Monthly Archives: September 2020

When Two Worlds Meet

By Jarrid L. Smith

The first thing to know in this story is that Dorian is Seminole from Florida and Wendolynne is Quechua from Peru. Next, they are the husband and wife owners of Panther Sewing & Crafts.  With their journey’s beginning on separate continents, just how did they come together, and what makes their business unique?  Read on to find out.  

When you visit the website of Panther Sewing & Crafts it’s easy to see that they provide quality fabric, ric rak, and bias at a good rate.  What’s not so obvious is the story of its owners Dorian and Wendolynne, who are the husband and wife duo that power the business.  These two indigenious business owners bring their own unique cultures into their business, and this serves to make Panther Sewing & Crafts into a venture unlike any other.  By the end of this you’ll see that the story of their business isn’t really a story at all, but rather something closer to destiny being fulfilled.

Understanding Their Past

When Wendolynne was seven years old, she immigrated to the United States from Peru with her mother, grandmother, and younger brother.  They were later joined by her father and two sisters.  To know why the family moved you first have to have a sense of who the Quechuan people are, and how life is for them in Peru.  The Quechua language has existed since time immemorial, and it is used by many Indigenous tribes across South America.  In spite of the long history of the Quechua language, the reality for many who speak it and wear traditional clothing in Peru is a life of being marked as a lesser person.  This discrimination is pervasive and has led to Quechua speakers suffering at the hands of the government and civilian groups.  Therefore, moving to the U.S. for Wendolynne and her family was about giving themselves a chance at escaping poverty, terrorism, and discrimination.

Dorian and his family, on the other hand, have resided in Florida for their entire lives.  Seminole people, as a result of the United States’ actions, would come to reside in Florida around two centuries ago.  The U.S. government made several attempts to remove the Seminoles from Florida, including conducting three wars, as well as making numerous unfulfilled and broken treaties.  When it was all said and done, many Seminoles were removed and only several hundred remained in Florida.  This historical treatment of Indigenious people by the United States government and its people occured in all parts of the country.  The result left those like the Florida Seminoles and their descendants, which includes people like Dorian and his family, who deep down in their collective memory cannot forget those actions.

Education

Indigenious history aside, the common thread that pulled Dorian and Wendolynne together was education.  Wendolynne would graduate high school and go on to attend Florida International University (FIU), where her past guided her to join a student group called the Global Indigenious Group (GIG).  Wendolynne and her family lived through unjust treatment while in Peru, and that put a drive in her to seek out opportunities to advocate in the U.S.  Among these opportunities was her working with GIG to organize a petition to recognize Columbus Day as Indigenious People’s Day on FIU’s campus.

Just as Wendolynne was elected as the president of GIG, the Seminole Tribe of Florida entered into a partnership with FIU called the Seminole Tribal Pathways Scholar Program.  The purpose of this program was to bridge the gap between Seminole youth and higher education, and to provide a support system for students as they transition into college.  One of the first Tribal citizens to be a part of this transition was Eden Jumper, Dorian’s brother.  Through her role with GIG, Wendolynne was introduced to Eden and the two quickly became friends.  Eden later introduced Wendolynne to Dorian, and it didn’t take long for their friendship to become a relationship. 

Sewing is Life

Dorian, for his part, is a seamster and craftsman.  His interest in the trade is rooted in his family, where he has several people who create traditional Seminole clothing.  As Dorian introduced Wendolynne to more of his family, it was common for them to all spend time around fabric.  Seeing this wasn’t entirely new for Wendolynne because both her mother and grandmother are seamstresses.  In 2017, about a year into their relationship, Wendolynne was set to graduate from FIU.  As a graduation gift her father presented her with traditional Quechuan clothing, and this was the first time she had been given a gift like this.  At this moment, as Dorian and Wendolynne began to examine the Quechuan clothing, they noticed many similarities to Seminole clothing.  At this moment the relationship between the two would be guided by destiny’s invisible hand.  At this moment Panther Sewing & Crafts was conceived.  

The first iteration of Panther Sewing & Crafts was born in 2017, with Dorian and Wendolynne primarily selling ric rac on the Seminole reservations.  At first they joined in with Dorian’s grandmother who also sells fabric.  From the beginning their business was a family thing.  As the couple moved forward into the business they spent more time around Dorian’s family, and they came to understand the community of people who sell fabric better.  The shared passion for creating clothing and crafts within that community gave Dorian and Wendolynne the push to dream about what their business could become.  But this dream did not come without a few tests along the way.  

For Dorian and Wendolnne, the first test was understanding the ins and outs of what they were getting into.  They realized that they didn’t know enough, and with that realization Wendolynne returned to FIU for a Master’s degree in finance, which she earned in 2019.  With the degree in hand, Panther Sewing & Crafts LLC became official and the couple continued forward with plans to grow their business.  With 2020 on the horizon, what they didn’t know was the immensity of their next test.

Expanding 

When the country shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic there was an immediate need for cloth masks.  Dorian and Wendolynne saw an opportunity to help others and their business.  As orders for their masks began pouring in, the couple put in countless hours in front of their sewing machines.  At one point, over a three day span the couple lost track of how much sleep they’d gotten.  To prevent burning out, they took a much needed break after that rush to fill orders.  

As they caught their breath, they realized how much profit they were able to bring in and they began to consider how to reinvest it in their business.  They decided to invest in fabric, but not just any fabric.  They decided to invest in fabric made with Kona cotton, which is a material that is great for sewing.  The bias and ric rac they sell is made with Peruvian cotton.    

At this point, the story of Panther Sewing & Crafts has come full circle.  Remember, this all started with a couple born continents apart.  Then, because of the circumstances prompting her family to immigrate, Wendolynne’s passion for advocacy manifests on FIU’s campus in her joining GIG.  Dorian then meets her through his brother, who attended FIU because of his tribe’s push to prioritize pathways to higher education.  Last, what really set them down the path from couple to business owner couple was a graduation gift.  So who is it that helps them on the ground in Peru to source their products?  It’s Wendolynne’s father, and this all feels like destiny.

