Title: Brian Zepeda
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Title: Brian Zepeda
Series Title: Brian Zepeda
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Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 1

Sem 264

Interviewee: Brian Zepeda

Interviewer: J. Ellison

Date: June 21, 2000

E: I have just introduced myself. I am Jim Ellison and today is the 21st of June. It is

Wednesday afternoon. We are at the Ahtahthiki Museum at Big Cypress Reservation and

I am here with Brian Zepeda. We are going to do an oral history interview following the

questionnaire that we have. First question, is Brian Zepeda you full name. ?

Z: Brian Manwel Zepeda. That is my full name.

E: You are a tribal member?

Z: Yes. I am registered with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as a tribal member.

E: To what clan do you belong?

Z: I am in the Panther Clan.

E: Which is a well-represented clan?

Z: Yes.

E: ...in this area. Earlier in our conversation you said you were twenty-nine years old.

When were you born?

Z: I will be twenty-nine on June 26. Next Monday.

E: Well, Happy Birthday, in advance. I was trying to do my math to figure out what year

that was.

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 2

Z: I was born in 1971.

E: Where were you born?

Z: I was born in Naples, FL.

E: Did you grow up in Naples?

Z: Yes. I grew up in Naples and I still live in Naples. I commute every day to the museum.

E: How long a commute is that?

Z: Right now, it takes me about an hour or an hour and ten minutes to get here, each way.

E: That is a lot of driving.

Z: Yeah.

E: Do you have an Indian name, a Miccosukee language name?

Z: Yeah. Tus'tunagay.

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

Z: When people ask me how to spell a name, a word or town, I tell them to spell it as you

would read it back yourself. Because if I were to write it down and I show it to ten

different people, I will get ten different pronunciations of that same word. (Pronounces it

with the accent on the 1st syllable) Pretty close. It loosely translates into what we call a

four star general. It comes from our military times when we had to keep order in our

military. Just like any army, from private up to five star-general. My translation of the

name is a four star general.

E: Who named you that?

Z: I got my name at the Green Corn Dance when I was eleven years old. Who, exactly gave

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 3

me the name, I am not quite sure but it was my great grandfather's name, and he had

passed away. They determined that I should receive his name. So, that is where the

name came from.

E: So, it was your great grandfather's name, on your Mother's side?

Z: Yes. Yes. His name was Cory Robert Osceola.

E: So, that was the name you received at the Green Corn Dance. Was it the Green Corn

Dance down at the Trail? Was this when you were eleven?

Z: Yes. Yes.

E: And to receive somebody else's name that is something that happens quite a bit. Is there

a process that has to be followed in order to make sure that . ?

Z: The person themselves, is not supposed to influence the selection of what their name is,

in the process of name choosing. The names do come from people who have died and

their names are passed on. You are not supposed to take anybody's name who is still

alive. So, there is a limitation on which names you can accept or have, so ...

E: And the name, you say translates as four star General, does that refer to a particular war


Z: Yeah. It comes from the second Seminole War where we had to keep organization of our

military. I mean, you have to keep some kind of organization when you are out in the

field, when you are out in battle. As I say, everybody can't be a general, you know.

There have to be some soldiers. The same thing is true with our military. We had to

keep order. Somebody had to be in charge; somebody had to give orders; and somebody

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 4

had to take them and carry them out.

E: Is that a name that a lot of people know you by?

Z: No. My family knows. Some people who are not my family do know, friends, other

tribal members. But I wouldn't say that a lot of people know that.

E: Are there people who refer to you as Tus'tunagay?

Z: Not really, no.

E: So, mostly, you end up using Brian.

Z: Yes. I use my English name, Brian.

E: Are there particular contexts where you would use your Indian name, at the Green Corn

Dance, for example?

Z: Yeah. They use it at the Green Corn Dance when they are referring to me, sometimes. It

depends on where I am and what I am doing. And who is there. A lot of the elders use

your Seminole name. Most of the people who are younger do not.

E: Why do you suppose that is?

Z: My feeling is that there is not a lot of the language among the younger generation, as we

are calling them, anywhere from thirty years down. I grew up in a unique situation.

Every day, when my parents would go off to work, they would leave me my great

grandparent's village. So, I learned a lot of stuff from my great grandparents and

grandparents when I was growing up until I was about ten ten or eleven or twelve -

somewhere in there.

E: And this was your great-grandparent on your Mother's side?

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 5

Z: Yes. So, I learned what I call the village life. The things I learned there were different

from other people who lived on a reservation or live in just the regular community

somewhere else. Because the village is how we used to live traditionally, in a village.

That is the community that we used to grow up in. When they moved on reservations

somewhere in the thirties and forties, they started building homes and it kind of broke up

the village life. When I was growing up as a kid in the village, all the adults were

responsible for the upbringing of the kids in that village not just the Mom and Dad. It

was everybody. So, that was kind of the feeling that I got growing up.

E: Who all lived there? You say it was your grandparents and your great grandparents ...

Z: My great grandparents had the village, Cory and Juanita. My grandmother lived there,

also, Tahama, and then my Uncle Doug lived there, and at various times other uncles and

aunts have lived in that village when I was there.

E: You said To... ?

Z: T-a-h-a-m-a, Tahama.


Z: Cory and Juanita were the great grandparents.

E: And most of these people were connected through your Mom?

Z: Yes.

E: So, when you say village, it is an extended family camp?

Z: Yeah. I mean we had chickees all over the place. We had a gift shop up on the front

because it was on US 41. And then, we had an alligator pit and turtle pit and things like

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 6

that. Tourists would come in and they would pay fifty cents or a dollar to come in and

look around and take pictures and stuff like that.

E: Is it still there?

Z: No. The village is gone in 1985.

E: You had moved away before then?

Z: Yeah. We moved into a regular CBS home.

E: On Big Cypress?

Z: No, in Naples.

E: How old were you, then, when you moved into the CBS?

Z: Ten.

E: So, you have very clear memories of... ?

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: ...of moving in?

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about moving into the


Z: Air conditioning.

E: That is interesting. Who all moved into the house? Was it just you and your parents?

Z: Yeah, my parents and me and my brothers.

E: So, it wasn't the whole village?

Z: No. My grandparents and great grandparents still lived in the village.

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 7

E: And aunts and uncles ... ?

Z: They moved into homes and moved away, too.

E: Individual homes?

Z: Yeah.

E: ...of their own. So, air conditioning is the first thing ...

Z: Yeah, moving into a house.

E: Of course, I understand that some of the first ones out in Big Cypress didn't have air-

conditioning. Lots of people moved into them and ...

Z: Yeah. It was very hot.

E: It was very confined. Right?

Z: Yes.

E: Were you going to school at that point?

Z: Yeah. I have gone to school since I was five.

E: Where were you going?

Z: Public school system in Collier County.

E: When you moved into the CBS home in Naples, was that closer to the school?

Z: Yeah. The village was on the outskirts of the town; we moved into what was then the

middle of town.

E: How would you contrast life in the CBS house in town with growing up in a camp in the

village, I mean, aside from air conditioning?

Z: You could do more things at night time.

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 8

E: In town?

Z: Yeah. Inside the house, we could play games and watch TV and do all sorts of things.

Whereas in the village, you are always worried about snakes or other things crawling

around or moving around at night time. If it was dark outside, it was dark outside. When

you are inside, turn the light switch on, the lights come on. So,

E: So, that affected you personally because your day was longer?

Z: Yeah.

E: Other sorts of things in addition to that?

