because of

my silent observation and taking notes. I have always been toying with the idea

SEM 251 page 11

of putting a book together when I am in my sixties or something like that, of how

life has changed here.

E: Do you have children here?

J: Hm-mm [yes].

E: Do you ever think about it in terms of...I mean, some people look at their kids and

what their kids do, and they think back about what they did when they were

younger. Is that a point where you end up reflecting and saying, my gosh, I did

all of this stuff, and these kids cannot do it now?

J: A lot of times, I will stand back and look at my boy and see how remarkably

similar he is to me at his age. Basically, he is still doing the same stuff as I did,

but it is just all under a different set of rules. There is less to do it in. I think he

would be a lot angrier at this stage of his life if he was with me and grew up and

saw the same amount of development, seeing favorite places being replaced by

asphalt and concrete buildings. Some things that stick in my mind are simple

and small little things like the songs of the green tree frog. I mean, we would

have to be speaking a few times louder to talk over the tree frog. I remember the

dragonflies and the butterflies. I have a volunteer program over the summer with

kids and I usually take three or four trips a week and go out in the Everglades. It

is remarkable how excited they get when they see a firefly. It just

stuns me.

E: Because when you were growing up, it was...

J: Yes, it was so commonplace. Sometimes, it was so thick; you really did not need

a flashlight. There were that many of them. In fact, just a couple of months ago,

SEM 251 page 12

up in the north end of the >Glades (on what we call the L5 Levee, up in the Holy

Land area) I was riding along when all of sudden I came to this place just solid

with fireflies. I said, wow; man, I have not seen this many fireflies in a long time.

So, I backed up about an eighth of a mile and stopped. It happened to be a real

clear night. I just sat there and was watching them. I ended up spending the

whole night there because my truck broke down right there in that spot. But, it

was just remarkable. In fact, the night before last, I had this one boy who had

just walked by here out in the Everglades, and he was just overwhelmed with the

fireflies B and also, the mosquitoes.

E: Yes.

J: I do not know. I figure you cannot stop the progress of civilization. It has to go

on. It is really a shame [that] some of the people who live here now, I know that

within their minds, they are not thinking any further than what they are seeing

right now. They believe this is the way it was all the time. But, it is hard to see

native species of plant life replaced by non-native species of plant life and whole

forests taken down, with no regard for the environment. If we were as wise in the

1950s and 1960s as we pretend to be now, we would not be in the shape we are

in right now, as far as our environment and our water situations and even the fish

that we catch out of our waters. We never had to worry about that stuff when we

were growing up here. Shoot, we used to have blue water in the Intercostal

Waterway, all the way in, south of Sheridan Street. Now, even at high tide, it

barely makes its way around the Coast Guard station at Port Everglades. That

kind of stuff used to really, really bother me, but I spend less time worrying about

SEM 251 page 13

it and more time now trying to Hopefully, the younger generation,

especially, who may be interested in our environment will make more of a

difference than their parents will. Or even a construction person may be saying,

instead of much more money on this, maybe I will do something a little bit

different where it makes it better for the environment and everything else going

on around it.

E: So, ecotourism is a phrase that people use these days to talk about things like

this and other things going on in South Florida.

J: It is funny. Twenty-five years ago, I told James that we ought to be instrumental

here, which we did really do, from the days of the old Indian village down the

road, the Oakley Village, in how we operated the facility down there under the

common tourism management level. Just get the people in here, and we do not

care what we tell them. You know they already believe alligators can do fifty

miles an hour, so we are not going to tell them they do not. I mean, why spoil a

good thing? We are getting people in here. And I said, James, especially with

the European people, I have been noticing a change in what people are looking

for. I said, you and I need to become more personal with everybody. I said, I

know you are not going to be able to spend the amount of time with each

individual who comes to this place. But on a guided trip, as we tour around the

village and the facility, we could introduce ourselves by our first names and get

right down and be friendly. Instead of saying, stand back, folks, this alligator has

been known to jump over the walls, and stuff like that and feeding a bunch of

garbage to the public, let us give them something that they can walk out with.

SEM 251 page 14

Let us teach them. I think that we will be very surprised by the attitude of our

visitors. By gosh, I was right. People want to learn. Here, we have been able to

thrill and educate at the same time, and we have done this by giving them the

truth, the actual facts, and it has been remarkable.

E: Because the facts are pretty exciting, themselves.

J: People want to learn.

E: And, you know, I was talking with Daisy Jumper, and she was telling me about

how she was working when they were starting the Swamp Safari and that you

were out there as well, helping to get that going. Do you see that as part of a

bigger effort to ?

J: Oh yes. By the way, they closed the place down. Originally, it was going to be

used as a hunting facility, and activist people protested and cut fences and things

like that. A lot of the animals got out, and a lot of the animals never will recover.

E: Really? The Swamp Safari was going to be hunting thing, originally?

J: Yes. It was an economic adventure. The idea was put together by James and

some other individuals, again, on the level of economic expansion for the overall

tribe. The original plan was to experiment with different species of deer on a

level of production, as they are successful with cattle. The Seminole tribe, I

believe, is among the top five in beef production in the state of Florida, in bull

calves, bull cattle. In fact, I think they are number one.

E: Yes, in the state

J: Yes, in the bull area, on registered bulls. This was an area that James thought,

perhaps, would provide more employment to tribal members and non-tribal

SEM 251 page 15

members. Again, I remember one of James= speeches, when he was building

his foundation. He spoke of how the tribe was going to govern itself in looking at

areas of tobacco or BINGO. As it was, they were very instrumental in

allowing the tribe to become more financially independent and use their own

money to better their own programs. There would be no one to suffer the loss

except for the tribe because they did not borrow the money from the government

or the state or anything like that. They are still, I believe, considering

experimenting, as they were before. It is not as ambitious because of his new

idea. James said, wait a minute; before we dump this project, we have the

animals...let us shoot them differently; we let the people come in here and shoot

them, but we will help keep Kodak in business. That was turning it into a

photography safari, instead of a hunting deal. It has been a while, and the

hardest thing for most people is having the patience. When I was out there, my

biggest thing to instill the patience is to describe what we were doing and

describe the actual facility itself in the stage it was in. We are dealing with a

baby right now. We are in the infancy stage of this development. We are not

going to see anything come back on this for quite a few years, but it will happen.

Those who are going to be involved are going to have to be very dedicated and

willing to stick with it.

E: This baby, are you referring to just the Swamp Safari or, in general, ecotourism?

SEM 251 page 16

J: Exactly, the facility itself and So, this is where the tribe would make

its real first step into becoming. There is still a lot of work to be done. I think the

tribe is already thereBrenowned for the ecosystem level as a place to come learn

and not stop short of the pot so much. We are introducing more and more tours

and not just for daylight. There is a whole other crowd of individuals who operate

at night in the woods. Not only that, they have the resources being located

where they are to have very little light pollution, so those people who are into the

stars have a place to come and observe. Even build a facility for those who want

to come out there and camp. There is no limitation on where you can direct

projects. You can go into so many different areas of the ecosystems, even using

Mother Nature certain times of the year, boardwalks through certain of the

hammocks out there at night and listening to the sounds of different species of

frogs, spending time at rookeries. Right now, the opportunity is there. We just

need the time and the materials to build those walkways to these rookeries and

to have visitors take-their-time. We want an atmosphere where nobody-is-in-a-

rush and to build comfortable sitting places for the interested person to have the

time and have the comfort to spend, literally, hours observing. That would be

great, and people would come far to see that. In my program with the volunteers,

this is what I see with the kids. That learning is an unbelievable thing for us now.

