Interview with Olive J. Norton, March 12, 1973

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Interview with Olive J. Norton, March 12, 1973
Norton, Olive J. ( Interviewee )
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Subjects / Keywords:
Seminole Indians
Seminoles -- Florida
Seminole Oral History Collection ( local )


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Seminoles' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
Mrs. Olive J. Norton
Tom King
DATE: March 12, 1973

Mrs. Olive Norton, lead teacher at the Head Start Program on Brighton Reservation
discusses the role of
Head Start in preparing Indian children for public
schools. She particularly mentions teaching methods,
behavioral patterns, family criteria for application,
and the racial proportions of her students. Mrs. Norton also
considers tribal health and the tribal
attitude toward wealth and respect.

Head Start Program on Brighton Reservation, 1-8
health, 10, 11
Osceola, Billy, 10
Senior Citizen Program, 3
status (criteria of), 9-10

K: Mrs. Norton, could you explain to me just what your position
here at the Head Start Program entails?
N: I'm the lead teacher, and all the other employees follow my
K: How long have you been here?
N: Six years last April, I presume. It's been so long I almost
K: How many other employees do you have here?
N: I have four Youth Corps besides four employees not counting
K: What are their responsibilities?
N: We have one janitor, one teacher aide, one assistant teacher
and a cook.
K: What does the Youth Corps do?
N: They help with the children and any daily thing that needs to
be done.
K: Oh. Apparently, these are all women that... ?
N: Yes, yes. We have had a man janitor before, but it just hap-
pened to have a woman this time. She applied for the job and
was chosen over the man applying for the job.
K: Mrs. Norton, can you tell me what the philosophical justifi-
cation is for this Head Start Program on the Brighton Reservation?
N: To help the Seminole children be prepared to go into a white
school is one of the most important aspects. They all asso-
ciate with white people, but they live here on the reserva-
tion, and they really need this, some of 'em.
K: Is the approach to teaching the Seminoles any different than
what it might be for teaching white?

N: Not here on the Brighton Reservation because all these chil-
dren speak English. They understand.
K: Do they speak English before they come to the Head Start
N: Yes.
K: I see. You indicated it was to prepare them to go into white
schools. How do you go about doing this?
N: Well, socially. You teach them table manners.
K: Are you trying to develop behavior patterns?
N: Yes.
K: Is that correct?
N: Well, as you would any children who aren't...
K: Is any actual teaching done here at the Head Start Program?
Do you teach the children how to read and write, do mathe-
matics, any thing of that sort?
N: No, no. Well, we teach them the concepts up through six,
try to teach them so... that before they go into kinder-
garten. They know up to six and their colors, table man-
ners, and good health habits, such as brushing their teeth
and cleanliness.
K: All right. It sounds, then, to me as if this entire program
is oriented toward white social values. Is there any orien-
tation whatever toward the Seminole values, the old Seminole
system of educating the child, learning the Seminole behavior
N: Not too much really. Perhaps they should. It's not... ex-
plain yourself, just what you mean.
K: I don't mean to suggest that this type of thing should be
done. I'm asking whether or not it is. You said table man-
ners. I don't know what the equivalent of table manners

would be in the Seminole culture, but since you have four
Seminole women here working full time, I was wondering whe-
ther or not they attempted to teach any of the Seminole cul-
ture to the children or whether it's entirely oriented toward
white culture? I'm not suggesting that should be done or
should not be done. I'm just questioning it. I don't know
anything about it.
N: As far as table manners of some kind?
K: I was just using that as an example. Anything, any facet of
behavior patterns.
N: Well, now, we have had, you know, Mrs. Buck is here as our
"grandmother" and she has tried to teach them some of the
things that was used in other times, you know, that type of
thing. I don't know.
K: That's interesting. Perhaps you could explain to me what a...
you said she's the "grandmother" here. Is that a position
that's... ?
N: Yes.
K: Can you explain that in detail?
N: Well, whe was hired under the Senior Citizen Program that
they have.
K: Is this a program being sponsered by the Tribe or by the
N: It's a government funded program, as far as I know. Now,
she is not paid through Head Start funds, and I don't think
it's... maybe under the Community Action.
K: And what is her job here? What's her position?
N: She just sits around and does the things like stringing beads,
her bead work, and the making of baskets and things out of
the palmettoes, fans, things that some of the older group
might do at home yet.
K: Yes. How do the children react to this?
N: Some of them are interested, and some of them don't seem to