Final Word

The story of Dorian and Wendolynne cannot be made up.  The love, support, and admiration the couple have towards one another is obvious.  Their effectiveness as business owners shows in their growing bottom line.  Their goal in business is to set a foundation for their future, and to build lifetime relationships with their clients.  They take immense pride in where they come from and the work they do, but they are also humble enough to know that only hard work and determination will continue to make their business a success.  

You can support Panther Sewing & Crafts by visiting them online and purchasing their products.

Where to Find Panther Sewing & Crafts

Digital Store: www.panthersewing.com
Facebook: Panther Sewing
Instagram: PantherSewingandCrafts

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When a Choice Becomes a Statement

By Jarrid L. Smith

Baylee Micco believes that when you buy something, you’re not making a choice, you’re making a statement about yourself and the future, and this way of thinking pushed her to create her own business.  Her business serves as a statement to the world that she’s not going to accept what’s handed to her.  Her business is a statement that she cares about how her products are made.  Her business is a statement of perseverance, proof that she is growing into a woman who shapes the world around her, and not the other way around.  

Baylee Micco
Image Via ShopHoneyBay.com

How did Baylee come to this point in her young life, and what does she see in herself that makes her a businesswomen to be watched?  Read on to find out.

Graduation

While growing up Baylee’s mom did not allow her to wear makeup.  Baylee is a respectful daughter, and despite her growing interest in makeup she did as her mom asked.  When Baylee graduated high school and moved out of her mom’s house, it didn’t take long for her interest in makeup to be noticed by others.  It started with her friends, who recognized her talent and encouraged her to create makeup tutorials online.  The notion of posting online made her nervous but she took small steps forward.  First, she opened an Instagram account just for makeup, and then later she would create her own YouTube channel with how-to’s and makeup looks.  In the beginning Baylee had mixed feelings about the YouTube channel, she was nervous about how it would be received.  

It turns out her feelings were misplaced, as the number of views started increasing.  Baylee used this positive feedback as fuel to push forward to create more videos.  Her mom was contacted by a friend and asked if Baylee would do makeup for a wedding.  As any bride knows, you don’t ask just anyone to do your makeup on your wedding day.  Baylee saw this as a great opportunity and she agreed.  This would lead to several more weddings as well as opportunities to do makeup for photo shoots.  Baylee was starting to make a name for herself, and she was making plans in 2019 to make even more videos, but then something happened that helped push her toward her current path.  

Pressing Pause

Baylee seemed at this moment in her life to be on a flow towards a life centered around makeup, but in life there are ebbs and flows.  Baylee didn’t know it yet, but she was headed to an ebb.  For several years she had been in a relationship, and it was during this time that Baylee and her longtime boyfriend decided to split up.  At around this same time a friend moved into the room she planned to use to makeup videos.  These circumstances combined to create an ebb in her life. 

The pause Baylee experienced was natural, the kind people experience when their world seems to shift under their feet.  It’s the time needed to gather oneself and to find stable footing.  This was a time of reflection for Baylee, and during this time she decided she wanted to know more about the world around her.  She started meeting new people and making new friends, exploring new places, and gaining confidence in her voice.  In her moment of pause, the roots of what would become her business today took hold.  But how does a budding YouTuber who specializes in make-up go on to creating her own line of clothing?  Like many things in the year 2020, COVID-19 had a hand in the answer.  

Restart

As Baylee was growing into who she is today, she continued making plans to produce more YouTube videos.  But by then COVID was spreading across the country, and a thought entered her mind.  Nurtured by her recent experiences, she began to question herself.  These weren’t questions of doubt, but rather questions of possibility.  She wondered if she wanted to be known only for makeup.  She wondered if she want people to think of her only for their school dances and weddings.  She wondered what else she could be good at.  The answer to these questions came unexpectedly one night while she was scrolling through Instagram and saw a sponsored post promoting clothing.  She started down an Instagram rabbit hole and really liked the clothes she saw.  

Baylee liked the style of clothes, which she described as western and Native American inspired, and she was ready to make a purchase, but as she continued looking she noticed something else.  It started with the clothing models.  Baylee felt that their appearance wasn’t authentic, that the clothing brand wasn’t just trying to convey being Native inspired, but also being Native owned.  As she saw this she started to wonder who exactly the owner of the brand was, she thought it could be a Native American.  She would go on to find that the owners weren’t Native American and this frustrated her.  She was upset at the company’s attempt to appropriate the appearance of Native Americans, and that it was trying to profit off of something it was not a part of.  

Making a Statement

Image Via ShopHoneyBay.com

Baylee faced a choice.  She could choose to dismiss the feeling that had come up and buy the clothes, or she could do something about it.  She could make a statement, and she was at a point in her life that she was ready to do it.  Baylee decided that she could do what she was seeing online, and that she was an authentic representation of the products she was selling.  

The first thing Baylee did was to reach out to her family.  She sent a text to a cousin and her aunt, and they gave support to her idea.  Then she created her own t-shirt design and sent it in a family group text for feedback.  She was nervous about what her family would say, but the feedback was again positive.  With that, she started researching clothing suppliers.  She found a company that produced environmentally sustainable t-shirts, and with her design and clothing in hand, she got to work registering her business and creating her website.  

Her business was approved by the state of Florida at the end of August, and she launched her website at the beginning of September.  Through word of mouth on Instagram, potential buyers were waiting and they quickly bought out her in-stock supply.  She sold out in two days, and she couldn’t believe it.  She quickly ordered more from her supplier.  

Baylee is still in the first month of officially selling her products, and she already knows she’s in it for the long haul.  She believes there is still much more to come from her.  She sees a gap and a need for an indigenous owned business that provides quality and stylish clothing.  Through the first month of her business Baylee has reached unexpected people, which has given her opportunities to connect and inform them about indigenous issues.  