Z: It was a lot noisier at night time, too. When we went to sleep, you heard the ambulances

and police cars or just cars going by, in general, in the neighborhood. That was a little bit

different. The whole night time thing was different, altogether.

E: So, night was a big change.

Z: Different, yeah.

E: The other thing that you already mentioned was that when you moved in the CBS, it was

like a nuclear family moving in. Other people that you were used to being around moved

into their own CBS home somewhere or your grandparents stayed out in the ...

Z: But even during that time, my parents would drop me off at school in the morning but

then my grandparents would pick me up from school in the afternoon. And then, we

would spend three or four hours in the village until my parents got off work. And then

they would pick us up. So, we still spent time in the village.

E: Well, that is good. So, your grandparents had a car?

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 9

Z: Yes. They had a station wagon, pickup truck.

E: So, they had the village going and that is how they were making money?

Z: By that time, they had gone to selling the patchwork and other arts and crafts at different

festivals and things like that, selling them to stores and other places.

E: So, not so many tourists stopping in?

Z: No.

E: And you say that your parents would drop you off on the way to work. Where were they


Z: My Mom was working at a bank at the time and my Dad was working in the cement


E: So, they both had education, also, your parents? Do you know what level of education?

Z: My Dad was six months short of graduating from highschool because he moved from

Texas to Florida with his family well, his parents at that time. So, he had to miss time

from school and that is what happened to him. And then, my Mother graduated in 1966.

E: From?

Z: ...from Naples High School.

E: And she was working at a bank. So, there must not have been any question that you were

going to go to school.

Z: There was always a big push to make us all go to school and finish. But, that started with

my great-grandfather, more than anybody.

E: That is Cory Robert.

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 10

Z: He was always telling us, you have to get your education because you know things that

are Seminole but that is inside the village and reservation. Once you leave, there are

things on the outside you have to know. Learn that plus what you already have, and you

will be ahead of the game.

E: Why did he say that?

Z: He was very progressive. I mean, he ran a tourist village in Miami called Musa Isle for a

while. He was the first one to have a television in a village. He was always pushing

forward. Don't forget where you came from but we have to move forward, anyway.

E: Did he have education such as formal school education?

Z: No.

E: But he learned quite a bit from ...

Z: Oh, yeah. He spoke English as well as anybody which was a rarity for somebody of his

time period. He was born in 1890.

E: He picked it up through his ... ?

Z: Through dealing with the public.

E: So, he was a big force in encouraging you and your Mom. Was that different from kids

that you were growing up with who were not in your particular family?

Z: You mean, who were Seminole?

E: Yeah.

Z: Yeah. I always saw differences between myself and my brothers and my cousins. They

lived in the Collier County area, close to the village and to the people who lived in other

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
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parts of Florida who were Seminole. The first was the way we spoke English. And the

second is the education, pushing, pushing, pushing, at least to get through highschool.

E: So, your grandfather was encouraging you to retain something from the tradition and also

to go and learn something from ...

Z: I mean, I learned how to grow corn and citrus, how to work the alligators and turtles, to

grow sugar cane and any number of plants. I learned the names of them and how to deal

with animals and to gig fish and learn all kinds of things from him. But he also knew that

there were things out there that he didn't know that somebody needs to learn.

E: So, at the village, there was also agriculture going on.

Z: Yeah. We grew corn, sweet potatoes, and one time we grew pumpkins. We had lemons,

grapefruits, oranges, guavas, and mangoes; we had sugar cane. What else did we have?

That is about it... bananas. We had banana trees. So, we grew all kinds of things.

E: So, you grew up learning how to do these things, how to plant, harvest and then prepare,

plant. Do you do that anymore?

Z: Yeah, because I have two kids right now. My daughter is two and one half and my son is

ten months. And my daughter is very interested in all of the stories that I tell her. She

calls them the village stories. And so she is always asking me about things. When I was

a little kid, what was it like? We recently just acquired some squash and pumpkin plants

that we will be planting very soon, ourselves.

E: Are these the ... ?

Z: ...Okeechobee gourds.

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
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E: You are actually doing that? A lot of people that I talk with are not doing agriculture at


Z: I am not doing it to sustain life but still we have to remember where we came from and

where we are going, so somewhere there is that fine line.

E: Did that 'where we came from and where we are going' that your grandfather also spoke

about, did that include things like history and lessons about culture?

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: Where did you learn to understand the history of the Seminole people in south Florida?

Did you learn that in school, do you think, or did you learn that in ?

Z: It is funny, because the things that I learned in school had nothing to do with what I was

learning at home or at my grandparents or my great grandparents. You see pictures of

Osceola. Osceola, Osceola, Osceola in all of the history books in school. But, in our own

history, he played a small part. And there are other people that had a much bigger part

but they didn't make the US history books. It was always a problem for me at school

because I am would think, yeah, yeah. Oh, Osceola, he was a Seminole. Yes, he was.

But there were so many other people. It would be like trying to put all of the U. S.

history on George Washington. There were so many other people in US history that

played a part that could even be bigger than George Washington played. And over time,

not just from my great grandparents, but from my uncles I have learned to fill in the gaps

in our history. Why did we do this? Or why did we do that? Why did we go here and

there? And I have been able to fill in those gaps of my own history. You know, picking

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
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up the pieces and putting it all together.

E: Do you look at something like your name an aspect of that history lesson?

Z: Oh, sure. Then you learn where you name comes from. Why did we have this? Why did

this name come about?

E: And that is not the sort of thing that is taught in school.

Z: Oh, no. You cannot find it in any book. Again, there are a lot of gaps in books from all


E: This is your primary occupation, here, working at the Museum?

Z: Yes, I am here, but for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, I wear a few different hats. Yes, I

am the Operations Manager of the Ahtahthiki Museum but then I am also the Board

Representative and Council Representative for those people living in Naples. And then, I

also represent the Seminole Tribe of Florida on the Florida Governor's Council of Indian

Affairs. So, I wear a few hats for the tribe.

E: I had no idea about that. I apologize for that.

Z: It is OK. This is my fifth year that I have been on the Board and my fourth year on

Council. Five years ago there was a gentleman who ran for President of the Seminole

Tribe of Florida, Inc. named Mitchell Cypress and he came to Naples for a campaign

dinner. The feeling of the community of Naples was that they have never had

representation. We are always the last to know. We always miss things that happen. We

only learn, afterwards. Mitchell asked if there was anybody who would like to be on

Board as a liaison to bring information back and forth and I threw my hat in. The next

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
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thing I knew, I was appointed as the Board Representative for the Naples area. I was on

it for a year and then Council decided to do the same thing. There was a push we were

still missing out on the Council. So, then, I took a seat on Council as a non-voting

member, also.

E: So, getting involved with the Board was due to Mitchell's reaching out to Naples and ...

Z: Yeah.

E: People in your community, how did you become the person to put your hat in? Were you

competing with other people?

Z: Yeah. Yeah. In the election, I beat out one of my uncles. So, there were other people

who were interested. Why people voted for me, I couldn't tell you. You would have to

ask them. I just told them what I felt and what I thought we could do. I got the votes.

E: And so it has been five years.

Z: Five years in Seminole politics.

E: Why did you do it? What sparked in you the idea that this is something I could do.