The real neat thing is to reach the kid who has been, perhaps, told a dozen

times or more in the past week at home, you are stupid [and] you cannot do

anything right. I have seen so many kids gain two inches in height when they

come here and volunteer and do the clean up and, then, as the weeks go by,

SEM 251 page 17

they follow our tours around with the guides. I make the point of taking

everybody=s tour, not just the one guide. Take everybody=s tour, and listen to

what they say. Then, bring an extra set of clothes and after all the work is done

in the morning, we have what we call walk-in, where people come in and they

walk around by themselves. My policy here [is] I do not care who they are,

whether they are a walk-in or not, if they are not on a tour, you still go up there

and introduce yourself [by your] first name. You are friendly. Then, you watch

them and say, as you go through the village, look in that round pit; there are

three different crocodilians in there. I tell them to walk up to them and say, hey,

do you have any questions on anything. If they say no, say okay, if you need

help, I will be around. Then, you mention the other guys who are here also. This

is the kid who has a problem with authority, the one who never gets a pat on the

back or anything like that. See, this whole six weeks or so, he has been learning;

she has been learning. I told them, if you go back to them a second time, and

they say they do not have any questions, then volunteer information on whatever

they are looking at. For example, what you are looking at here, the lighter

colored one, is a caiman. They are not native; they are from South America.

The dark one, that is the alligator; and that one over there with the green eyes,

that is a crocodile. And, by bringing up just a little bit of information, the first

question is asked. I found this to be true a long time ago, that people do not ask

questions because they do not want to appear to be stupid. That is the main

problem. But, as soon as information is given and that first question is asked,

that young lady or boy turns around and gives them the right

SEM 251 page 18

information on it, and the transformation occurs immediately. Here is an adult

asking something from me, the one who knows nothing. Then, the whole thing

breaks down, and it all just becomes the norm. All the tensions are broken.

Then, if they stay with the people, I tell them if you get them to ask a couple of

questions, then you say, here, follow me and let me show you this. Their

intentions were not to start out on a guided tour. It ends up 90 percent of the

time that the volunteer is sticking with the people and then going from one place

to another and giving information. Then, they end up with five or ten bucks in

their pocket.

E: Yes. So, I am hearing something very interesting here. We were talking about

ecotourism and the big picture of the environment. We talked about how your

project here relates to this big picture of transformation and education and the

Swamp Safari and so forth. We have moved them to this level of people who

work for you, these kids who come in, turning around their attitude about their

own personal lives. Is that a kind of a connection that you see more broadly, the

connection between what is happening with the environment and the way we

interact with it and how people ?

J: Yes, I think we are trying to wake up and see the broad picture of just how

important our environment is to us.

E: And it has that kind of impact on individuals.

J: Right. It certainly does, whether [or not] they want to admit it, but the interest is

there. They pass this concern on to people who are willing to learn when it is

brought out into the open by friendly people who are sincere about their

SEM 251 page 19

involvement and their dedication. They not only do their part, but while they are

out there in the wilderness or our environments, they become more

knowledgeable themselves. [Sorry, Jim, but I couldn't figure out what he was

trying to say here.] Then, with the younger generation, instilling this in now, I

hope the generation that follows them, which will be their kids, will have a much

better perspective or view. I think, in the next two or three generations, if we

maintain these steadfast attitudes, we are going to see a big change in our world,

our global situation.

E: Would you describe yourself as optimistic or pessimistic about that, or


J: I am open. I wonder if one day, the world is going to wake up and really realize

how serious our problem is. I think that once we do become educated, I actually

believe that we will see a reduction in the hostilities with which all countries seem

to treat their neighbors and bordering countries. I know we have the capabilities

of becoming great. Even Florida is exceeding its own ambitions and goals.

Again, I have always been one who has been able to see ahead at things. I was

explaining this the other day to my son, that when I do think on this line of

thought, I review the subject matter on what has happened within the last year

and how things went up to this particular moment of thought with me. Then, I

project everything, after reviewing, on how things have gone. This gives me a

clearer picture. If it goes on that way or we just move over a couple of inches

this way in the next three or four years, we are going to really make a big

difference. This is where we have to learn that whatever is going to be done, we

SEM 251 page 20

are not to succeed in a year, or overnight. We can reflect back and try to pick up

those areas where we might have tripped a little bit and find a solution to where it

works out better or even until we correct it. Again, I truly believe that we have the

mentality. It is just that we have to put our perspectives in their proper places

and in order.

E: Get the priorities set.

J: Yes, priorities.

E: I am going to shift gears just a little bit here and talk about something that I think

is related. I would like to talk about your relationship with the Indians, the

Seminole Indians and Miccosukee Indians. I am interested, not just your

relationships personally but what you see, being from this area, of non-lndians=

relationships with the Indians over the last generation. It sounds like you have

known James Billie a long time, almost like you grew up together.

J: Yes, just about. Well, no, we did not grow up together, but the time that we have

known each other has been very unique. We have come to a point in our lives

where we are probably [more?] on the level of being brothers than my blood

brother is to me. We have similar ideas. He is the one who has the ability to

capitalize and focus his energies. But I, as I said before, I am more an observer

and a listener. I think that has helped me build a better foundation on how I feel

and direct the things that we have done as we grew up. Actually he

was just coming back from Vietnam, but our ideas were so close, and the way we

looked at things were, in many cases, identical. Our friendship stays strong over

all these years, even though there are months that go by where we do not see

SEM 251 page 21

each other or we do not talk. We do actually talk but it is more mentally (have

them call it mental telepathy), but it is like we just saw each other yesterday when

we do finally run into each other. As he said one time, we do not to see each

other to be friends; we will always be friends; you and I are brothers.

E: He was not, obviously, the first Seminole Indian that you met. You grew up in

this area.

J: He is the first one who I really connected [with]. There was another tribal

member who lived on the Brighton Reservation. I got to know him, not well but to

a point where I felt really close to him every time he came into my granddad=s

store. We had a small ranch, and we had a place out there on State Road 84

between Hiatus and Nob Hill, Carter=s Bait and Tackle and General Store,

Amoco Gas Station...

E: Was Carter your grandfather=s name?

J: His last name.

E: Maternal grandfather?

J: Yes. And he would come in and I was just beginning my teens, but there was a

special bond that occurred. I still see him at the powwows and stuff like that. I

cannot remember his first name, but his last name was Gopher. Then, after I

met James, it was just like it was something that had been a part of me all along.

The ideas, the way of life, our feelings for the Everglades, how we felt about the

animals, how we felt about the bond between land (and?), everything, how we

were... [End of Side 1, Tape A.] ...made a lot of things for me in my life, as it was

growing, change into a different direction. I had an opportunity to really become

SEM 251 page 22

aware of how things were looked at from someone else=s shoes, people who for

100s, even 1000s, of years had been here. A whole new history lesson, so to


E: It sounds like this really developed after you got involved with talking to James

and other people.

J: Yes, it blossomed after...

E: Were you in your twenties when you met him?

J: No, I was in my late teens.

E: So, it was not something that you, [for example], developed in school?

J: Actually, the first time? I stopped at a friends house on the way coming back

out of the swamp, (where I spent almost every single day, if I was not working).

Back then, I had means of making my visits to the swamp financial (lucrative?),

by selling snakes to support my continuing trips into the swamp and Everglades.

And, I stopped by there, and the phone rang. It happened to be Jim Billie, whom

I had never met before. This gentleman who had taught me so much about the

woods and how to identify birds by only seeing the black silhouette in the sky...

E: Who was this?

J: Frank Wheat. Frank Wheat, Sr. and Frank Wheat, Jr., but I spent most of my

time with Jr. He made me very wood-wise. He also made me much more

appreciative of what our environment had to offer us in so many different ways.

The key was my granddad. He was the one who really turned me around.

E: Carter?