What’s Next?

For Baylee, there are many goals and ideas she has in mind.  She’s learned a lot in the few months since she decided to open her own business.  The first thing is practical, which is to understand the market and have enough supply to meet the demand of buyers.  She’s already working on designing a sweater, which will be just in time for the winter season.  The next thing is emotional, which is to build confidence off of her successes and to talk down the doubts that creep up.  Here too she’s gaining strength, and it’s reinforced by her relationships that have developed because of her business.  

Choices are statements.  Baylee has made her choice and her statement is clear. Now it’s your turn.  Choose to support Baylee and her business, you can count on her.  Choose to support a business that is Native American owned, and provides Native American inspired and environmentally friendly clothing. 

Find Baylee Online

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The Habits of a Reseller

By Jarrid L. Smith

The FAU Football Business Forum is a series of articles that highlights former FAU football players who now are business owners to understand what drives their entrepreneurial spirit.  The featured businessman in this article is Kris Bartels, FAU Class of 2007. 


Kris Bartels, Image Via LinkedIn

For Kris Bartels, opportunity is always knocking with his online reselling business.  Pools, weights, trading cards, legos and many other items sit in his garage at home, waiting to be bought online and shipped to their new owner.  Kris is still a relative newcomer in the reselling market, but it hasn’t taken him long to discover that he’s there to stay.  Why does he do it and what has he learned about himself in the process?  Keep reading to find out.

The Private Victory

Author and businessman Stephen R. Covey famously describes in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a concept he called the private victory.  First, the 7 habits are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin With the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

Within the 7 habits framework, Covey called the first three the private victory.  The essence of Covey’s thinking is that for a person to be highly effective, they must first have their own affairs in order.  Through his reselling business Kris has begun to secure his own private victory.  His journey is still ongoing, but the early returns have offered reassurance to Kris that he’s living a life to be proud of, one that Covey would certainly deem as highly effective.

Be Proactive

Kris’s profession is in education, where he has worked for 13 years.  Prior to most parts of the country shutting down due the COVID-19 pandemic, he jumped into the reselling business to supplement his income from his teaching job.  Why pursue something like reselling when the country is experiencing something unlike anything in living memory?  The answer in part lies with Kris’s father, Jack.  Reselling isn’t something new to Kris, his roots in it trace back to his father owning several sports trading card shops, and he would bring young Kris along to trading shows.  Thus, the idea for reselling was planted at an early age.  

In the beginning of 2020 the fruits would begin to show.  For the first 11 years Kris was in the classroom, but for the last two years he’s been teaching online.  Being out of the classroom afforded Kris more time at home, and he was looking for different ways to fill the down time.  So one day to fill the time between instruction and grading he began reading a book titled Toyfolio: How to Invest in and Sell Toys Like Stocks Paperback by Greg Webb.  Kris describes the gist of the book as instructions to buy enough toys on clearance, hold them, and then resell them in the fourth quarter.  For him, the book was eye opening, and it led directly to his decision to commit more time to reselling.  

In this moment Kris began uncovering Covey’s first habit, Be Proactive.  A reseller has to be on top of their market, knowing what items are going to be in demand so they’re ready to sell when prices go up.  This requires research into trends of items as well as knowing when products will be in stock to buy.  This is the type of information a person has to go find, it takes time and effort to hone in on prices and inventory.  Kris is a proactive person, and that’s the first step to making him an effective reseller.  

Begin With the End in Mind

As Kris moved closer to becoming a fully engaged reseller, he started by listing unused items from around his house.  What was once a random household object before, soon became a business opportunity, and it started simply enough with a modem.  After posting it online, it sold quickly and Kris was hooked.  As it would happen, what he started reselling next was due to the COIVD-19 pandemic shutting things down around the country.  Pools and weights were major items in demand, and Kris was one of the resellers online meeting that need.  

The reselling of these items led to a major income boost, especially considering that people were willing to pay up to 2 or 3 times more than retail price.  Once Kris realized reselling was a viable supplement to his teaching salary, he dove into a whole new way of looking at things.  On Ebay he would look to see what items were trending.  On Facebook he researched to see what people in his local area were selling.  He looked at inventory of local retailers like Wal-Mart to see when items would be in stock.  On one occasion he arrived and noticed a vendor stocking the trading card display, but certain cards had already been bought out.  He asked the vendor when they would return to restock, and he made sure to be there early.  When things were really competitive, he enlisted the help of his brother-in-law to help buy cards from retailers.

Kris Bartels’ Garage Storage, Image Via Kris

All of this shaped how Kris was thinking, and in his mind he started to think about long-term goals.  Paying off the mortgage and taking care of the car note with the profits from reselling were a few of his goals.  This type of thinking is what Covey described as Beginning With the End in Mind.  This type of thinking gives clarity and focus to each day, making the small routine steps count towards something larger.  This type of thinking is liberating, it frees the mind to wonder the possibilities of what could be.  Most of all, this type of thinking provides a sense of trust in the process it takes to reach those goals.  

Put First Things First

There are few certainties in life, but one thing we can all agree on is that there are only 24 hours in a day.  How we spend that time varies, but we can consider an average to draw some conclusions.  The data below is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’s American Time Use Survey from 2019, and it shows how much time the average American spends per day on certain activities:

  • Personal care, including sleeping: 9.62 hours
  • Leisure and sports: 5.19 hours
  • Working and work-related activities: 3.61 hours
  • Household activities: 1.78 hours
  • Eating and drinking: 1.18 hours

These are just the topic five categories, there were several others but on average they were less than 1 hour.  All this data helps frame the distinction between an effective and an ineffective person.  To put it another way, time is money and it would appear if the average American wanted to earn more, then more time must be spent working.