Z: I thought we were always in the dark when things happen. When they have Council

Meetings, Board Meetings or something major happens, like there is a change in the

tribe, we always seem to be the last ones to know. I thought that somebody needed to go

even if it is not on Council but at least somebody to send to the meetings to find out

what is going on so we can stay informed. And there are different things that the Tribe

does for people as far as medical and dental? There is travel and things for kids and their

education. We always seem to be on the out, not on the in. So, I thought somebody

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
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needed to do something.

E: Do you feel like you have made a difference, so far?

Z: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I do. Because we have had a major changes in medical, dental, travel,

and education for the kids, such as sending them off to camps and seminars and different

things like that. We are taking care of our elderly and all kinds of things.

E: What is the status if the Naples community? I mean, there isn't a reservation.

Z: We are considered nonresident because we do not live on a reservation. We live off of

the reservation, but yet we all live within the Collier County area or Naples area. We

have right now, approximately thirty-eight people, give or take one or two people at any

time. We have had as many as fifty people living in the Naples area but people move;

they come and go. Right now, I think we have about thirty-eight.

E: Does the tribe have a facility out there?

Z: Nope. My office is my cell phone and here.

E: So, you have been doing that for five years. And you started working for the Museum

three years ago, two and a half or three years ago, something like that 1997?

Z: Yeah.

E: How did that come about?

Z: I heard about the Museum when it was first in conception, ten years prior to the Museum

opening. And I have always been interested in history. And I think for three years prior

to my working here, I was doing lectures in schools, Universities, any number of places.

I had done political organizations, I had talked to different people and so, Billy Cypress

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 16

contacted me one time and told me that we were building this museum. Would you like

to apply for one of the positions? And I said, sure. And so I put in my application for the

Operations Manager. I went to the interview. Then, they called me back about three

days later and said, you have the job. So, here I am.

E: How did you feel about that?

(Someone else in the room) Are you from the Naples area?

No. The University of Florida. I am trying to remember what I just asked you. I think I

just asked how you felt about it when you got hired.

Z: Mixed blessing. At the time, I was living further away so it was an hour and a half or an

hour and forty five minutes. So, it seemed like a long drive, a lot of miles on the car. But

since then, I have gotten a company car I can drive back and forth to work so that took a

lot of relief. And I have moved since then. So, now it only takes an hour.

E: That is a little better, is it not?

Z: Yeah.

E: So, one of the major attractions was your interest in history. How would you

characterize your work here, primarily?

Z: I do any number of things here on any given day. Number one, of course is to make sure

the building is operating and make sure everybody shows up. I have trained tour guides;

I have worked in the gift shop when people were not there; I have to make sure the fire

alarm, security alarms, cameras, and everything is working. I have to make sure

everybody is here working. If something breaks, I have to take care of it. The problem is

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 17

that we are kind of in the middle of nowhere. If our air-conditioning goes down, it is

going down. There is not much we can do. We don't have spare parts on hand. So,

there are a lot of problems that crop up that don't happen in a lot of places. Like today, I

had to run to Clewiston to pick up things. Otherwise, we were not going to have paper

for our copier. It is a thirty minute drive each way. That happens. Then, also, I deal

with the press. I deal with magazines that come in people writing books. I deal with

PBS in different TV stations, people filming movies and any number of media that come

here. Today, we had the Chairman's old school teacher that came in. He called and told

them that he should speak to me. So, at any given time, anybody can come in and say

they need to speak to me or anybody on my staff. It is a unique situation.

E: It sounds like you are the point person. One of the things that I was curious about is if

you see the work you do here, as preserving the history of the Seminole Tribe,

particularly since you are a history enthusiast and someone who is interested in history,

Florida and the Seminole Tribe.

Z: Not just preserving it but presenting. There is one thing to just put something on display

and say we are preserving it. But there is another thing to say, this jacket was made in

1830 by so-and-so and it was given to so-and-so and it ended up at this museum or it

ended up in the hands of Lt. Hill or whoever it may be. Then, we can tell them, where it

came from. Then, it actually means something to you. It is like looking at a book and

saying, that is a nice picture. But then, someone says, well I was there when that

happened. Then, they have a whole story with it. Then, it adds life to it.

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
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E: So, you are doing some education with this. Who is the principal audience for that


Z: Anybody who will listen. We have had preschool, elementary, middle school,

highschool, college, universities, church groups, civic groups, politicians have come

through here, any number of groups, seniors groups, Germans, French, Spanish. You

name it.

E: As well as tribal members.

Z: Yes.

E: So, is it important to teach people coming from Germany, France, Orlando, about the

history ... ?

Z: It appears the better you explain yourself, the more somebody is going to understand you.

Like they say, people are afraid of what they do not understand. We hope they would

understand. Florida Gulf Coast University sends their nurses in training to us. So, does

the Department of Defense, they send people here. So, that when they have somebody

who is similar a native American who comes into the program, they understand why

they are the way they are. I do not know if you have noticed this in talking to other

Seminoles, but a lot of the elders don't look directly at you. They will look somewhere

else as they are talking to you. The other thing is that we have a much further comfort

zone when we are talking to people. So, there are a lot of differences just in how you

were brought up. So, people send them here so that hopefully they will have a better


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Date: June 21, 2000
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E: And you think that is a very important thing to have ... ?

Z: Oh, yeah, sure.

E: ... taking that idea and reflecting back on growing up in the village where you had

people popping in probably, any time?

Z: Yes, during the day.

E: They would be driving by and see a sign, ...

Z: Yes, they would stop and pull in.

E: Was it a similar mission there, at that time, do you think? What was going on, there?

Z: Yeah, but on a smaller scale, but it is still the same. It is still the same.

E: Is that one of the things, maybe, your great-grandfather was talking about that you are

part of this broad community of people who are very different and we have to teach them

who we are?

Z: Yeah, and I will give you a story to go with it. We were at San Antonia, Florida. They

have what they call (I don't know if they still do) but at the time, they had a festival

called the Rattlesnake Roundup and Turtle Races. They used to race gopher turtles,

gopher tortoises, there. We would go every year and set up arts and crafts. One time

when we were there, I was sitting with my great-grandfather in the booth watching it

while my grand mother and great-grandmother were walking around. This gentleman

from across the way came over and was talking to my grandfather. He knew who he was.

And he said, hey Cory, what is the weather going to be like, today? And my grandfather

said, Oh, it is going to be sunny. It is going to get to about eighty-five degrees. It should

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Date: June 21, 2000
Page 20

be cool, tonight. I didn't think anything about it. I was just sitting there. Then, the next

day, the guy came back, again. He asked the same question. My grandfather said, I

don't know. And the guys said, Well, why not? You are an Indian. How come you

don't know? And he said, well, the batteries died in my radio. I was laughing, you

know. I was a little kid. I thought it was funny. Then, the guy went away. I asked my

grandfather about it. What was that all about? He said, you know, I could have said

anything to that guy. Oh, it is going to be sunny, again, or whatever, and just let him

keep thinking that because we are natives, we know what the weather is going to be. Or

we can teach him what it is really like. You know, that we are real people, too. He said,

you can teach him and educate him or you can let him go on thinking whatever it is he is


E: So, he had that in his mind at the time you were growing up. We have covered a lot of

these questions, already. Some of them deal with education and I think that some of

them deal with the school here, the Ahfachkee School. You have kids, right now, but

they are not school age, yet ... ?

Z: My daughter goes to Montessori School.

E: She does? At that Montessori School, she is obviously not getting the culture and

language program material that is going on here at the reservation.

Z: No.

E: Is that a concern?

