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.
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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
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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
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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
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
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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
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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
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
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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
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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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
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,
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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.
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
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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
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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
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
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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
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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
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.]