pay too much attention to it. The younger, well, the genera-
tion... their parents... the children that we have here, haven't,
you know, most of those probably don't do the things that the
grandmother does, you know, like the basket work and things
like that. Perhaps that's why they really don't... or maybe
some of them see it at home and that's why they're not inter-
ested. Most of them are officially with their grandparents,
you know, and maybe they see so much of it at home, but I felt
that most of the young parents don't do those jobs. It's the
older group, the grandparents.
K: Yes. Has the Seminole Tribal Council ever attempted to influ-
ence the way that this program is conducted?
N: Well, now, not too much. I believe they just... you know, real-
ly it's like any other Head Start Program. Now, they did want
us to teach their language, Seminole language. I know the
parents asked for that and we are supposed to do that.
K: Is it being taught?
N: The grandmother, we let her help us out on that.
K: Is she teaching Creek or Miccosukee?
N: Creek.
K: Creek.
N: Because that's what she speaks. Now, on Hollywood they have
Miccosukee, Miccosukee and Creek, and on Big Cypress they just
have a Miccosukee.
K: Yes, and I know there are a number of Miccosukee speakers here,
too, at Brighton. Do you know anything about that?
N: Miccosukee, here, on this reservation?
K: Yes, there are. Have you had any other experience in a teach-
ing situation other than here at the Brighton Head Start Center?
N: Only a little substitute work into Moore Haven Elementary, years

K: You might have a basis for comparison though. Did you subs-
titute enough to be able to make sort of a...
N: To compare the children on intelligence or what?
K: No, no. I didn't have that in mind at all. I was wondering
if perhaps there were any special problems or special char-
acteristics the Seminole child might have that might be dif-
ferent from those of the white child in the school situation.
N: Oh, you know, so many people, I think, feel that they are
different, but to me they're just children. There's really
no great difference, I don't think. I don't feel that there
K: Can you describe the typical family that the child who attends
Head Start School come from? Do you think that the children
in the Head Start School represent a pretty good cross-
section of the Seminole population on the Brighton Reservation,
or do they come only from a particular type of family? Are
there any criteria?
N: We have several who, you might say, that's underprivileged --
their families don't have all the modern conveniences the
others have -- but the majority of them are from average
K: Mrs. Norton, are there any financial qualifications which a
family must meet before it is allowed to send its child to
Brighton Head Start Center?
N: Their income has to be a certain... or they can't go over the
K: And what is that? You don't know how big?
N: I believe they changed it last year or so. It's higher. We're
allowed, I believe, ten per cent over an income, probably more
in Hollywood, over the income than on other two reservations.
K: Now you mentioned that in the past everybody had been allowed
N: Yes, yes.

K: Can you go into that?
N: They did make an exception and thought that all Seminole
children should be allowed to attend the school.
K: When was that?
N: Up until a couple of years ago.
K: Do you know why that was put an end to?
N: Because, probably, they wanted to cut the budget.
K: So, because...
N: Well, no it would be Washington. You know, they were trying
to just provide the Head Start Program for the children who
really needed it.
K: So, as it stands right now...
N: Well, they did up the income level.
K: The income level went up?
N: Yes, so some of those who might not have gotten to come, now,
since they've upped the income a little bit, they are included.
K: I want to get back now to the "grandmother" that is employed
here. Does she tell the children any stories or does she
just demonstrate crafts and so on?
N: Demonstrates crafts and teaching them the Indian words, fruits
and vegetables, and animals and things like that. If she told
a story, she'd have to tell it in English because these chil-
dren would not understand it in their native language.
K: Does she tell them any stories?
N: Hasn't yet. I would like for her to. I wish she'd tell us
some of the old stories that are handed down and passed on.
K: Do you know what the attitude of the Seminole parents towards
this Head Start School is? How do they feel about it?

N: I think they appreciate the fact that their children are fed
well and they get their medical services. Not only that, it
frees them for work and the majority of them do need to work.
In fact, practically all of them do.
K: Has there been any opposition on the part of the parents to
the attendance of the children here?
N: We did have one family who objected to the Head Start Program.
They wanted their children to learn the Indian ways. But
they have changed and they're sending three of their children
to our school. Two of them are in now. One has already
graduated and gone on to kindergarten.
K: That's only one family that you know of though out of all of
N: To my knowledge.
K: Mrs. Norton, on several occasions when I've been out here to
the Head Start School, I've noticed some children who were
racially mixed playing here, going to school. Do they at-
tend full-time?
N: Yes.
K: Can you tell me what the attitude of the Seminole parents is
toward their children playing with... oh, let's say, a pure
Seminole, playing with a child who might not be entirely
N: If they disagree with it, they keep it to themselves because
the children don't show that they resent playing with each
other like we've had in the Negro problem, you know, and in
the blacks. You know sometimes how resentful children are.
You know, children are children. Theny don't want to asso-
ciate with them, but these children don't act like that.
K: And there's been nothing said by the parents concerning this?
N: No.
K: About how many children of mixed breed do attend Head Start

N: I would say that we have seventeen every day at present and
possibly six of them are full-blooded Seminoles.
K: Do the majority of them think of themselves as Seminoles?
N: Yes, indeed. They are.
K: Yes.
N: They all feel that they are Seminoles.
K: Have any children other than Seminole children from the
Brighton Reservation ever attended the Brighton Head Start
N: Yes, indeed. We've had as many as three black children in
here at one time.
K: How were they accepted?
N: Well, all except one... I did have one child who was.
K: Where were these black children from?
N: They worked here on the reservation for the farmers who leased
land from the Seminoles. Since there was a Head Start Program,
government funded, why they were included in the program.
K: Can you tell me what area of land is serviced by the Brighton
Head Start Center? Is it only the Brighton Reservation or is
it a larger area around it?
N: It has been just the reservation itself, but we do have one
child coming from the outside, a black child.
K: Is there a reason for that?
N: No other children coming in?
K: Right.
N: We were only funded for so many children.
K: Yes.