Z: No, because I am teaching her a t home. And also, when we go to visit my Mom's and

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
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my grandparents', they speak to her in Miccosukee. And my Dad speaks to her in

Spanish. When she is at school, they have a French teacher and a Spanish teacher. So,

my daughter is learning English, Spanish, French and Miccosukee, also.

E: That is fantastic.

Z: She is picking up quite a few languages.

E: Do you speak Spanish?

Z: Not as much as my daughter.

E: Really?

Z: Yeah. Because when I was growing up, my Dad was always going to work. He was the

guy who was supporting us.

E: Does he speak Miccosukee?

Z: No.

E: At all?

Z: No, but he understands quite a bit. Because he has been how long has he been with my

Mom? They got married in 1969.

E: So, he lived out in the camp, the village, also?

Z: Yeah.

E: I suspect you would pick up ...

Z: Oh, you can't help it. When they are always using the term for water or corn, you pick it

up. You can't help it. He picked some of that up.

E: Here on the reservation, where they have the culture program going on, it is a different

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situation. It sounds like you and your whole family have been very vigilant about

maintaining culture and language and not letting those things slip away.

Z: And, I mean, there are some things in our culture that have died out that there is nobody

to teach you how to do it. Do you know what I mean? Our language is oral. We don't

have dictionaries or encyclopedias to make a reference to. Well, how did we make that?

So, the only way we were able to do that is by doing research at the libraries or museums

such as the one we are at and looking at pictures, photographs, looking at artifacts,

reproductions of artifacts and say, well, how do they make it. How can I make it to make

it look just like that? So, there have been pieces of the puzzle, again, that we have had to

redefine or rediscover. Like making beaded bags, the bandoleer bags. There was nobody

to show me how to do it but I had enough pictures and photographs and real bags to look

at. I said I think I can make it. I figured it out.

Z: Yeah, I made that one. So, again, there are things that were passed down but then there

are things that nobody has been able to pass down to me. Because I couldn't find

anybody who was Seminole who still made those that it was passed down from. I found

somebody else that did the same thing I did. Saw pictures, had beads and material and

said I am going to figure it out.

E: So, that is one example of a lot of other things that have sort of disappeared or drifted


Z: And there are things that I have learned from re-enactors that have figured out because

again, there was nobody to pass it onto them, either, but they figured it out. There are

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things that they have taught me.

E: Do you go to reenactments?

Z: Yeah. I do living history, reenactment presentations.

E: That is interesting. SO, you do come in contact with people who have really tried to pick

up on some of these things.

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: To that end, does it strike you as important that some of the things that are going on, in

terms of language program, the culture program, things with Head Start Program, and

teaching the kids names for things, language and doing craft teaching ... ?

Z: Yeah, yeah. And they bring the kids over to the museum to see the things that they are

talking about in the classroom. When they are talking about corn dance, they can't take

them out and put together some stomp dancing, they bring them here to see the scenery

that we have inside the museum, or videos that we may have on file, so

E: They can take them back to the village here

Z: So, they get to talk to people who are actually doing it.

E: Do you perceive there is a need for what they are doing, in Big Cypress? From what you

have been telling me about your own family experience, it is not completely unique but it

does not sound like everybody has been as aware of language preservation as your family

has been.

Z: Again, when I was growing up, I learned a lot from my great grandparents so the

language that I did learn, I learned what is referred to as the old language, the long terms

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for words. We got in trouble if we used the shortened form of a verb or any kind of

word. Here, a lot of people say Huntabo, as hello, but we had to put on the chi on the

beginning or we got in trouble. Chihuntabo. Or like a house, people just say chickee.

That is what they say now. But when we were growing up, chickee just means house. It

doesn't define what kind of house. So, we had to define it. Was it a palm thatched

house? Was it a tile house? Was it a wooden house? Was it a concrete house? We had

to use the full term. So, I mean, we got in trouble for using the words that we weren't

supposed to. So, when I talk to people from other reservations or I listen to them, I see

the differences in the languages. Whether it is just the shortened version or whether it is

different dialect. Like where I grew up, the color black was luchi. But, when I come to

Big Cypress or I go down to Miccosukee, I hear the word logi. It is still the same word.

I know what they are saying and they know what I am saying but it sounds different.

E: That last example, that is sort of regionalism, though?

Z: Yeah.

E: I have a whole series of questions on education, some of which we have covered. In fact,

I might just skip through those, then, since we have covered the majority of them. Let's

move onto questions about religion that I have. Did you grow up with people in your

family involved in Christianity?

Z: Yeah.

E: Like, by and large, everybody ...

Z: My father was a Catholic. My Mother was a Baptist. My grandmother is a Baptist but

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my father took us to church until I was about nine. And then, I asked him why did we

stop going and he told me that he was just totally disgusted with the Catholic, the

Catholic way of thinking, anymore. He said it seemed to turn into how much can you put

in the collection plate. It just turned to be financial. How much of your salary are you

going to give the church this week, as opposed to whatever else that was going on at the

church. He said the focus seemed to turn to monetary as opposed to anything else in

learning. So, he said that is why we stopped going. I have just lost all faith in the

Catholic Church, really. My Mom never really put a big push to go to any kind of

church. My grandmother pushed us to go to Baptist Bible School during the summer,

But my great-grandfather, on the other hand, he never went to church a day in his life.

And in my own personal thinking of all the people I have ever known, he is one of the

best guys. And I thought, you know, when I die, that is where I want to go. So, myself,

personally, when people ask me, what are you? Are you Christian, Catholic? I tell them

I was born a Seminole and I will die a Seminole. I hope that answers your question.

E: It does. There is a whole series of questions. So, did your Mom go to Catholic Church,


Z: Yes, she went with us when we went.

E: But, then in the summers, you would go to Bible school and so forth. Did your great-

grandfather ever talk about this? Because you said ...

Z: Again, he was big in, you got to grow up; you have got to be a man; and you have to

make your own choices at some point. He said, when you grow up and you become a big

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man, you will be able to make up your mind for yourself. So, he was not saying not to go

because, again he was saying, educate yourself. Go, see what they have to teach you.

Go, see what the Catholics have to teach you, what the Baptists, whoever is willing to

teach you about their religion and find out what you can. He says you can make up your

own mind what you want to be.

E: So, he wasn't erecting a wall and saying ...

Z: No, don't go to church No, he wasn't like that.

E: So, you didn't grow up with any idea that the church was in conflict with our traditions?

Z: No, and if you really look at it, they are very similar. We believe in one person. You call

him God but we call him The Breath maker. But they appear, when you put them side by

side, to be almost identical.

E: And I suspect, also, your Mom didn't see a conflict, either. She probably saw it this way.

That there was some sort of compatibility.

Z: I don't know. I never asked her.

E: Never had that conversation. So, you obviously went to Green Corn Dances.

Z: Yeah. I got scratched and did the medicine and everything.

E: So, you went regularly. Your whole family was going.

Z: I have missed the last two years.

E: Just been away and that kind of thing?

Z: Yeah. Conflicts in schedule. But, otherwise I have been there.

E: Do you usually go out to the Trail or do you go to different dances?

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Z: No, I go strictly to the one at the Trail where my great-uncle presides.

E: Your great-uncle ... ?

Z: Pete. Pete Osceola.

E: Have you ever gone to the one out here?

Z: I have been to the grounds because Sonny Billie asked me to come out and take a look at

them, but I haven't been there when it has been in progress, when they are actually doing

anything out there.

E: There is a lot of discussion in different places about transformations in the corn dance

and a lot of talk about alcohol. They started the one out here that is alcohol free. Is that

an issue in the Trail, at all?