SEM 251 page 23

J: Yes, my Grandpa Carter. I was six years old, but the words he asked me that

day in that little episode is really what directed me into where I am today. But,

with James, he was asking Frank; do you know anybody who might be able to

give me a hand? What do you need? And he said a water moccasin bit me, and

I am in the hospital. I am just getting the village started down there, and I need

somebody who is experienced with animals and snakes to go down there and

kind of pull things together until I can get out of the hospital.

E: Which village was this?

J: The Oakley Village. He became manager of the Oakley Village when he came

home from Asia. And he says, I have somebody right here. He said, but I do not

know if he has a steady job or anything. So, he put me on the phone and. Hi, I

am Skeet; what do you need? Oh, I need somebody who can handle snakes

and talk with people; it looks like I am going to be in the hospital for a week or

two. The relationship started from a phone call, and I virtually have been with

James ever since, whether he has been around or not. I relate the relationship

somewhat to my loyalty to him, even from back then. There was something

about him. There was an aura or an energy that was being transmitted by him,

that this person is different. There is something about him that I cannot put my

finger on, but this guy is different. From that, our friendship just grew and grew

and grew, and it is still growing. My son works for him now. He has done a lot

for my boy.

E: Where does he work for him, Big Cypress?

SEM 251 page 24

J: Yes, at Big Cypress. He really likes Daniel because Daniel is so in contact with

the environment, Mother Nature, the woods, and sees it through his eyes as

much as James sees it through his own eyes, all of this. Again, James has that

ability to be able to play the other side, too, and move on. He reminds me very

much of a legend that was once told to me by a tribal member who is no longer

here. James is very much like a character in a legend of the Seminole people, of

a person who would come and lead the people out of despair and give their

sense of belonging back to them. Whether the legend is true or not...I have

heard a few other people speak of this particular legend, and it was said to be a

white man. Ironically, James is half-Irish. It was very close to his achievements

and it follows very closely to what the legend says. But, from that very first

moment when we met and became friends, my loyalty to him was more like a

knights royalty to his king. I have not agreed with everything he has done in all

the years. There are certain things that I would like him to reflect back on, and

that is to become a little bit more in re-contact with people, especially along the

elder=s level. Over the years, I have seen great people let the lights and the

busyness of everything involved in that what set them out to begin

with. Sometimes, you have a tendency to lose sight because of the speed of

things. It is something very difficult to explain. But, I laid down our friendship, a

few years ago, which I said I never would do. I am not going to let that get in the

way so much. I am not going to let it happen again. In this particular incident, it

had nothing to do with the friendship. The friendship never faltered. That is the

other thing I have always admired about him. He knows the difference.

SEM 251 page 25

E: He has great big character. You are describing a pretty unique relationship that

has developed between you and James. It sounds like, that is true with a couple

of other people in the tribe, too. Would you say that kind of relationship was

unique if you put yourself next to other people with whom you grew up who were

non-Indian? Did they, develop strong relationships with Seminole people?

J: No. This is unique because of that. None of the people with whom I went to

school (not even my best buddies in school) came close to what I found when I

met James and listened to his ideas and what he valued.

E: They were pretty separate from...?

J: Totally separate. That was the uniqueness about him and me, that I finally met

somebody who sees things. When I look out there in the grass or stand under

the Big Cypress out there, there is more than McDonald=s. One example is in

communicating; it was nothing that I could really share with any other person who

I had met. I have one other friend who feels about the environment as James

and I do. He lives out on the edge of the Fakahatchee Strand. I like to believe

that he and I, in some small way during our little militant period of our lives,

helped bring attention from the state to what the Arvida Corporation was doing to

the Fakahatchee.

E: What is that? What were they doing?

J: They were digging a huge canal through the heart, actually separating the

Picayune Strand from the Fakahatchee Strand and, in doing so, they destroyed

the Picayune Strand. I mean, destroyed it. They made it a totally different

SEM 251 page 26

ecosystem. What we did, really, [was we] drew the attention of federal and state

officials to the devastating damage to the environment that Arvida had done. We

found out before we decided to go on this little mission the amount of water that

was being drained out of the swamp and simply going straight down the

Fakaunion Canal into Chokoloskee Bay down there. It was, like, 200,000 gallons

of water a minute that was being drained out of the swamp. Consequently, with

the Fakahatchee being a lower slough, it was able to survive but suffered a

tremendous amount of damage itself. I would say, easily, 90 percent, if not 95

percent, of all the species of orchids died out because of the lack of the water in

the swamp. It completely destroyed the Picayune Strand. Out of it, after court

and lawsuits and things, Arvida gave the state, the Fakahatchee Strand,

restitution for what they had done. Virtually, there has been nothing done to the

Picayune Strand except miles of road being laid down, and we call this area the

blocks, because that is all [there is]. The road just cuts everything from south of

Alligator Alley within miles of the Tamiami Trail, then going north of Alligator Alley

all the way up into the western side of Sunniland and just long roads that go back

and forth. You do not want to get in there with a quarter tank of gas because

there is only one way in and one way out. You get up in the maze of highways

and stuff, and these highways disappear into the heat mirage. So, it is very, very

difficult unless you really have [your bearings]. That is why I never get lost.

These areas that I do get into, I either study a map, or I drive the perimeter. Say,

you get on Alligator Alley and go to the next road all the way down the trail. That

SEM 251 page 27

way, I have a mental picture. What I am looking at in my mind is one big section

of land, and I know where I am at in that section of land, mentally.

E: So, there is nothing there but roads right now?

J: Right, and a few people who are trying to bust a livelihood or a living out of there.

There is no electricity.

E: But, the environment has just been devastated?

J: The environment has been destroyed. Except for some of the other low-lying

areas, which the water does not move now, but heavy rains will fill up the cypress

heads. But, when they dried it, you know put the drainage systems in there, fires

went in there and just ravaged the place. Once a fire moves into something like

that, then all the undesirable understudy growth develops. This understudy is

enough to strangle out, any acorn that has popped on the ground from another

tree to try to get up as big, and the same thing with the pine saplings. Although,

there is probably 100 times more pine out there now because of the environment

change. In the place of the pine, there should have been open prairies, and

there should have been a substantial amount of water in there also. But, our

militant activity really centered attention and to do so we figured they

would have to contact certain authorities because of the damage that we caused

by plugging up the canal with their equipment.

E: This is the said militant activity?

J: Yes, but it brought attention to what was going on there. They got smacked

heavily with fines. The whole canal was being dug illegally, no permits, no

nothing. It was just so terribly sad to see.

SEM 251 page 28

E: How did you find out about it?

J: My friend Guy and I spent so much time in the Fakahatchee part of that area out

there. It was like our second home. In fact, when you go back out to the store

there, there is a painting of the place where I lived for about three years out there

by myself earlier in life. I got married a little bit too young and got divorced about

a year and a half later, and I left everything that I had, all my personal

belongings. I took some clothes and stuff, but materialistic things like...back

then, we still had albums. I had an unbelievable collection of albums and some

artwork and things of that nature. I put my guns in storage, sold my car, and I

simply moved out there. That is where I really became even more and more

aware of what man was doing and how detrimental it was to life that was still fifty,

sixty, a hundred miles away. When we changed that water into those areas that

no longer were receiving it, you just could not fathom the damage that was

caused to that pristine area of the Ten Thousand Islands. It is a nursery for the

shrimps and blue claw crabs and oysters and dozens and dozens and dozens of

fishes, not to mention bird life. But, all that damage virtually went unnoticed.

E: And this friend of yours, Guy, is somebody you knew from before this time, from


J: Yes, from school. We gun fought together?

E: Care to explain that?