When it comes to putting first things first, Kris explains it in his own way.  When asked how his family has experienced his venture into reselling he talked about his wife and his children.  Kris said that since he started reselling he believes his wife, Shayna, would describe him as more driven and goal oriented.  Whereas before reselling he would have spent his evening playing video games or relaxing, now if he’s up late it’s for something related to reselling.  Now he’s up listing items for sale, taking pictures of items, or researching new items to buy.  As he’s learned the schedule of vendors at local retailers, he’s structured his day around being able to be present to buy.

As for his children, ages five, two, and six months, they are getting a different perspective on their toys.  The experience right now is felt most for Bishop, his five year old.  Being that Kris stores resell items at home, Bishop will ask to get into them and on more than one occasion has taken the liberty to do so on his own.  However, Kris also describes something else about Bishop that he’s noticed.  Bishop sometimes accompanies Kris when he goes out shopping for resell items, and when he sees his dad looking at toys he’ll ask if his dad is going to resell it.  This gives Kris the opening to explain, as best as can be to a five year old, that selling the toys will benefit the family more than just keeping them.  It’s early for Bishop, but he’s already getting a practical lesson into what Covey describes as Putting First Things First.

A Final Word

The idea of being an effective person can be seen through Kris’s life as a husband, father, educator, and now, a reseller.  As Kris has been successful in his private victory, he can now consider what Covey described as the public victory.  The public victory concept hinges on the idea that once a person has their private affairs in order, then they can begin to be successful with others.  It’s exciting to see Kris prepare to go into the public victory arena.  Right now his biggest challenge is to reinvest his earnings, but you know he’s working on solving that.  You can help, with the holiday season coming up be sure to see if he’s got what you’re looking for.  You can count on him to be prepared.


Where to Find Kris Online

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A Seminole Summer to Remember

By Jarrid L. Smith

In Florida the humidity is always present, especially during the summer months, and the summer of 2020 was particularly hot within the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  Citizens of the Tribe decided to turn up the heat on their elected leaders when news of a decision filtered down to the community.  In late June Tribal officials first discussed a plan to enact a resolution governing the growing of hemp on Tribal lands.  Then, in early July, when Tribal officials passed the resolution, community members immediately began to organize against it.  What resulted was a summer unlike any other for the Tribe.  Read on for a review and fallout of the events, as well as comments from both community organizers and elected leaders.  

Sending Up The Alarm

Like many areas around the country, the Seminole Tribe of Florida closed their offices and community gathering areas in March.  The Tribe is governed by an elected five member body, referred to as the Tribal Council, or by Tribal citizens as just the Council.  Typically, the Council will hold official meetings once a month to decide business matters for the whole Tribe, and these meetings are open to citizens of the Tribe.  As with many governing bodies during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council of the Seminole Tribe has been conducting official business via video conferencing.  However, unlike those other governing bodies, the Council regulates  access to virtual meetings and recordings are not readily available to Tribal citizens.  Herein lies the crux of the issue, how can the people of the Tribe maintain their citizen oversight responsibility when the Council seemingly conducts official business out of sight?

The answer begins with Tribal citizens like Marline Miller, who sees it as her responsibility to keep up with what the Council is doing.  It was Marline who, in late June, first posted information about the hemp resolution on Facebook in a group composed of only Tribal citizens.  As news of the Council decision began to circulate among Tribal citizens, unrest with the decision began to manifest with a call for a referendum vote on the Council resolution.  This would be a tall order in a normal situation, as a referendum vote would require signatures from 20% of registered Tribal voters, but remember this is all occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.  This meant that the referendum organizers had to collect signatures from voters in extraordinary circumstances, taking precautions to ensure their safety as well as the safety of those who were signing the referendum.  

The Issues

Seminole Tribe of Florida, Main Office Building – Hollywood, FL.

So what exactly pushed so many people to put their concerns into action?  While the idea of Tribal involvement in the hemp industry was not new as it had been brought up in prior Tribal elections and discourse, there were two primary concerns Tribal citizens had with what they were seeing.  

The first concern was the issue of the Council discussing and passing the resolution prior to getting feedback from the community.  “It seemed too shady to me that it wasn’t brought before the community,” said Marline when asked how she felt about seeing a hemp resolution on the Council agenda.  Marline said she felt disheartened, and she decided to post the information online, “because I felt this way, I also thought about others and wondered if they knew.  I wanted to make others aware.”  “We weren’t against the hemp plan, but we wanted to bring it before the community,” said Tribal citizen Mariann Billie.

Tribal Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. addressed this concern by saying the hemp resolution was to be originally discussed in March, but with the closure of government offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, this meeting was delayed.  “We [the Council] were not trying to hide anything or sneak anything through. That’s not how we operate,” said the Chairman.  The Chairman added that there were two Council discussions regarding the hemp plan prior to the resolution, but he did recognize that there had been no presentation to the community.  “If COVID didn’t come along, we would have brought this to the community,” said Councilman Chris Osceola, echoing the sentiments of the Chairman.

The second concern was the wording of the hemp resolution, which seemed to indicate that not all Tribal citizens would be able to benefit.  According to the referendum organizers, the wording of the hemp plan as originally passed would give privilege of operating hemp businesses to individuals.  “After I read the post and heard about the briefing, I was disappointed that we [the Tribe] weren’t going into it to set it up as a huge industry for the Tribe.  It was a pro-individual plan and I didn’t agree with that,” said James Holt, a Tribal citizen who had run in previous Tribal elections.  “We learned that the way it was written would benefit individual people more than the Tribe as a whole,” said Sonja Buck, a Tribal citizen who helped to collect signatures for the referendum.  Mitchell Cypress, Tribal Council Vice-Chairman, did question the wording of the resolution.  Vice-Chairman Cypress noted his concern was tied to who could operate a hemp business, including the wording, “other and outside entities, including non-Tribal members.”  Despite his reservations, Vice-Chairman Cypress did vote to approve the hemp resolution.