Z: From what I have seen, and it is just from what I have seen. It is one thing to say not to

bring any alcohol on premises, but it is another thing to say you can't show up if you

have alcohol in your body, also. ...to show up being sober. So, which way do you go?

Can they sit out at the very edge and drink and then come in or ... so, what I am saying

is, are they taking a strong enough stance or is it just something to say, oh, yeah, we are

alcohol free? But is it truly alcohol free?

E: I suspect just by phrasing the question that there is an impression ... On the Trail, is it

comparable? If you could ask that question about what was going on here, could you say

that is the same sort of question about the Trail ... ?

Z: What I would say is that in the early 1980's, it was very bad at all of the Corn Dances, as

far as alcohol was concerned. But somewhere in the late 1980's, going into the early

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1990's, it has been cleaning up ever since. It has been a drastic, drastic change. Not only

the alcoholism but the whole temperament of the whole Corn Dance of what goes on and

what is carried out, nowadays.

E: What is the change?

Z: It is more of an interest in it because there has been a big swing for traditional ways.

E: Since the 1980's?

Z: ...because there were a lot of people who took this dance, again in the late 1970's and

early 1980's were saying, you have to be either traditional or you are a Christian.

Nowadays, it is, OK I can be a Christian but I am still Seminole at heart.

E: So, that changed? There was a ...

Z: I have seen it from my own personal observation. I have seen a change.

E: That argument about choosing one or the other seems to have, in the 1980's.

Z: Because when I got my name when I was eleven, there were

Tape one; side B

...came about. Somebody said, hey, we go to all these different places around the world.

We are traveling; we are sending people and they are going in museums and

seeing things that are Seminole. How come they are not at Seminole Tribe? So,

somebody said, hey, we need to do something about this. And then somebody said. You

know what? A lot of the kids don't speak Seminole. We need to do something that. A

lot of kids don't know how to build a chickee or do patchwork or do beadwork or

anything. Let's do something about it. And so they have installed all of these programs

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and now it just seems like they are carrying them out instead of just saying, we should do

something. Now, they are doing something.

E: So, in your view, there was a sweep of recognition that came about, about the same time.

Z: And you see it in just the attendance, alone, at Corn Dances. You see it. There are so

many more people there, that in the 1980's.

E: Really?

Z: Yeah. Enough that where they had to build a whole new Corn Dance Area the one that

Sonny runs.

E: When was that built?

Z: Two years ago.

E: And that is about the time they started doing the non alcohol policy.

Z: Yeah.

E: Nominal.

Z: Yeah.

E: In this whole recognition of traditional things of people were necessarily keeping up

with, could we call it the movement toward preservation or something?

Z: Something like that. And I do not know if we can pinpoint it to just one thing that led us

to all of a sudden say, OK, we need to do this. A number of factors went into the

equation to make this come out on the other side and say we are installing a culture

program, a language program, we are opening a museum, we are going to present and

preserve and we are going to allow this, not only to tribal members but open it to the

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world to see.

E: You said that people had always talked about these things but there were periods when

people started saying, well, we can do something about it. And obviously, it is still going

on. People are still coming up with ideas.

Z: In today's world, I mean, on the harsher side, we know in reality that it takes money to

do things, nowadays. So, it takes money to hire teachers that speak Miccosukee or the

Creek language. It takes money to hire teachers that know how to make patchwork or

beadwork or do woodcarving and all these sort of things. It takes money to hire qualified

people to work in a facility to do what you want them to do. So ...

E: If you are going to have people doing patchwork ...

Z: In the economic state of the tribe today, we are able to do that. Going back to even 1980,

it was a night and day situation for us. It was totally different.

E: So, the economics has provided a lot for ...

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: What, in particular, in the economic situation?

Z: Oh, gaming. I mean you cannot hide that fact. It is gaming. But then, people ask where

does all that money go. Well, you are sitting in a multibillion dollar facility. We send to

kids to school, to universities and colleges and boarding schools; we are into citrus,

cattle. We do a number of things. We manufacture our own airplanes, now.

E: So, that is where that money goes. It goes to ...

Z: ...to starting other businesses. Because the reality is that we know that gaming may not

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be forever. There have to be other things that you can derive an income from.

E: You can really, fairly clearly see that some of these changes where people were able to

take action to preserve things, are tied to that economic development.

Z: Umhum.

E: I am going to come back to that. That whole topic ...


E: Is medicine something that is part of this set of traditions that people have tried to go

back to or tried to preserve?

Z: Yeah. And I have seen that the whole time I have been alive. Even those people who

said, Oh, we are Christians. They were still using traditional medicines. So, again, my

own observation is that I know that they are not 100 per cent Christian because otherwise

they would just go to their local family doctor at the medical clinic. But, in reality, they

were around the corner talking to the medicine man or one of his helpers, saying I need

help. It does play a part.

E: So, people who might stop going to the Corn Dance would still take their ailment to ...

Z: Oh, yeah. Still, today.

E: Is it as much as it was when you were growing up? Do you think?

Z: It is hard to say because most of the time, now, I seem to be at work or doing some sort

of work. But when I was growing up being with my grand parents and great

grandparents, I saw a lot of the other people who practiced the medicines. I saw them

more often than I do, today. So, I saw more people going to them then, than I do now,

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but I don't see them as much anymore.

E: So, that is not a comparison you could make. So, obviously, it is OK for somebody to be

Christian and then go to a medicine man. People do that.

Z: People need help. People need help.

E: Is it your impression that people go to the health facility, the doctor, the western doctor,

the white doctor, and also go to the medicine man? And do herbal medicines?

Z: Yeah.

E: That is very common?

Z: And to give you an explanation of how that is, when you go let's say you are going to

your family doctor. Your family doctor may be able to diagnose what you have or he

may not. In which case, he will have to send you to a specialist. Someone who say if it

is your foot is a pediatrist to look at your foot. He cannot take care of it but somebody

else can. And let us say that he cannot. He says, no, you have to go to a neurologist or

an ophthalmologist or whatever part of your body that it deals with. He is going to have

to send you somewhere else to get it unless you are dealing something like your common

cold or your flu or something like that, which he can do. It is the same thing with the

medicine that the tribe has. There are doctors who are general practice and there are

doctors who specialize in different things. And it is the same thing. There are things that

Seminole doctors are able to do medicine for, that traditional western medicine can't, and

vice versa. So, depending on what is ailing you, depends on where you are going to go.

Because I go to my family doctor or I will go to a dentist; I go to whatever kind of doctor.

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But, I also know that there are things that they can't help me with that I have to go to my

traditional medicines with.

E: So, in that sense, it is based on the particular ailment or particular symptoms?

Z: Yeah.

E: Are there sometimes when you would go to both because one did not work out?

Z: Yeah.

E: ...and that is also a scenario?

Z: Yeah.

E: Along those lines, talking about health, what would you characterize as the dominant

health issue that people are facing, today?

Z: Today?

E: Yeah.

Z: Diabetes.

E: Diabetes? No question?

Z: No. Diabetes. Because you come from it is mirrored in so many other different native

American societies where they are used to dealing with those traditional foods that they

were also eating that were healthy, low fat, you know, all these things that were good for

them to switching to, hey, look, there is a McDonald's. Do you feel like cooking that

turtle or alligator or gar or whatever it may be or I have got five dollars? I am going to

go get a happy meal. Do I want to spend time over the fire and stove or do I just want to

eat out, tonight?