J: Yes. We did a Wild West type of thing, where we had a traveling town. We used

to go to Canada almost every summer with Frank Wheat while we were younger

and stuff. We were part of his show. He always used to bring animals up to

SEM 251 page 29

these fairs. Then, we would put on these old Western gunfight shows. We

would have a take downtown and then set up the rodeo range stuff. Then, we

did about a four-month thing down in South America and traveled around all the

bull arenas and did the same thing down there. It was a lot, a lot, of fun.

E: How did you get turned onto that?

J: I was in Davie. There used to be a place out there in Davie that was called

Pioneer City, and it was where the Peacock Tree was built next out there. It is

just west of Flamingo Gardens, on that same oak ridge right there. We just

started going out there as kids. Frank had an exhibit down there and then his

son used to do trick shooting, unbelievable shooting. My girlfriend ran the horse

stables. Then, there was an organized group of gun fighters out there and, for

some reason, the management out there let about fix or six of us put our own

gunfight group together. What we did was, [we] entertained the people arriving

and stuff in between the scheduled gun fight shows, when the real gun fighters

did their thing. Actually, we got really good at it. We got so good at it that the

regular gun fighters were complaining. Now, there were only two ways into the

town, and one of them was by locomotive, an old steam locomotive. We even

got the train to stop. We would have a skit. We were fourteen, fifteen years old.

We had skits that we would write down where people going into town by train...if

you are waiting at the train station, would you like to see a young Gunsmoke and

the other cowboy Western? We had a couple of undesirables leaning up against

the pole like this, eating straw, and looking a little dangerous. On this particular

one, here I come up the railroad tracks with a prisoner. He is shackled like that,

SEM 251 page 30

and I have the old sawed off shotgun over him. We come up and board the train.

Two outlaws get on the train alongside. Then, outlaw buddies down the track

stop the train and break the guy out. We even had solder-linked the shotguns so

when we fired a blank, it looked like it blew the chains apart. We had it down pat.

That is how I got into gun fighting.

E: That is interesting.

J: Guy and I did a lot of scouting of the area in the early days. We were in our early

teens when we got there. Frank was always out there because he took people

on hunting trips.

E: That was Frank, Sr.?

J: Yes. We did a lot of homework out there so when he brought customers out

there, we knew our way around in that swamp, where they could get into a

position. Say, that was the oak hammock. They could get in position a half an

hour or forty-five minutes and lay up, working wind and everything like that.

There would be two or three of us who would approach the island. We are

talking about wading around in knee to middle thigh deep growth and then this

would set the deer off the back side of it and, hopefully, towards the shooter.

Guy and I used to go in there with Frankie, Jr. Of course, Frankie was older than

any of us, so he had a car. We orchid hunted and collected orchids.

E: For...?

J: Then, just for our own personal satisfaction. I had about twenty-one of the native

species. I think there are about thirty of them in the state of Florida. I think there

are more now. I think they have discovered a few more that they did not realize.

SEM 251 page 31

E: I did hear about something like that.

J: But, I know that in our explorations out there, we found orchids that were not in

the books. But, a few years after that, four years maybe, that is when Arvida

came in and we backed down. See we were looking to find out what was

happening. That is how we stumbled upon the canal. We were looking. We

knew that the water was going someplace.

E: So, you could see something was different?

J: Yes, there was something. The swamp was telling us there was something

drastically going wrong. Now, we were hunting orchids and we noticed, all of a

sudden, a serious drop in orchids. We would find dead orchids. Something was

causing it, and it was the amount of water that the Fakahatchee always held in it.

It created a whole different atmosphere inside the swamp, on humidity levels

and things like that. So we decided, let us go for a ride to see what is going on

here. That is how we stumbled across that canal. Boy, it was like, the water was

crystal, crystal clear, but it was the lifeblood of the swamp, and it was just

slipping out and going off into the Gulf of Mexico.

E: It was just being flushed away.

J: Just being flushed away.

E: While you were doing this kind of thing, did your friend Guy...what is Guy=s


J: Guy Quail.

E: With Guy Quail and Frank Wheat, were there any Indians involved with them at


SEM 251 page 32

J: With Frank, there always were.

E: The hunting stuff?

J: I do not know about the hunting stuff. I think they were more involved in his Wild

West shows and his shows that he did in Canada, following the country fairs and

stuff like that. That was the thing to do, go square dancing and go see who grew

the biggest potato or whatever. See if Johnny has a bigger pig than he grew last

year. It was a lot of fun. Twenty-five cent admission to come in and look at

rattlesnakes and big anacondas and things like that. Canadian people would

say, whoa, we have never seen anything like that. Back then, not everybody had

a TV, especially in Canada. When I went to Canada for the first time, I was

shocked. I mean, it was like stepping back in time 200 years. I mean, actually,

that is what it was like. It was just incredible how everybody was so in tune.

They knew each other.

E: Up in Canada?

J: Yes, Nova Scotia.

E: Yes, a different world.

J: Yes. We did most all of our stuff in Nova Scotia and then Prince Edward=s


E: I am trying to understand one thing. If there is a change, you are a unique case

since your son Daniel, right now, is working out for

J: I kind of look at him, and it so funny. He is almost like the last of a species. He

has that much heart. Just last year, I took him out. We went out just looking for

snake hunting areas and also looking for maybe some out of the way deer

SEM 251 page 33

hunting spots. At the end of the day, he said, thanks, Dad. And I said, what?

He said, I did not realize that there were so many dirt roads left in Florida. He

said, that is just great. It is just things like that. I was the same way. I used to

love the dirt roads.

E: You really get into the...

J: The sense of the country. Then, I have heard him talk over the last couple of

years. He says, you know, I wonder what made somebody look at the

Everglades like this and, all of a sudden, decide to put a road through here. You

know? He thinks along the same line. Why could not everything just have been

left alone? Like my granddad told me when I used to swim my horses across 84

Canal to go hunting up in what is now Coral Springs. I would never cross under

a wire. I would never see a light at night. If you saw eight or nine airplanes, that

was a big deal. There were a lot of planes out last night. How many did you

see? I saw nine of them last night. Now, you can count ninety from where you

are standing. You see the blinking lights everywhere in the sky. I used to stand

on Pine Island Ridge and look to the east at night and see, maybe, fifteen lights,

from lights that were on at certain facilities. It was just incredible. This was a

village here. Back in the back, the back corner of the village, went back more

into the oak hammock there. But, when you pulled out here and got on 441, it

was just a little two-lane highway. That was solid oak on the other side. The first

traffic light that you came to was at State Road 84. Then, the next traffic light

was not a traffic light; it was a three-way caution light, and that was at

Road in Margate. Then, the next traffic light was all the way to 98, which is

SEM 251 page 34

Southern Boulevard. And that was it. There was no Sunrise Boulevard going out

that way. There was no Oakland Park even connected to State Road 7 or

Commercial Boulevard. Prospect Road, I think, came out and then on the other

side of Prospect Road, there was a little tiny road that you passed out there, as

you said, cutting through the cypress. Just a little tiny road [with] grass was

growing up in the middle of the road. There was nothing. Huge, huge cypress

stands in Coral Springs, and none of them are left. We used to even pull up

orchids out that way, in Coral Springs.