Chairman Osceola, in responding to this concern, said that the hemp resolution was written to meet the five minimum requirements for the Tribe to operate hemp as stipulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  “This [the hemp resolution] was just the minimum requirement… this was not a plan, it was a step towards making the plan,” said the Chairman.  The Chairman was confident that while the Tribe awaited USDA approval further discussions regarding regulating hemp among the Council and the community would occur.  “The way I understand it is that this is a catch all.  A way to get into the industry,” said Councilman Chris Osceola.  Councilman Osceola also indicated that there would have been more added to the hemp plan once the USDA approval was finalized.  

The Referendum

Over the course of two weeks in July the community organizers were able to get over 650 signatures. This number easily exceeded the 20% required by the Tribal constitution. At the end of July, the signatures were submitted for verification to the Tribal secretary and the organizers awaited the Tribe’s response. In the midst of all this, the community organizers were able to host multiple online virtual forums. Krystal Young was behind the organization of the virtual forums, and they helped to get Tribal citizens information regarding the hemp resolution and the referendum proposed to change it. “I knew I didn’t have the full story and I didn’t know who had more information [at first]. I knew if I was thinking like this the others were too,” said Young.

Many of the people involved shared similar feelings about the process to get the needed signatures.  James Holt, regarding his involvement in the process, said the biggest thing he did was to communicate with people and that both Tribal youth and elders were talking about the referendum.  Both Sonja Buck and Marline Miller talked about the time and energy the process took to go out and speak with people about what was going on, and to gather signatures while maintaining the safety of everyone involved.  “What was cool about the petition was that we saw people put their differences aside,” said Mariann Billie. 

As August began, the efforts of the community began to show when the referendum language was approved and all that awaited was a vote by Tribal citizens to change the language of the resolution.  Alas, there would be no vote.  Just after the community organizers approved the language of the referendum ballot, the Council decided in late August to rescind the initial hemp resolution.  It would seem that the organizers’ efforts influenced the Council to act, but that the action the Council took effectively nullified the referendum.  With both the original hemp resolution and referendum now gone, what exactly does the Tribal Council and community take out of all these events? 

The Takeaway

Communication and transparency were the top issues for all involved.  While citizens of the Tribe recognize the power of their vote, they struggle to stay informed about the actions of the Council between elections.  There exist many examples of open government laws and ordinances around the United States and within Indian Country, but not one within the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  The reasons for this vary, but they especially include information security.  So what steps can the current Council take to meet the needs of Tribal citizens?  

Many of the Tribal citizens spoken to for this story voiced their desire to be allowed access to virtual Council meetings, a step that mirrors allowing them into in-person meetings.  “They [the Council] are of the mindset that a few bad apples ruin the bunch. I feel like they don’t trust Tribal members to keep the information safe… You [the Council] are there to inform me and I think it’s our right to see these things,” said James Holt.  “I’ve heard that it’s a security issue, but we’re not in the meetings and we still get the information,” said Marline Miller. 

Another step would be the continuation of something that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Like many local governments, the Tribe enacted a “Safer at Home” order and while Tribal citizens were stuck at home the Chairman began posting video announcements online.  The first occurred in March with updates continuing throughout the following months.  The information included steps the Tribal government was taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19, practical steps Tribal citizens could do, and actions of the Tribal government to ensure the economic prosperity of the Tribe as a whole.  The video announcements by the Chairman were consistent through the months of April to July and provided a connection for Tribal citizens to their elected leaders, however, there has only been one video update in recent weeks.  The Tribal leaders spoken for this story did recognize the importance of being up front with information, and that this would mean less chances for misunderstandings to occur.

Lastly, Tribal citizens could also continue to organize and host their own community forums.  These could continue online at first, then eventually in person.  The focus of these forums during the summer was on the hemp resolution, but the topics could vary depending upon community interest.  These forums represent the community’s original intent in repudiating the Council’s hemp resolution, which was the importance of bring issues up for discussion and sharing information.

Moving Forward Together

It is especially important that what occurred within the Seminole Tribe of Florida during the summer of 2020 not be forgotten.  The summer demonstrated the will and resolve of the people, as seen by their collective action during the petition for referendum.  The summer also showed how important effective communication is, and how misunderstandings can arise quickly in its absence.  The enduring legacy of the Tribe is that despite past and present obstacles the citizens of the Tribe persevere together.  That is how the Tribe will move forward from this moment, and that is what must be remembered.

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Filed under communication, General Interest, Government, Native American

Turning Points with Sally Osceola

Turning Points is a series of articles that highlights Indigenous business owners to understand what drives their entrepreneurial spirit.  The featured business in this article is owned by Sally Osceola. 

Setting the Scene

In relationships, opposites often attract one another.  Have you ever wondered why?  Keep reading to see how one couples’ differences make them stronger, and how those differences also make for good business.  

Sally Osceola describes herself as not a people person.  She has worries, concerns, and doubts.  In her words, her mind can sometimes get cluttered like a web browser with too many open tabs.  So why is she running a business where she has to interact with people, make decisions, and do all this under changing circumstances?  

Enter her husband Aaron.  About seven years ago Aaron came home and announced he had purchased an Italian Ice machine and they were going into business.  Despite having her doubts, remember she’s not a people person, Sally jumped in.  

Why?  

It’s because being an entrepreneur is a mindset.  It’s a spirit that people possess.  It’s having a willingness to try something new.  It’s having confidence that you will find your way.  It’s trusting in yourself.  For Sally, her entrepreneurial spirit was revealed through her relationship, through her trust in Aaron.  So they started their first business venture, and over the years that led to several others.  

Today, Sally and Aaron, along with their daughter Sadrilynn, sell Italian ice, kettle corn, t-shirts, and baked goods.  Today, because of their differences Sally and Aaron persevere.  Today, because of their differences they are stronger.  Consider being a customer of their business today.  