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E: So, it is a change in diet?

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: And you have seen that?

Z: Yeah.

E: ...in your lifetime?

Z: Yeah. Because growing up I ate turtle. I ate turtle. I ate gar fish. We ate the squash; we

ate the sweet potatoes we grew; we ate the corn; we ate everything that we grew.

E: And you processed them.

Z: And today, it is not the same. We eat cheeseburgers. We eat a lot of steaks. Instead of

the deer, it is steak. Instead of gar fish, it is salmon, you know. It is all these...

E: Fillet of fish.

Z: It is lobster. We are going out to eat tonight.

E: In your lifetime, you have seen the diet change, have you also seen the incidence of

diabetes change?

Z: Yeah. It has risen by leaps and bounds.

E: Perceptively. Just looking at pictures, you can tell. You look at turn of the century

pictures as compared to pictures of today, it looks like some Ethiopians went to being Fat


E: So, you can see it in things like maybe, body fat and body size?

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: The diet has changed. And probably exercise also has changed or ... ?

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Z: Oh, yeah, because you have a group of people who are used to chasing down whatever it

was they were going to eat to, Get in the car and hit the gas and go to Wendy's. It is a


E: It is a major difference. And so, it is the premier health issue, do you think?

Z: Yeah.

E: How do people deal with it? What are things that you see people doing to ... ?

Z: I see them going to our own health clinics, now. They are learning how to recook things,

again. Instead of frying it, can I broil it; can I bake it? It is all of those sorts of things.

There are simple changes and not so much what you are eating but how are you preparing

it. Are you trimming the fat off of that steak before you cook it? Just little things can

change it.

E: So, people are ... So, it really is able to be controlled ... ?

Z: It is a controllable thing because it is Diabetes II but again, you have to be able to educate

people and tell them and you can't force them to change their diet. You have to convince

them this is a good thing to do.

E: Is everybody across the board, across the ages and across the gender, making these

changes at the same rate? Are they all saying, yeah, yeah, I can learn how to . ?

Z: I am not sure. I am not sure of that. I don't know the exact statistical numbers but ...

E: That is for the clinics ... And, again, we have covered a lot of these questions. Back to

the economics stuff growing up in it sounds like the primary economic activity that

your family was engaged in was tourism, when you were growing up. Is that.. ?

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Z: Yeah.

E: In different ways?

Z: Yeah. Well, there was going out to an event on the outside a festival of some sort or

whether it was having people come to that village.

E: Did you manufacture stuff, yourself? Did you learn how to make things for sale, like ...

Z: I learned how to make them but I didn't make them, then. I learned how to do all of the

wood carving stuff but I didn't mass produce it for anybody to buy, then.

E: Is that because you were young?

Z: Yeah, and I wanted to be a kid.

E: And they probably wanted you to be.

Z: Yeah.

E: And then, you were going to school, too. What was the breakdown of activity, if you

could, if it would be possible to talk about who did what in that village? What sort of

activities did your Mom do that were money making activities?

Z: Well, my Mom went to work at the bank. That was always her prime thing during the

day. My great grandparents and my grandparents, they were doing things, there to

produce money. They were the ones my great-grandmother would get up the first

thing she would do in the morning, she would prepare herself, put on her beads and

clothes and put her hair up and then she would start sewing. She would sew until five or

six o'clock in the afternoon. That is all she would do is sew all day. My grandmother

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was the same way. My grandmother, today is seventy-eight and she is still sews every

day. I mean, she had gotten to the point where she had carpel tunnel syndrome and she

has plastic wrists, now, and everything, but she still sews. That is her thing. She knows

how to sew. My great-grandfather did other things. He did all of the wood carving. He

did bows and arrows and things like that. I remember when I was, I think I was six, we

went to museum, somewhere. He built a canoe on site for them. Right there he brought

his axes and everything. Everybody took turns swinging at the log and we knocked out a

canoe over a weekend. So, we did things like that to make money. And, again, we went

to the festivals and sold all of the things that we were making.

E: So, they would be selling regardless of whether people were coming through the village?

Z: Oh, yeah. And they sold outside.

E: And your grandmother still sews.

Z: Yeah.

E: ...Despite adversity.

Z: Yeah. She has had cataract surgery; she has had laser eye surgery; she has got plastic

wrists, now, and everything, but she still sews.

E: Ane what does she sew? Does she sew mostly, patchwork?

Z: She has a house here, in Bid Cypress, and then, when she is in Naples, she stays with my

Mother, and she has two sewing machines at both places. So, she is always got a backup

no matter where she is. So, she does a lot of sewing.

E: Like having a laptop.

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Z: Got to take it with you.

E: What does she work on most? What sorts of things does she ... ?

Z: She has gotten to the point where she takes orders from people. People say, I need a

jacket. I need it to be black or whatever. And she fills the orders. She also sews stuff for

our gift shop here at the museum. So, she is always back ordered. If you order

something from her today, you might get it by Christmas.

E: She has that many things going on. And so your Mom worked at a bank? And in Naples


Z: It was then, Naples Federal, then it was First Union and I don't know what the heck it is,

now. But then, after that, she worked for the Sherif Department. She was in booking and

then she went to the fugitive's warrants Bureau. She just retired a couple of months ago.

E: So, she was at the Sherif for a long time?

Z: Fourteen years, I think.

E: That is a long time. Any idea why she made that switch from ... ?

Z: She said she couldn't stand her new supervisor.

E: Good reason.

Z: She just retired.

E: The shirt you are wearing, now ... ?

Z: ...my grandmother made.

E: Your grandmother made. That is a nice shirt.

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Z: She is always making me shirts. She is always telling me. You have to look nice. You

are dealing with the public; you have to look nice. So, she is always making different

kinds of shirts for me.

E: So, do you wear those every day? You wear a Seminole ...

Z: Yeah. I wear them quite often. So, I have quite a collection in my closet.

E: I suspect so with your grandmother making them. Is that something, although your

grandmother still does it, that is something that few people do?

Z: I learned to sew. That is my sewing machine.

E: Do you sew?

Z: Yeah. I make clothes.

E: What kind of clothes do you make?

Z: Native jackets, skirts, anything.

E: When do you have time to do that?

Z: Good question. But, again, it is one of those things, that I figured I better learn how to do

this because she is not going to be here forever. So, and when my daughter goes over to

my Mom's house or my grandmother is there, she sits there on my grandma's lap and my

grandma shows her how to sew and at two and a half. I'll be scared to death her finger

is going to roll under that needle, but ...

E: Presumably, your grandmother is watching her.

Z: Yes.

E: That sounds fantastic. So, she is probably going to learn this.

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Z: And my daughter watches all the things that I do. She has seen me do the bead work; she

had seen me sew; she has seen me handle the alligators; she has seen me do a number of

things. She is quite interested in everything.

E: And is it important to you that she does see this stuff? And that she ...

Z: Oh, sure. And, again, it will be her choice. Is she going to do bead work or is she

sewing; is she going to do whatever? It is going to be her choice. And my son is the

same way. It is going to be his choice. I can only teach them and if they use it, then that

is great. And if they don't, at least they know how to do it.

E: And so, in a sense, this is the philosophy you spoke of, being your great grandfather's


Z: My Dad was the same way. He said, you may not know what your future is going hold

for you. Are you going to be a carpenter? Are you going to be a computer technician?