E: Is road building, roads coming through, one of the major things that transforms

J: Yes, and they widened 441. Then, they built University Drive. I get kind of a

tickled feeling inside when out here, somebody says, yes, I was living out there

when University was just a dirt road. Well, University was only a dirt road in the

beginning of the construction of it. There was nothing there before they decided

to build University Drive, not a dirt road or anything. It was an endless cow

pasture, it seemed, and I used to ride my horse and swim across the canal and

then cut east and ride on the west side of what is now Plantation through pristine,

big, huge Dade County pines, all virgin, and cypress heads. There were some

roads that led to some ranches, like Old Lady Lions up there in west Margate,

and then Wildes Road. Wildes Road just dead-ended into the Everglades. So, a

lot of times out there, I feel when I have grown up, I wish my kids would be able

to have experienced that. In a sense, my son is experiencing some, the way I

SEM 251 page 35

look at it now. My daughter also loves the woods and if anything ever happened,

she is skilled to be able to survive. But, right now, she still likes to go out to the

rodeo at night and go out to Holiday Park and listen to the bullfrogs and drink a

beer or two. But, Danny has learned that he is utilizing what is left and being

thankful that at least he has this. In the stories I have told him, he wishes it was

a time that he could participate. I think if there had been more of us back then

with the same attitude, maybe we would have made a difference. I think,

definitely, we would not have as much sugar cane out there. That is for sure.

When I take people up into the north end of the Everglades, I take them through

and show how it has changed. We finally got up into an area where I hesitated.

No matter what direction you looked in, (and this is what boosts my argument on

this restoration business), you saw Everglades in every direction. I get out and I

tell them, you know where we came through the Holy Land up there?

I say, I want you to close your eyes and put that picture back in your mind and

then open your eyes and slowly turn to your left, turn to your right, and make a

complete circle in what you see. I explain to them, this is my reason [why] I do

not think we should be wasting the time trying to restore the Everglades and

opening this back. Everything you see was Everglades, everything,

and there is no way that we are going to get all of this back. No way at all. The

main bloodline to Lake Okeechobee was the Kissimmee River on the north side.

That was one of their biggest mistakes, when they straightened out the

Kissimmee. They took the Snake [Creek] away. That was almost the beginning

of the end. I cannot imagine listening to some of those cowboys up there in Big

SEM 251 page 36

Cypress growing up in the area and saying, oh, Lake Okeechobee always used

to be crystal clear, and there was white sand along the shore line, and the lake

was not as big as it is now. That is because they are holding the water in there.

Like the 1926 hurricane that busted the dam, they expanded the size of it

considerably. I just cannot imagine living at a time when you could have moved

your boat up to the south end of Lake Okeechobee, and it was one and the

same, the lake just caressing and moving right into the Everglades.


J: Yes, and the water going down to Shark Valley Slough. That was the biggest

main artery of fresh water in the central portion of the Ten Thousand Islands.

The other part wandered its way over to the Biscayne Bay, and then the third part

cruising through the Big Cypress down through the Fakahatchee and into Ten

Thousand Islands on the West Side. The thinnest one, though, we eradicated

that natural stuff without flow. We also changed the amount of sediment that was

being carried by the fresh waters. I believe it is happening now, and I believe if it

is not, it is going to be happening real soon. Where all the salt water is going to

start making a comeback and take away what it took hundreds and hundreds of

years, thousands of years perhaps, of a constant construction of the flow of the

fresh water carrying all the sediment. You know, as small as they are, a never-

ending source of them founded in bulk

E: A couple of people have described it to me as this massive filtered system that is


SEM 251 page 37

J: Yes, and it worked. I believe that when the subject of the Fountain of Youth

comes up, and I listen to some of the stories in legends of the Seminole people, I

believe they knew where the Fountain of Youth was all the time. Silver Springs

and a lot of those other springs up there also play a huge role in the conditions of

our south Florida area. I do believe that in their legends and songs, the Fountain

of Youth was that water that flowed down. Every particle, in the essence of it,

was the life giving to guarantee a constant to the generations that would follow.

It provided all the species of life and, in that water, produced the youth of ordered

species. The whole South Florida was immersing, mostly.

E: Regeneration.

J: In its regeneration, this was the Fountain of Youth. It has been under our

eyebrows the whole time. So, I heard and picked out key parts of certain stories

that were told. It also became very clear to me when I lived out in Fakahatchee.

Like any person who is connected with society and civilization and the

comfortable parts of it, it was difficult for me to adjust [for] the first three or four

months. Because, man, I wanted to see that program tonight and it started at

eight o=clock. This is my point. This is what I was doing out there. You know?

And, as the days went by, it became a little bit easier. We are always constantly

feeling, I have to be here, I have to be there, or I am too late [so] I might as well

just forget it, now. One morning, I woke up, and I felt I had two visitors that night.

(I am getting goose bumps) One was a blanket of tranquility over me. The other

one was harmony and balance. That morning when I woke up, I would look and

feel about things totally opposite than I felt yesterday. All of a sudden, the

SEM 251 page 38

simplicity of all of it was so clear. I have never worn a watch since that day. I

took the watch off and realized, I do not have anybody to see. I do not have any

appointments, and I do not have any place I want to go [because] I am already

here. It occurred to me, I have all the time in the world. I no longer have to

measure it. I will not let it dictate me. However, after I came back, in order to

fall into the mode of things you have to be able to separate yourself or let

everything go like I did before and move out there and stay there the second

time. But, then, I would not be able to teach, and I would not be able to pass

even a microdot worth of information that may make a difference to some young

persons mind. One question that my grandfather asked me when I was six

years old, which I still believe today, has truly fine-tuned my focus. He would go

fishing, open up his favorite can of sardines and ask me how many other things I

saw living in my life. He used to call me Darnit because I was inquisitive and

used to pester him all the time. Darnit, why don=t you just leave me alone. He

says, look around you, and I want you to tell me how many life forms you see

around you. What do you mean? Think about what I said, and look around you.

I would look around, and I would say, well, there is a dragonfly and a

Just like here, minnows pecking up on the side of the boat and stuff. I

think I saw a couple of birds. That was it. Then, he sat back up a little bit and

said, I want you to look where I point my finger. And he listed off a dozen

different types of plants, in and out of the water, at least another half a dozen

birds, and I do not know how many different spiders that were inside the boat,

too, not to say outside of the boat. For some reason, like tuning a guitar, it struck

SEM 251 page 39

a chord there. Whoa! All this stuff, and I never noticed it around me. I think that

is what gave me the direction of where I was going to go later on in life.

E: It is interesting, what you were saying about wearing a watch. You could be way

out and give it up and everybody to not have to wear the watch.

When you come back here to do this teaching, it presents kind of a dilemma. It is

a give and take; you have to work with the schedule somewhat if you are going to

be able to make this kind of difference. In a sense, it sounds similar to what

people are telling me on the reservations here, that, in different ways, people are

talking about this dilemma.

J: Well that is why we still have Indian time. We still look at it kind of humorously.

As you were mentioning the schedules, for example, I will meet you tomorrow,

say, around nine o=clock, Daisy. But, it is nothing to come an hour late. This is

what we call Indian time. We are seeing changes now with the younger

generation, but when it turns four o=clock and it is time to quit, our time is

dictated more by how much light we have left, if we want to continue with work.

There is where I still see they have us beat a little bit, because they are not so

worried about the time.

E: There is a big question that sits beneath this that I want to try to get to. There

may be nothing there, but there may be something. That is, do you see a

change in how people who are non-Indian are relating to Indian people? Or how

Indian people are relating to non-Indian people here around Hollywood. Or do

you see a change in this area or, across South Florida in the time since you first

met James? Where your son is working...

SEM 251 page 40

J: There is a tremendous amount more awareness towards the Native American.

You probably would not notice it if you were not so close to it as I have been over

the last thirty-five years. It would probably be pretty much unnoticed altogether,

and it may never even cross your mind. One example: it disappointed me and, in

my own little way, I protested that, during the opening of the Olympic

ceremonies, the Native American was never recognized, for any of their

accomplishments. Just in the last few years, we now have Indian Day, as they

call the Native American Day.

E: Which is recognition of...?