Interview with Sally Osceola

Answers edited for clarity.

Business Bio

  • Name of Business: Sally, Aaron, and Sadrilynn
  • Products/services:Italian Ice, Baked Goods, Kettle Corn, T-Shirts
  • Where is your business located? 
    • Call or Text: 786-521-1527
    • Digital: Coming Soon

What is your business mission or goal?

Our goal is to structure everything we do around our family.  We want to make sure we’re interacting and talking, not just eating together but doing things together.  We look at our business the same way.  It’s also the reason we sell baked goods, we started selling them to help raise money when Sadrilynn was playing volleyball for her travel. We enjoy involving our kids to help out when we set up at festivals or parties, especially if one of us isn’t available to go. We try to make it a family affair.

How did you get the idea for your business?

It was about seven years ago when Aaron came home and told me we were going into business selling Italian ice.  I wasn’t really business minded before this, but when he came up with the idea I ran with it.  When we first started I was really iffy about it.  I had doubts and negative thoughts, but I kept them to myself.  What really convinced me that it was a hit was the day we had three events booked in the same day.  That day was a lot of running around, and after that the business kept coming.  It’s been pretty smooth up until this year.  

How has your business changed over the course of 2020?

This year we really had to start reaching out to people.  I posted online on Facebook and Instagram that we were taking orders for kettle corn and baked goods.  I was really nervous about how the community would react, I thought that some people might give us backlash because people weren’t going anywhere [due to COVID-19].  I felt like this in part because we weren’t sure if people would think that we weren’t taking the pandemic seriously. Which wasn’t the case at all. This was just our way of handling everything that was going on. I didn’t know how people would react until I started getting a lot of orders.  That told me we were doing the right thing.  It meant a lot that people trusted us to safely prepare their orders.

What are your plans for your business in the future?

I have been thinking about how we can expand.  I want to reach more people.  Most of our business has been with the tribe or the reservation, but I want to reach more outside of the tribe.  

If you could speak to yourself before you started the business, what would you say?

I have doubts, but the things that I want to get done get finished.  I would tell myself that you have to put yourself out there.  You have to reach out to people.  I’m not a people person but working in business has helped get me out of my shell.

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Turning Points with Justine Osceola

Turning Points is a series of articles that highlights Indigenous business owners to understand what drives their entrepreneurial spirit.  The featured business in this article is Made By Justine O.: Seminole Handmade Artisan Soaps. 

Finding Her Voice

Voice. We all have it, but the difference between us is how we decide to use it.  Justine Osceola has chosen to use her voice to speak life to the importance of self-love and self-care, and she is making this a reality through her business.  Justine operates Made By Justine O., and the business is based on two very different life experiences.  

The first experience begins with how she was raised, which would later provide Justine a stage to use her voice.  Justine spent many weekends attending pow wows with her mother, who is a pow wow vendor.  As Justine attended pow wow after pow wow with her mother, she began to gain an early appreciation of hard work, effort, and persistence.  Further, when Justine began selling her own products she did so first at pow wows and tribal events.  

The second experience would allow her to realize the importance of using her voice for the purpose of sharing her message of self-love and self-care.  Justine experienced domestic violence in a previous relationship, and she would later use the harm and damage caused by that relationship to realize the importance of self-love and self-care.  This drives the why of her business, it serves to push her to meet her business goals.  

Justine now channels her voice when hand making each soap, crafting them using her life experiences to make something more than just a product that cleanses.  She’s creating a path for others to follow.  She’s showing how a person’s future is not dictated by their present.  She is, in her own words, a mompreneur and she is striving to prove her message can be fulfilled while also raising her children.  

Interview With Justine

Answers edited for clarity.

Business Bio

  • Name: Made By Justine O: Seminole Handmade Artisan Soaps
  • Products/Services: Soaps, soaks, scrubs and sanitizers
  • Business location: 

What is your business mission or goal?

The message of my business is to promote self-love and self-care through soaps.  I realized I wanted to share this message through my experience with domestic violence.  After this experience I realized I had a message to share.  And here is when I like to say that soap found me.  I’ve always been on the road at pow-wows with my mom, she’s been a vendor my whole life.  Culture is what moved me and I combined that with my personal message into making soaps.  

What is it that makes your business unique?

Each soap that I make is handmade, and I will make custom orders.  I make soaps that are scent-free or a soap with oatmeal, both of these are great for people with sensitive skin.  I also make specialty soaps, my first was a soap that looks like a doughnut with sprinkles.  I’ve even heard back that some people just buy the soap for a bathroom decoration.  I believe that fun looking soaps encourage self-care.  

How did the first years of your business go?

I had attended culinary school but in 2017 I realized I wanted to try a new craft.  I started teaching myself by watching YouTube videos and I studied it for a month before making my first soap.  I began to sell soaps in 2018, but they weren’t a featured product.  I put up a display off to the side of our booth, and before I knew it they sold out.  That’s when I knew I was on to something.  I continued to sell soaps into 2019 and I made a goal to visit pow-wow outside of Florida. 

The first event I recall was in Staten Island, New York where I was invited to the Shinnecock Indian Nation.  Soaps were my featured product, they filled most of my space and I did great.  I learned that I had to brand myself, and I started to package my soaps and label them.  This is also when my logo was created.  I love it, I feel like the creator moved me to it and to the person who created it.

How has your business changed over the course of 2020?

When this year started I my goal was to continue going to events outside of Florida.  I had started attending business conferences in 2019, and they were great.  So when people started to really panic about COVID I was at an event in Las Vegas.  I realized while I was there that it was going to be my last in person event for a while.  While I was at my booth selling soaps I got online and started buying supplies.  I was already in the cleansing business, so I decided quickly to expand into sanitizers.  I never thought I would get into it, but once I decided to try it I couldn’t keep my supplies stocked.  I also started to up my game online and generate traffic to my site.  Promoting myself online was new to me.  This year has been difficult but I made no room for doubt, I knew I needed to keep going.