Whatever it is, but I am going show you all these things I know how to do. I am going to

show you how to do electrical, plumbing one time, he brought home a lawn mower that

they gave him at work. He said here is what you are going to do. You are going to take

it all apart and you are going to clean it. Here are the new parts that are broken. You are

going to have to fix them, put these new parts in figure out where they go and put it

back together. That was lesson one.

E: How old were you, then?

Z: I think I was thirteen. So, I took this whole lawn mower apart. Laid out all of the parts.

Figured out which parts needed to be replaced and I put it all back together and it ran. I

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learned how to weld and I learned how to do electrical and plumbing and anything else

he was trying to teach me.

E: Where did he get this lawn mower? He brought it home from work?

Z: Yeah, it was one that they had at work that stopped working and they bought a new lawn

mower. Asked if anybody wanted it and my Dad said I'll take it. So, he brought it home

and that was my project.

E: It stopped working so of course, they were going to throw it away.

Z: Yeah.

E: Where was he working?

Z: He was working at Cement Products Corporation, at the time. I don't know if they are

still in existence or not. Because he has long since left them.

E: And so, this is something that you remember putting together this lawn mower ...

Z: Yeah. But I learned how to work on small engines, so ...

E: That is not something you are going to forget. When he came from Texas, was it Texas

he came from?

Z: Yeah.

E: What brought him to Florida?

Z: His parents.

E: Oh, because he was in high school. So, he was in school so he wasn't working at that

point, or only part time jobs.

Z: He was always working. From what he tells me, he has had ajob since the time he was

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 42

eleven, whether it was just cleaning out a grocery story, sweeping the floors or doing

carpentry. He worked at a gas station; he has worked in the fields picking tomatoes,

potatoes. He drove big trucks; he drove cement mixers. He has done any number of

things. He has worked constantly since he was eleven or twelve. And he is still working,


E: What is he doing today?

Z: He works for Krailing Industries.

E: For Krailing? What do they do?

Z: They are in cement products. They do cement, of course and then they do brick pavers

and anything to do with cement, really. And they are getting ready to open a new plant

and he is going be the whole facility manager or whatever it is. So, they sent him off. He

is in Michigan, right now, doing training, up there for something.

E: Where in Michigan? What part of Michigan? Do you have any idea?

Z: Not really. He told me and I have never heard of this town. So, he said there are two

hotels and this place where they go to train.

E: No, I only ask because that is where I was born. Not that it is really necessary for our


Z: That all right. But I have no idea where it was.

E: Was anybody in your family ever involved with cattle?

Z: Not that I know of. Again, that seemed to be a thing for Big Cypress and Brighton. Like

a lot of the Hollywood people aren't involved in Tampa, Fort Pierce. Well, Fort Pierce

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 43

was for a while, but that was before any Federal recognition came to the tribe. You are

talking turn of the century and prior for Fort Pierce. Not for any of us in Collier County.

We have done it building chickees and selling arts and crafts and things like that.

E: So, you did some of that, building chickees for people.

Z: Yeah, I had my own business for four years.

E: You did?

Z Yeah.

E: How did that go?

Z: It was very lucrative. The problem I saw, though, is that I looked at my Uncles who were

also in the business at the time. They were in their forties and early fifties and they were

having a rough time picking up their grand kids because of all the log lifting and nailing

and doing all that stuff. Man, I want to be able to play with my grand kids when I get

older. I need to find something else to do. So, I got out of it.

E: When did you into it? Was this just out of highschool or something?

Z: I worked for my uncle for three years when I got out of highschool.

E: Doing ... ?

Z: Doing that, while I was still going to school. Then, I went to work for an electrical

warehouse doing computer stuff. And then, I went back to building chickees for myself.

Now, here I am.

E: That would have been ... ? What year would that have been, when you were building

chickees for yourself?

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Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 44

Z: I stopped building them just before I came here.

E: So, in the early 1990's?

Z: Because during that whole time I was building them on the side, every now and then if

someone, who knew that I did this. They would call or I would get a recommendation

and I could make a couple thousand dollars in a week, you know.

E: You could make a couple of thousand dollars in a week for how many chickees?

Z: ...Being a young guy. I should put it that way. You are still very healthy and physically

able. And again, it depends on the size. I have built everything from an eight by eight to

the largest one I built was eighty by sixty.

E: That is huge.

Z: Yeah.

E: So, what was the standard size? Was there a standard size?

Z: No. and everybody wants it a different shape. I have built round, square, rectangular, "L"

shaped, star shaped. I built a horse shoe one. There was one like an amphitheater on the

side of the pool. You name it. Everybody has got their own design they want you to


E: It has got to fit in their space.

Z: It has got to fit the way they want it.

E: So, it was lucrative but it was also something that ...

Z: Yeah, it was hard. It was hard labor. I have sympathy with those who are out here doing

it. It is not like you can go down here to Ace Hardware and pick up the lumber or pick

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 45

up the fans to go on top. You have got to go out and cut it and skin it and do it yourself.

E: They don't come prefab.

Z: And whether it is ninety degrees outside or thirty degrees, you have got to do it. You

have got to fight the mosquitoes, if it is raining, you have got to keep working.

E: That is interesting. So, you made a lot of money doing that and spent a lot of time.

Z: Yeah. I did pretty well.

E: But, it was also ...

Z: It was very hard.

E: You mentioned that your father had made some money at one point he was involved in

agriculture, in picking between ...

Z: Yeah, he picked tomatoes and stuff like that.

E: Did you ever do that?

Z: No.

E: ...managed to avoid that. I just have a question here that actually builds out of some

questions I was asking about the cattle. It deals with women's roles in a range of

different things. And I wonder if you can comment from your perspective do you think

the gender relations or the status of women versus the status of men has changed to any

degree in the last fifteen or twenty years?

Z: Yeah. I have seen it more equaling out.

E: How? What do you mean by equaling out?

Z: When I was a really young kid up until I was ten, the women were the ones who were

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 46

very dominant. After that time, from ten until I was about fifteen, or sixteen or

seventeen somewhere in there the men became very power imposed? Because it was

just political Seminole politics. You didn't see a lot of women in office and it translated

into everybody else in the tribe. But in the last couple of years, last ten years, I've seen it

transcend back to it is becoming more equal. Because you see, our secretary of the tribe

is a woman; the representative from Fort Pierce is a woman, the representative from

Omachalee is a woman, both representatives from Omachalee are women I should say.

So, I have seen it swing, swing the other way.

E: And in domestic life, is there kind of a balance.

Z: Yeah. It transcends.

E: That is very interesting. So, there was a time where you did see a shift where males/men

were becoming more visibly in charge of things of the tribe. In your experience, do you

think that also, was taking place outside of really big, public politics like in other


Z: Yeah.

E: And that change has come about also with that sort of equalizing?

Z: Yeah.

E: The pow wows they have at the annual fairs do you see those playing any kind of

preservation role for things like craft manufacturing or culture ... ?

Z: When you go to the pow wow, I assume you are referring to our tribal fair in Hollywood,

it is really a place where we can have tribes from around the country come in. It is not

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 47

really a big push for display of Seminole Tribe culture and history. I mean that it does

play a part in it. We do have a clothing competition. You do see alligator wrestling.