J: Yes. Well, I look at the other minorities, the African-American, the Latin

communities, ones that are German, Irish..That was really disappointing to me,

especially when one remembers walking in Winn Dixie and seeing two water

fountains, one saying colored and the other one saying white.

E: Down here?

J: Yes.

E: Were Indians in the colored category?

J: No. They did not even come close. They were less than less. They were

virtually unrecognized, except for a few tourist attractions that were open to the


E: This is when you were growing up?

SEM 251 page 41

J: Yes. Well, a non-Indian built the first Indian village that was open to the public, I

think. He employed some of the Seminole peoples who had contact with Baptist

missionaries so, in a sense, they were being groomed for the non-Indian way of

life. For example, alligator wrestling has been around for a long time. The

Miccosukee and the Seminole people have been catching alligators for as long

as they have been here, however long that is. It never played any cultural part of

the society. However using an example of the Maasai of Africa, I believe that

when a boy turned fifteen years old, he was to take a spear and a shield. His

initiation of crossing over into the area of manhood could only be accomplished

by going out and killing a lion, proving he was worthy of that honor or that

position in life. Here, it played no part whatsoever in anything even close to that.

Tourism was a big money maker in the late 1920s and 1930s as more and more

tourists went to visit South Florida. It still is. The tribal members who were now

becoming more closely related to the non-Indian, their way of life and their

business, realized that their way of life would not get them anywhere, as far as

being able to provide. We would see, now, a trend that even then would go

unnoticed so much. A lady selling dolls and taking baskets that were used as

instruments to store things would fulfill the first monetary necessity of a tribal

member. They were not invited to too many Tupperware parties, so the baskets

were used as the same thing. They even had large baskets large enough to be

used as a duffel bag or a suitcase, so to speak. As time would go on, the basket

would move into a different category. As we are now, at present time, a basket

that was worth $2 back in the 1950s may be worth $75. They have now moved

SEM 251 page 42

from... [End of Side 2, Tape A.] ...Common plates sets, Tupperware, or our own

cooking pans. However, we do not ford our own cooking pans or Tupperware so,

therefore, this would become unique. As we see how our society has moved, we

now have something that was everyday ordinary in daily life to become, in some

cases, a very expensive piece of craftsmanship. See, it has moved from

something that was second-nature, when four- and five-year-old girls were

learning it. Probably most of them by that age could whip up a basket in no time

as long as the sweet grass was available, which it was back then. There was

tons of it and no problem looking for it. We would take the wood carvings to

items that are now collected or collectibles. For example, tomahawks out of

cypress knees that probably were used one time as teaching tools for battle,

perhaps, for nothing other than being taught how to defend yourself. But, we see

only a handful of people that are still doing this. So, in short period of time, we

will see this become more non-existent than it is even now. The only thing I can

see happening will be that only a handful of people will recognize the importance

of something that was so ordinary not too many years in the past. Then, and

only then, will it cease to be a full-time thing. It will be done mainly out of

pleasure. Perhaps, that person will continue to make the baskets to hold on to

those teaching that were taught to them by their elders many years passed. It is

a small part of what I think is necessary for the basis of who you are. Now, we

look at the beadwork. Again, beadwork was nothing any more fancy than what

we put around our necks today. It was to adorn ourselves, to make ourselves

look either more macho, in the case of the man, or how big the chain was or

SEM 251 page 43

whatever the neck is, and how much more attractive it looked around a woman=s

neck. Shoot. The Indians up there in New York traded Manhattan Island for

beads. There is an incredible amount of artistic talent in some of the beadwork

that I see today, like the beadwork on my hat,

E: Yes that is a nice pendant. It is very fine.

J: This is not a bead maker. In my opinion, the man who did this for me is an artist.

We have very few people left who can do this. Ricky is probably the best bead

maker I have ever seen, or had to the pleasure to come, in contact with, and I

have remained friends with him. I think when I met him, he was barely out of a

stroller. Then, we get down to the clothing, the patchwork, another thing that is

dying out. We have people who come to visit from other countries. When they

come in, they are sorely disappointed because they wanted to see an actual

Indian village and they see the people living the way they are now. These people

forget what time of history we are [in]. You know, I look at history as a stage.

They forget we are moving into a new millennium. Also, our leadership has

instilled the importance of educating our younger people. When our younger

people go to school and then come back and say, Bobby asked if I could come

over to his house tomorrow after school. Is that alright? And when they come

back, they say, wow, you ought to see their house! How come we do not have a

house like that? Here, we will start to see these new generations take on that

responsibility of teaching their kids. As James says, we are not going to go

anywhere if we do not get smart, and we can only do this by backing our children

and making them realize the importance of education. Education is the key to

SEM 251 page 44

our survival. We cannot dwell in the past. But, I promise you this, I am not going

to leave the past. We will always have it with us as a constant reminder of who

we are. But, education is the thing. So, the kids come back and say, whoa. So,

this would be my generation this kid is coming to, and the generation is going,

whoa, what is happening here? Look, I am not a tribal member, so I can only

explain what I have felt in conversations that I have had with the people that have

grown up as members, which is easy for me to do. I can feel it. I can sense it. I

can, perhaps, even taste it, so to speak. But, most of all, I can see it, without

having been an actual participator. I can see again, as I mentioned earlier, how it

unfolds as the years go by for the future. As each generation goes by now, the

tribe will become better off, and these simple things will no longer play a

tremendous role in the everyday way of life of the Miccosukee or the Seminole

peoples. But, they will continue to play a part to the creator of that basket or that

woodcarving. They will be a constant reminder to them and their kids of where

they came from and, for the other side, an admiration of a piece of work that has

long since passed its usefulness in our society. But, on another level, it has

become something much, much more. It has become a statement, instead of

holding flour.

E: It is a statement of...?

J: ...of a way of life of people without money, as it first became aware to those first

individuals who allowed people to wander through their villages. You know,

people never realized, when they went into an Indian village down here in

SEM 251 page 45

Florida, when they walked passed chickees out there, they were actually entering

the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom. All in one, they were entering the

home of the individual. Really, to this day, I do not believe all those people who

visited those villages, actually realized what was occurring there and it became

more and more popular during the 1950s. They opened up their whole home to

strangers, and these strangers would take their pictures, and ask questions, and

be thrilled with man versus beast at the alligator wrestling. The alligator wrestler

for many years, as James explains, can make you prosperous. Those young

boys back then, catching those alligators for those first visitors, were the richest

people in the entire village. They were the ones who were making the money.

This is where we would see the beginning of a transformation. As each day went

by, as each new child was born and brought up, they were moving more and

more and more into a non-Indian way of lifestyle and trying to fit in. However, it

would never happen. It would only happen and begin to take hold in the last

quarter of our century. Here, I see people who are looking at the Native Floridian

in an entirely different way from the way their grandparents, or even their

parents, looked and thought about the Native American. I sense a deep guilt in

many people over something that they have no part of but feel inside. There are

more people out there than I think anybody realizes who have guilt over how the

Native American was treated and, in my book, how they are still treated. It sets

me on top of the table when I see an individual like James Billie take the energies

that are available and see what can be accomplished as an individual, although it

was not all done single-handedly by him. We constantly say, everyone has an

SEM 251 page 46

equal chance to actually utilize oneself. No one has to waiting for somebody to

give it to you or hand it to you but going out there and working for it. You can

become pretty much anybody in this country that you want to, if you utilize the

freedom, supposedly, that we do have for each and every person. If you are

going to sit back and let things pass you by, that is fine. That is all up to you. At

the same time, I do not feel that I am prejudiced in any way, but I am becoming a

little tired of other minorities complaining that they do not have equal

opportunities. Especially listening to those talk shows and stuff, when they say

they do not have a chance to make it into the good life. That is crap. I say to

these people, well, turn around and ask James Earl Jones how he feels about

equal opportunity; ask Tiger Woods, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, people who we

know and enjoy seeing everyday in movies and stuff like this. I grant you that

other minorities, such as the African-American, have their hard times and stuff.