What are your plans for the rest of this year and into 2021?

When 2020 started I was still working out of a room in my house.  When I added sanitizers and started stocking up on supplies I quickly ran out of room.  I started looking for space near my house and I was able to find a great spot.  I now have a separate work space, and it really allows me to focus on one thing at a time.  My goal now is to continue working towards opening the shop to the public.  My vision is that when a person walks in they’ll see products that will help them heal.  Once I can, I’ll get back on the road to pow-wows and conferences.  

What is something you want people to remember from this interview?

I want to inspire people to chase their dreams, to stay consistent, and to overcome self-doubt.    I call myself a mompreneur because I started my business so my kids can see what happens when you keep at something.  I even have my kids make and sell their own soaps, and I let them keep the money.  Do what you love and keep at it, stay on the path and you’ll find your way.

Other Articles Featuring Justine

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Filed under Tribal Business Forum, work

Using The Past: A Reflection

What does 9/11 and a cattle drive have to do with one another?  And how did Malcolm Gladwell make this happen?  Read on to find out.

Setting The Scene

Think of a day you received terrible news.  In a previous post I wrote about that day for myself, the day my sister passed on.  This was an experience that I shared with my close loved ones, and my sister lives on in our memories, pictures, and conversations.  As time goes on the grief of her loss ebbs and flows, and we honor her life in different ways.  The process of grief looks differently for all of us, but I believe there are common questions we can ask ourselves that can help us be better people.  

  • Why am I honoring the memory in the way that I am?
  • How am I using the memory to better myself?
  • Is there another way to honor the memory that betters others?

This post will attempt to answer those questions by relaying examples from personal, community, and societal experiences.  

Teaching 9/11

Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell, whose books have been on numerous New York Times Best Sellers lists, hosts a podcast titled Revisionist History.  Gladwell describes the podcast as “going back and reinterpreting something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”  Some of my favorite episodes include Food Fight, Free Brian Williams, and A Good Walk Spoiled.  Season 5 was recently released and it includes an episode titled A Memorial For The Living, which provides the genesis for this post.  In the episode Gladwell explores both the 9/11 memorial and homelessness, and in doing so he gives  a glimpse into how our society attaches various levels of meaning to people.  

Going back to my first year as an educator in 2012, I have always approached 9/11 with the belief that no matter what we’re learning leading up to that day that I will set aside the day to teach the significance of it to my students.  My method of instruction has evolved and improved, and I’ve used all manner of resources and activities to help students deepen their understanding.  One of my favorite assignments are personal family interviews, where students talk to a person in their family and ask structured questions about 9/11.  I also enjoyed using the resources on Teach Rock, which brings in how music was shaped by 9/11.  

I approached 9/11 in this way because of my experience living through it as a high school student.  My goal was for students to understand the event, but also the emotions.  That was the purpose of the interview, so students who don’t remember 9/11 can begin to understand how it caused people to feel.  Being that I used 9/11 materials each year, I began to apply my improving understanding of teaching methods to strengthen the lessons.  As I began to teach middle school civics two years ago, I began to consider using 9/11 as a community service activity.  I envisioned incorporating local public services, like fire and police, and having students express gratitude.  

Smith Family Cattle Drive and Ranch Rodeo

Growing up, I was taught to be respectful of the elders in my family and community.  My grandpa would tell me to shake their hand and say hello.  I still live with this way of greeting, but there was one person who changed how I looked at it.  My grandpa had several brothers and sisters, and even though I always shook their hand, I can only remember a few times when hugs were given.  As an adult, I distinctly remember the time my uncle Roger first hugged me.  That’s because it was so strange and odd, I remember thinking that this was weird.  Funny how a hug from a loved one can be seen that way.  The thing is, he kept hugging me when we would meet, and eventually I got used to hugging back.  My uncle came to my wedding on March 3, 2012.  I have great memories from that day and I’m happy he was there.  He passed away 10 days later on March 13, 2012.  

Uncle Roger’s life amounts to way more than just the few things I’ve shared, and after he passed his wife and daughters set about honoring his life.  Spurred on by an idea from a family friend, Roger’s wife Diane and their daughters organized a cattle drive for the next year.  The family planned for another cattle drive the next year but this time to honor Roger, his brothers, and their father.  The Smith Family Cattle Drive and Ranch Rodeo was born, and it set about to honor the legacy of the men and their efforts in the cattle industry.  In the next few years a ranch rodeo was added and a non-profit was formed.  

The deep connection of the family to cattle is obvious, as all the men were cattle owners, but as their children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren grow into adulthood the connection is not as close.  Some of the extended family still work in the cattle industry, but a majority now do not.  The purpose of the cattle drive and rodeo then is to recreate a portion of a past life.  To teach how this past life created morals and values that endure to today.  An old saying comes to mind here, which is that you cannot understand a person until you walk in their shoes.  In the case of the cattle drive and ranch rodeo, the Smith family is trying to have their children walk in the boots of their elders.  

A Final Word

Memories are a fickle thing.  Add to that the fact that two people can see the same thing, but interpret it in opposite ways.  There are verifiable facts associated with 9/11, but as events around the country prove, today the interpretation of 9/11 by people is an ongoing process.  The same is true for more personal memories, such as those of a loved one.  What I believe is important is to ask yourself questions, to reflect on your actions, and to use the answers to be a better person.  When we think about the past we risk the danger in getting stuck, always coming back to the same meaning.  We need to use these memories to push us forward, to make us better people.