N: And transportation would be another problem.
K: It certainly would.
N: Getting them in here. [A break in the interview here.] Can
I leave it on?
K: Just go ahead, extemporize. You were telling me about some
of the Seminole women who work here.
N: Yes. Now, I find it rather interesting among the employees
here, the women have this belief that during the menstru-
ation period that they should use separate dishes from the
rest of the people here. They have paper plates that they
can dispose of or bring their own individual plate and their
own individual glass. During this period, they use their
own dishes, and they are not washed with the rest of the
dishes because they feel they should not contaminate the rest.
K: How old are these four women?
N: In their middle twenties, maybe around thirty.
K: But you mentioned that there were some younger girls.
N: Yes, I do have Youth Corps Workers and one expressed her opinion
the other day, that she definitely would feel foolish if they
were to marry a white person and have to eat in a different
room during that period. I was rather amused that such a dif-
ference existed between the two age levels.
K: I'm interested in the character and status of wealth among the
Seminoles on the Brighton Reservation. Do you know who is now
the most respected Seminole on the reservation?
N: Financially?
K: No, I mean the man who is most respected by the Seminoles. I
don't mean the wealthiest necessarily. Of course, it might
be that the wealthiest Seminole is the one who is most res-
pected. I don't know.
N: Well, I understand the wealthiest one to be Ollie Jones. They
run the Trading Post.

K: Yes. Do you think he's most respected?
N: Not necessarily. Billy Osceola, to me, is respected on his
own. I think this, as far as wealth is concerned, why, he's
one of the wealthiest.
K: So, you would say that respect is not necessarily built on
the wealth people make?
N: I don't think so. I don't think so.
K: There are other criteria. Why would Billy Osceola have such
N: Well, he carries the Osceola name and so on. He was a preacher
and he was a good leader when he was Tribal Director. He re-
ceived much more respect from Washington than here.
K: Does that matter to the Seminoles? Are they concerned with
how the white people think about their leaders? You say that
Billy Osceola was respected in Washington, and certainly he
was. Would he be respected by the Seminoles because he was
respected by the whites?
N: No, I don't think so, not so much as he is a Seminole and I
think he's one of the outstanding ones.
K: Yes. Can you give me an indication of what the general status
of the children's health is?
N: I feel that it's pretty good. Now, the one family that we...
We do have one family that we... when we got the children in
here, why they were undernourished. The only thing is, quite
a few of them have colds; seems like more have now than have
the common cold.
K: Is there any indication of diabetes?
N: Among the children?
K: Among the children, right.
N: No, they are tested for that.

K: Do you have any idea of at what age the average diabetic
Seminole gets it?
N: I would say the older group; now I may be wrong on that.
K: What do you mean by older group? Do you mean thirty or
forty or what?
N: Oh, yes. As far as I know, my age or above.
K: Now, you say you've been here for seven years now. Is that
N: Going on seven years.
K: Perhaps, then you could tell me if you've noticed any change
in birth-rate during that time?
N: Ah, well, I really feel that there has been a decrease.
K: To what would you attribute this trend?
N: By means of contraceptives that are being dispensed at the
K: Has there been no opposition to contraceptives that you know
N: Not that I know of.
K: Mrs. Norton, can you sum up the effect that you think the
Head Start Program has had on the Seminole children?
N: I think it has helped them and it certainly gives them a
head start.
K: Has it been good for the parents?
N: Yes, I feel that it has because I'm sure the children take
things home and they can translate to their parents.
K: Do you ever have some problems with discipline here?
N: Well, certainly, you do any where.

K: I suspect that you might. How do you handle this?
N: Well, I was taught that isolation is the best method. You
separate the child from the group and sit them on a chair.
If they get too unruly, just take them to the office and
talk to them.
K: How do the Seminole women who work here handle discipline
N: The same way.
K: Can you think of any way that the Head Start Program could
be improved and do you have any suggestions?
N: Well, I'd like to have more family involvement. Of course
I realize they work and they're tired at night, but I really
would like to have it. I'm sure all Head Start Programs are
lacking in that.
K: Well, what's the situation with federal funding right now?
N: I understand that our funding has been approved in some way.
K: Will it be adequate to meet your needs?
N: I'm sure with proper management that we can manage with what
they're giving us.
K: Well, before I close the interview, is there anything else
that you can think of that you would like to tell me about
this Head Start Program that you might think that would be
N: Well, I can't.
K: Okay, thank-you. You've been very helpful.