You do see patchwork and some things that are tribal members. But the majority of arts

and crafts there are not Seminole. So, it is a way to get people in and they do see it, but

when it is part of a whole, big picture and then if you look at this picture that is on the

wall and I say, Look at that. And then, we leave the room and I go and did you see that

feather that was hanging off the one guy's head? You will have to think. OK, did I see

that feather, did I not? So, you do see it but it is just there subconsciously, as far as that

is concerned. We do other things throughout the year on other reservations that do

concentrate more on Seminole Tribal history and culture and presenting it. Like in

Brighton, you have Brighton Field Days where the majority of people there are tribal

members selling stuff. Here in Big Cypress, we have Kissimmee Slough Shootout

Rendevous, where we have a big focus on Seminole history, not so much selling arts and

crafts but presenting a history portion of it. In Tampa, the pow wow there is run by the

tribal members that are there and it is set inside Bobby Henry's Village which is a tribal

village. So, it seems to be more focused that way.

E: And the Kissimmee Slough Shootout thing here is the audience is mostly tribal members,

or ...?

Z: the audience? No.

E: The audience is from outside.

Z: Yeah. Last year, we had about, I want to say about one hundred a fifty or one hundred

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 48

and seventy-five tribal members show up to watch it. We had twelve hundred spectators

show up to watch it.

E: Participants in it... ?

Z: Participants in it. The first year in this past year, the majority were non-tribal members.

They were reenactors. The thing is, the reenactors we have coming to ours, we hand

pick them. It is not anybody show up and participate. It is that we call you; here is your

invitation; bring it with you. We have to check you over; we have to get

recommendations on you to make sure you are presenting something that is viable that

we want.

E: Why is that?

Z: Because we want the public, when they are coming to the museum, when they come

inside to see all of the displays and everything, when they have an event that is attached

to this, we want to make sure it is something that we want attached with us. And when

we present something, we want it to be the most accurate that we can present. It is like

our manikins. We have gone through a lot of effort to make them look real. Because we

want people to come in and say, Wow. That looks real.

E: You want who to come in and say, Wow, that looks real?

Z: The public.

E: Whoever the public is?

Z: Whoever walks through the doors. Say, that is something very unique.

E: So, similarly, you do that, then with the Kissimmee Slough Shootout?

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 49

Z: Yeah. We hand pick the people. The first year that we had it, it was me, my brother

Pedro, and we have a gentleman in the village named Brian Billy that participated in the

battle, who were actual tribal members. This past year, we had those three again, but

then, we also had five other people who were also tribal members participate in it. So, it

is growing, little by little. Because more people say, Hey, they are really doing

something worthwhile. Let's get involved.

E: Do people come and talk to you about it?

Z: Yeah.

E: And say, it is really great?

Z: I mean, we are getting calls, already, from the media, and people who were here last year

and other vendors and participants are saying, Can we come this year? So, that first year,

it was a real struggle. Please come, please, please. Please, we hope you show up. Now,

they are calling, Can we please, can we come? What do we have to do to get in?

E: It has been two years that it has ... ?

Z: And we are already starting the planning for this coming February.

E: Again, we have jumped through a lot of these question. If you were to summarize how

the standard of living has changed for Seminole people in your lifetime. How would you

describe that? How would you summarize it? Overall change in the standard of living .

Z: We have gone from in the United States economic standpoint, low level of living to a

middle to upper class living.

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 50

E: ...across the board?

Z: Yeah.

E: And what does that mean?

Z: It means from going down to your local car lot and looking strictly at those used cars that

are in the $1200 range to going down there and OK, I can get financing; I have good

credit; and I can buy this $30,000 car, today. I can walk off the lot with it.

E: That is a night and day change.

Z: I mean you are not driving off in a Jaguar or a Ferrari, you know the upper, upper class

but you are not driving a Junker, either. You are driving a nice ... You can get a nice, at

least a luxury sedan. You can walk off that lot with the keys, today, as opposed to

scraping all your dollars together; everybody pitch in and hopefully, we will be able to

drive a Junker off this lot, today. Is that a good enough thing?

E: Yeah. And you have seen this change in your lifetime?

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: In other areas ... ?

Z: Yeah, I mean, and another thing is we use to keep a car until it just would not run and

you could not fix it. Today, people don't think anything about getting a new care every

year or every two years.

E: So, that is very different. You attribute this to what ... ? ...these changes ... ?

Z: Just the overall economic standpoint of the tribe. Where are we, not individually, but the

whole tribe, together?

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 51

E: Not individually, but the whole tribe together.?

Z: Yeah, because there are some people who still make less than other people. There are

people who are millionaires in the tribe and there are people who are just middle class


E: And that happens because...?

Z: Well, people get different levels of education. People get different jobs. People are in

the right place at the right time. Just like any other society, today.

E: So, really it is these economic opportunities are would you characterize them as just as

opportunities that...

Z: There are more, today. And because, not because we have more industries, but more

different types of industries in the tribe. Like I said, we have tobacco shops; we

have casinos; we have museums; we have air plane manufacturers; we have land in South

America, now; we have any number of things that we are into, nowadays.

E: With all those possibilities, with all those major economic developments and change in

standard of living, we talked about people moving into houses and into

communities that are different that the one you grew up in, and you said that your family

has taken a lot of pro-active steps to be sure that the culture and the language and so forth

be passed on and that you would have the ability, as you grew up, to choose between

things and to have access things like your language. And you are seeing to it that your

kids have that, also. Is there a broader concern, beyond just your family? Do you think

about how to ensure that....do you think about other people in the tribe have access to

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 52

those possibilities, also?

Z: Oh, yeah.

E: Is that an issue? ...that requires...?

Z: There are people who talk to me about that. My kids, I don't think they are getting what

they need to know about being Seminole is concerned. All I can tell them is, Teach them

what you know. They say, But I don't know everything. And I say, Yes, but you do

know something. Teach them what you know. If they get the idea that, Hey, Dad wants

me to learn something or Dad is willing to teach me or Dad is ....just like anybody. If

you take the average person outside and they say, OK I can either sit this kid in front of

the TV or I can take this kid and I can sit them down and we can read a book together. I

can show them that reading is part of life. Not just sitting there playing Nintendo. That

kid is going to get a bigger interest in the books as opposed to if he just sat in front of that

TV. It is the same thing. You may not know every story and every word that is in every

book or how to pronounce it but you know enough to read that book, well enough to read

to your child. It is the same thing. You may not know every story. You might not know

everything there is to know about Seminole history, culture, religion, story-telling,

legends, whatever it may concern, clothing, patchwork, beads, whatever, but you know

something about being Seminole, because you are Seminole. Just by birth, you are

Seminole. Teach them whatever little thing it is, you know, because at some point in life,

there are going to go, Wow, I remember when my Dad or my Mom showed me how to do


Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 53

E: So, it really come back to a parent being the person to...

Z: Yeah. Just like any other kid in the United States, today. The school can only teach you

so much but the parents, at home, if they don't instill it also, or try to push you a little

further, they are not going to learn more.

E: If the parents are working...

Z: I mean the doctor can say, this is what you need to take. But, if that kid does not take it

at home, he is still going to be sick.

E: Interesting analogy. Before we rap it up, I think we have really covered what I wanted to

talk about. And I wanted to just ask you if there was anything else that we haven't talked

about that you would like to discuss or comment on. Because really, what I am really

looking at is just the last generation and essentially, your lifetime. Trying to talk about

some of these changes. Is there anything else that you would like to mention or talk

about before we rap it up?

Z: Not that I think of. Unless you come up with something else that you would like to know


E: I am sure I will but right now, I think we have answered the questions that I have, so I

would like to thank you very much.

Z: You are welcome.

Sem 264
Interviewee: Brian Zepeda
Date: June 21, 2000
Page 54

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