Well, you ought to sit in the shoes of some of the Native Americans, even today.

E: That is what I want to ask about briefly. You said that there was at Winn Dixie

the colored drinking fountain and the white drinking fountain, and I asked you if

the Indians at that point fell under color, and you said, not even close. Now, you

have said a couple of times that even today, it is still not...

J: Yes, it is not open.

E: How is it...?

SEM 251 page 47

J: Again, I think the openness is because people feel somewhat guilty. At the

lecture that I did at the federal building, I tried to give some type of insight to

officials on how to better understand minorities. I tired to help them show respect

or show how to understand with a better way of thinking, even if they were law-

breakers or offenders. As far as any lecture or anything like that, I remind them

that I have only been an observer. I understand certain things, but I cannot

speak for any Native person in this aspect or this level. But, I can make it a bit

more understandable on how they can understand some of the behavioral

modes. I can give some insight on why they think the way they do. I can give

some insight on how to break down the communication barriers, leaving you a

little more open. You will listen just a bit more carefully when they speak and try

to interpret or feel what they desperately want you to understand. Why I am like

this or why I act like this. At one of the lectures I did, and I was never asked this

question before, a gentleman raised his hand and you could tell in his voice that

he was a person who...gee, look what we have done for them already; I mean, it

was not our fault that This did not come out, but I sensed the inner

feelings of this person. His question was why does it take them so long to do

things or to change? It kind of took me off guard a little. Then, as it did that

morning in the swamp, the simplicity was right there. I returned [to the present]

and explained to him. I said, I want to know where your roots are. From what

old country have you come; who are your ancestors; who are they? When they

came from the old country, they did not leave too much behind, except perhaps

where they lived. But even part of that came with them. When you get right

SEM 251 page 48

down to everything, they had their own style of clothing. They had their religion.

They had their language. They had their holidays, their sacred days, special

days. That all came with them. The American Indian or Native American-this is

another thing that I would even get onto them about this constant bickering

about words and putting too much emphasis on it. I said, stop and think about it

just for a moment. What if you were German, and all of a sudden woke up one

morning and were no longer allowed to speak your native language. You were no

longer allowed to practice your beliefs in the spiritual world or however you want

to define your heritage. Your way of life that was part of you and your elders

from that point was all erased and taken away. All that you grew up around, the

rivers or woods that you hunted or fished no longer was yours. And your

question is why does it take them so long? Their whole sense of being who they

were, where they were, was stripped away. They lost their self-sense of being,

and this all happened in such a short period of time. We hear, well, Indians

cannot hold their liquor. Heck no, they cannot hold their liquor. How long has

liquor been in the European power? It has been thousands and thousands and

thousands of years. We now know that drinking is hereditary, as far as

alcoholism. It is hereditary. We know that. The Native American, at most, has

had alcohol for less than 500 years, maybe 600 years for some of the early ones

who ran into Cortez or somebody like that in Central America. But, basically, we

are looking at very few generations coming into contact with alcohol. So, if it is

hereditary, as our experts tell us it is, then each generation has adapted our

whole metabolism, and everything that goes along with it has adapted to it and

SEM 251 page 49

changed with it. We are not like our grandfathers five times before us. The

question actually irritated me a lot considering it was being asked for the first

time, after I had answered to the best of my ability. But, to take away everything

from a person, you take away the original. You cannot see past now. You

cannot see tomorrow. This had to have been very, very frightening. This had to

have caused such a tremendous breakdown of your whole sense of being. You

no longer were who you thought you were. You were being taught something

totally different and, in fact, you were severely punished if you spoke your native


E: This fellow asked the question at this little lecture you were giving down here?

J: It was at the Rotary.

E: You said that was the first time somebody asked that kind of question, but your

response to it expresses that you might have encountered in different ways,

people talking of...

J: You are exactly right. It was never brought forth to me in such straightforward


E: Okay. Two questions related to that: is that a common way that non-Indians

around this area view Indians or Seminoles? And is what you see going on

today different from what you saw going on when you were first meeting James

Billie, that time?

J: On the second question, yes, it is a lot different.

E: How is it different?

J: There is much more interest.

SEM 251 page 50

E: In Native American families?

J: In Native Americans. There is much more interest and caring. This is another

thing. I have noticed especially those who are into the area...I will use the word

scholar because they are trying to learn more and understand better.

E: Just on a day to day basis?

J: Yes, ten years ago I noticed a tremendous change in attitudes in a majority of the

people. And these people I am talking about are the people I come in contact

with on an everyday level through here.

E: Yes. Where do you see it most?

J: Europeans, still, have the biggest interests. They also are the ones who say,

well, it is a shame what happened to the American people.

E: You mean, Europeans from Europe, not Euro-Americans?

J: Right, people from Europe. This is why I changed and I told James before, we

need to change; we have to step out of the tourism; we have to become

educators in all of this, not just in the Native peoples but also our ecosystem and

things that we first discussed. There is a very positive movement, and there is

tremendous room for improvement. Great steps still need to be taken. But, as I

try to participate in recognizing and understanding, I see a much more positive

note on becoming aware of the Native American feelings. We must realize that

the elders are a very important part of the society (even today) with the

individuals with whom we may speak. I am speaking primarily on the two

peoples I have come to know best: the Seminole and the Miccosukee. The

importance of the elders and the continuation of the importance of the elders are

SEM 251 page 51

evident. In the society, it was always the elders who were the fundamental and

basic teachers of the younger people. It was felt that since the elders had raised

children who were now our mothers and fathers, it was common sense or basic

knowledge, that they know twice as much. Therefore, they should teach us what

we are taught by our own parents and what they already know. This gives the

younger generation an advantage point when it is time to teach their children

when they become elders themselves. So, the level of who you are, where you

came from, and the importance of all of those things that we believe in will still

hold fast, and that is what will keep us together. I see in our society that we have

gotten away from our elders tremendously, and I am speaking of the non-Indian

societies. Again, I am not speaking for the entire populace because there are

exceptions to all things. But, in comparison, if we did a poll last night and we

interviewed 900 people, [etc.], and we broke it down for error and a margin. In

my conversations, in breaking down, there is so much more closeness, a bond to

the elders instead of a burden.

E: You see that taking place among...?

J: The Native peoples. I am not sure how long that will last though, as the new

generations become more educated and move a little further away from the old

ways. But the old ways are inevitable. When we mentioned earlier about the

Europeans and their desire to know more, I was 100 percent on their side for a

long time. Perhaps I feel a little bit closer when they say, oh, it is a shame, what

happened to the Indians, but as with all things, as time passes us by, things

change. My response to that is, no matter what part of history your ancestors

SEM 251 page 52

played we were either kicking somebody's butt or ours was getting kicked. We

have either been conquerors...[interruption]. I feel now that what happened was

just their turn to take their part on the stage of history. I do not think anything

that could have been said would have changed history, as we now know it,

unless we were farther advanced. And if we were, then we would not be talking

right now. This is the way of things. Now, in a small way (and it is a small flame

that is now well lit, and it is going to be real hard to put it out) for perhaps the first

time in a couple of hundred years, many Native Americans are having a feeling

belonging again. They are acquiring their own identities in connection with the

old ways and certain wisdom that may have been taught to them. It is a small

fire, but at least it is burning, and I do not think it is going to go out. The seal of

the Seminole Tribe, and the Miccosukee, is the Council Chickee with a fire under

it. As long as the fire burns, everything may not be perfect or completely all right,

but it is giving each and every body a fighting chance to make a difference.

Again, that will come from the individual. To have come from being beaten down

with virtually all identity stripped away, the Seminole is a people to watch and, by

gosh, I think if we step back a few steps and watch very closely, we can learn

something. The Seminoles have accomplished coming from one of the poorest

peoples of America to being virtually financially independent in only a quarter of a

century. As they say if you are a leader, you are only as good as those who

follow you. In this case, he has lit a fire. He has not been the only person.

There have been other people who have helped us along as well. But, he has

truly moved them. He was born to lead, and his purpose, to me, anyway, has

SEM 251 page 53

been rather clear. Not only with his own people, I see a change in attitude right

up to the governor's office.

E: Well outside the tribe.

J: Well outside the tribe. He has made a difference as far as the steps of


E: You see it in neighborhoods here? I mean, you talk with a lot of people who are


J: Non-Indian people around here have a totally different attitude. Some people

would say that is hogwash, but I am with people and with the community. These

people send their kids here from schools. I listen to responses of those scholars

who are bringing those kids to school. There is a sense of pride within the

community because the Seminole is here and what the Seminole has


E: And that is different than when you were growing up?

J: Oh yes.

E: That is very interesting.

J: We cannot look at it as a tribe of people or the tribes of people down south, the

Miccosukees, who are the ones, singled out. This has occurred to all the Native

peoples, who we call Native American. You know, what are those words? I got

on some boys here not too long ago. They were going to some protest about,

the baseball teams having Indian names, the Braves or something like that.

They were saying that was wrong and that it was poking fun at us. I said, you

guys cannot find something better to do than go out and cause a fuss because

SEM 251 page 54

somebody wants to name their team the Braves? Look in the dictionary and find

the definition of brave, and what does it mean. It means, hey, you did something

out of the extraordinary [or] you did something that, perhaps, saved somebody's

life. There are a lot of different definitions of brave. It was a brave thing you did

to run out there and face 100 guys with rifles when you only had sticks and string

to launch those little projectiles out there. You would either be real stupid or you

had to be real brave because everything about youByou as an individual, you as

a person, you as a people, you as a whole raceBwas all being stripped from you.

To go out there and try to make a difference back then, that was a real brave

thing to do. The same thing is true [with] the Redskins. I have always had a

problem with how people interpret the definition of words and what they

supposedly mean. However, I think it is much more important to sensibly

interpret it before you draw any major conclusions on what damage is being done

merely because someone wants to maintain Redskins or the Braves.

E: So, you think there might be better ways for people to expend their energy to

rectify situations.

J: Heck yes. It is ridiculous in my point of view. It is ridiculous to spend that type of

energy, that much constructive energy, on something that is so, (in my opinion)

stupid, a total waste of time. If those teams felt good enough, they have reflected

on how they, themselves, feel. The paratrooper who uttered the first

AGeronimo!@ had one thing in mind. History has taught us that Geronimo stood

up for himself. Geronimo was not going to be taken and broken down. The word

AGeronimo@ puts certain energy into you and in no way was it ever meant to

SEM 251 page 55

poke fun at a people or an individual. Look at the Seminoles, for example.

When I think of Seminoles, my first thought [is] "The unconquered people,@ not

misusing the name or degrading the race. It should be put into a better use.

E: Yes, and that is interesting because it is not something that is really protested by

Seminole Indians.

J: Right. It is just that they are grasping.

E: Yes. I have seen people with Seminole license plates in the reservation. All

right. We have been talking for some time, and these are pretty much the issues

that I wanted to cover. I guess the last thing would be to ask you, in thinking

about this last generation, if there is anything else you would like to add that we

have not covered. Anything that you feel would be important to bring up in

discussion of this time period and in looking at Indians in South Florida and at the

changes that have been taking place in relation to these bigger issues.

J: The changes that are taking place are good for everybody. There is no doubt

about that. Awareness of who our Native American neighbors are is something

that still has to be worked on. Again, I think the non-Indians still have a big

problem in being open. Maybe, they do not want to sound stupid. The main

thing, however for their hesitation is a tremendous fear, of offending, whether

they want to admit it or not. They would rather keep their mouth shut because

they are concerned no matter what they ask or say they are so fearful of

offending. That is the last thing they want to do, because falling back to what, I

SEM 251 page 56

think, everybody feels, even me, is some guilt with which we have nothing to do.

But, thanks to individuals like you who are going out and trying to find a broader

picture or scope of things, we come to a better understanding when we are able

to learn. Because of this, some people, I believe, who are interested are holding

back because, they feel they have already been offended enough. I do not want

to do something else that will make them pissed off. How are we going to build

this bridge where we can acquire this knowledge, this communication, or set up

this communication where we now can move forward and learn. It is going to

happen. It is going to be very slow, and it is going to come from individuals such

as our tribal leaders here, people such as Betty Mae Jumper, James Billie, Jim

Shore, the first Seminole that got onto the Florida Bar Association. He is now the

general council for the whole tribe. He is one of the people who I have admired

through all the years. He achieved all of this in spite of being blind.

When I think about it, wow...the accomplishments that he, himself has done with

his own mental awareness and his own health. If only a small part of that

touches one of the younger tribal members, they will recognize and see the real

importance of his achievements and how they can tap that. That has also come

from the other tribal leaders. The sense of self-respect is slowly building more

and more momentum. They are now proud of who they are again and, boy, does

that make a big difference. They are making a difference in the communities, in

the local schools, and are making a big difference in the economic expansion for

the entire state of Florida. With their ability to overcome such great obstacles

placed in front of them, they became one of the biggest wheat producers in the

SEM 251 page 57

whole state of Florida, in the top five. In citrus, they are way up there. The

Seminole farms that were created within the last five years are expanding. Areas

of other economic expansions are in fresh water fish farming, fresh water turtle,

swine, even branching off into their own airplane. Now is the time of really

making a difference. The younger generation has a bright future, and they are

showing the rest of the communities. They are even showing the world because

the world is watching this, also. They have been able to expand into hotels, to be

able to expand beyond the lands that were granted to them, to go out and

purchase even more land for the Seminole tribe. And when the land is

purchased, the land belongs to every individual on an equal basis. The old

thought is always in mind. It is like the painting inside the store of the Red Man's

Blood, as Osceola takes the pouch of gold and silver coins from Chief Omafa

after Osceola shot him for accepting the $25,000. He threw the coins off into the

bush, and then grabbed grass and turned around and said, this is what I fight for.

We, as individuals, do not have the right to sell this land; it does not belong to

us; it belongs to everything, all of all living things and us that live on it. If we

could get this, then we would become as they are. So far, I think a lot of

governments, including our own, could learn a lot by comparing advancements. I

do not think we would be paying as many taxes as we are right now. The

administration of the tribe really sincerely, I believe, looks at the position of the

tribe as a business, and the business should be able to support itself. I have

always had a problem with taxes anyway. I think we are really getting taxed out,

and I think the reason why is when you get some people who handle money a

SEM 251 page 58

little bit better than some of federal programs. One example is that of two guys

who were studying alligator holes off in the Everglades and got a $500,000 grant

from... [End of Side 1, Tape B.] ...And the awareness is gaining strength and

momentum. We will always have those hecklers who still want to try and bring

you down, but the sense of belonging and the pride has been restored a great

deal. There are those who are in Brighton and those in Big Cypress and those

down on the Trail who still resent the progress of things, but no one, I think,

today, can deny that you have to be changing with them. You do not have to

give up everything. I know it is moving in the right direction, toward a better

awareness. But, again, I speak only in the community here and a little bit of what

I read or see on special programs on TV.

E: Great. I want to thank you very much for agreeing to do this.

J: I hope you can get something out of it.

E: Well, I have, and I am grateful.

J: Well, good. [End of interview.]

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