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Filed under General Interest, grief, self improvement

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper: Understanding Her Young Life

Betty Mae Tiger was born fatherless and shunned. Growing up she was seen as an outcast and repeatedly denied opportunities. This type of beginning would seem likely to lead to a life of struggle and hardship, then ultimately to a sad ending. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Setting the Scene

Betty Mae Tiger’s young life was wrought will all manner of challenges. Undoubtedly there would be more to come as she moves into adulthood. How would she handle them? In what ways would she continue to be impacted by the community she lived in? Beyond the local, what events within the U.S. would shape her life? These questions are explored in this post, and will be looked at again in a future post. The understanding of Betty’s life up until the point discussed in the current post will provide the context for who Betty was as a person. Further, it will provide a fresh look at how her efforts as a Seminole women are reflected in the present day. Ultimately, the purpose of these posts is to (re)introduce readers to an indigenous woman whose life and spirit shined as a model for our modern day challenges.

Learning to Walk

Betty Mae Tiger was born on April 27, 1923, and she was immediately in danger. In her autobiography, A Seminole Legend: The Life of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, she describes it as follows:

There were two strikes against me when I was born April 27, 1923. First, I was a half-breed; second I was born into a Christian family… The Seminoles believed that half-breeds were evil “Ho-la wa-gus!” (bad spirits) who would endanger the tribe and bring on bad spells. Other half-breed children had been killed by their grandmothers or aunts, who threw them in muddy rivers or canals to drown. Sometimes they carried babies way out in the wilds, where their crying would not be heard, and left them there to die or for wild animals to eat them.

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 39

In the broader context, Betty was born into a changing landscape. The roaring 1920’s were a cultural revolution across the United States, and a financial and environmental one in South Florida. The expanding real estate market, fueled by the draining of the Everglades, caused the growth of many of today’s well known cities. At this time, Seminole Indians lived in camps scattered across Southern Florida.

Betty was born near present-day Indiantown, Florida, and she and her family lived the first few years of her life with a lingering sense of danger over their heads. Betty’s family would move to the Dania Reservation (now Hollywood) when she was five, but the move was set in motion by events Betty described as follows:

Men led by medicine men old Billy Smith [Panther] and Billy Stewart [Wildcat] converged at the edge of our camp one afternoon. They called Grandpa to come to the edge of the camp… My mother, knowing that they were up to no good, picked up my brother and took me by the hand, and we ran into the woods… They told him that he must get rid of the two evil kids in his camp. “They are bad luck for our people! You must kill them or hand them over to us.

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 40-41

Learning the Ropes

For Betty and her family the lingering mortal danger began to lift upon arriving at the Dania Reservation, but in its place were more subtle and enduring threats. Betty had to learn to cope with growing up being seen as different. She describes how she and her brother, Howard, were treated:

Life was not easy for my brother, Howard, and me as we faced discrimination from the other full-blood reservation children. I was ready to do battle with both white and Indian kids who dared cross me or my little brother… I used to wonder where I belonged. If I was not an Indian or a white person, then where do my kind go? I used to ask myself this question all the time.

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 57

Betty would grow up in an ever changing world. Betty makes no mention of the Great Depression in her autobiography, but no doubt it shaped the world around her. It was 1931, as the United States grappled with the economic toll of the Great Depression, when Betty first describes attending school on the reservation. The ability of education to increase prosperity does not escape people today, but a young Betty makes no mention of this either. Instead, schooling was viewed as something to do. It wasn’t until 1936, when she was 13, that Betty’s view of learning starts to change:

In Sasakwa in 1936, I had met Juanita Tiger, who was my age. She showed me the first “funny” books I had ever seen in my life! We never had anything like that in school. She told me, “They talk to you!” She read me the funny books, and I really flipped out. She then told me to go to school. That’s the way I would learn. So I made my mind up to go to school, so I could read like her.

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 101

Just as young Betty’s views on education were changing, so too were the views of the United States regarding their relationship to Indian Tribes. The New Deal was President Franklin Roosevelt’s strategy to combat the Great Depression and lift America out of despair. Beginning in 1933 and lasting until 1939, the New Deal brought about changes in the United States that are felt to this day. For Indian Tribes, the New Deal birthed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. Much debate exists regarding the fidelity to Indians Tribes from the U.S., but there is no doubt that the IRA has had a major effect on the composition of tribes today, including the Seminole Tribe of Florida which Betty was a citizen of.

Setting Her Own Path

Betty was able to attend the Cherokee Boarding School in North Carolina beginning in 1938, where she also graduated from in 1945. She describes the day she left home:

We left on a cold day in a 1938 Chevrolet sedan that was used by the reservation’s government office. I was fifteen, Mary Parker was fourteen, and my brother, Howard, was twelve. Mother and Grandpa saw us off. I’ve often wondered what my grandmother thought on that day…
Before I left for school, I had wanted to learn to care for babies, and I remember telling my mother as I left: “Maybe they will teach me how to save them when they are born. You always wished you knew how.” My mother smiled at me because she knew that I really meant it.

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 106

Betty’s time at Cherokee was filled with routines of learning, which included academics, crafts and trades, housekeeping, and religion. The adjustment to the regimented life at Cherokee took time, but Betty persevered. While Betty was matriculating through Cherokee, the United States moved closer to entering World War II. In fact, Betty’s brother Howard would be the first Florida Seminole to enlist in the armed forces. Betty describes the reaction to his decision:

He enlisted in the marines on August 18, 1943, his eighteenth birthday. Private First Class Howard Tiger was the first Florida Seminole, and one of only three, to enlist in that war. Our grandmother was not happy about his decision. She said, “No Indian should join the white people’s services,” and the older Indians all agreed. The medicine men were real mad. They said, “We knew this would happen if we let half-breeds remain in the tribe.”

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 131

The beliefs of many other Florida Seminoles had not changed much in her early life. Discrimination was also the practice of states across the U.S. at this time. In Florida, Whites segregated Blacks in all aspects of life. Florida Seminoles were often ignored by Whites, but the pervasiveness of racism would not stop confrontations from happening. Betty describes a time when she was face to face with this reality:

Mary Parker had quit school to come home and marry Joe Bowers. While home one summer around 1943, Mary and I and her baby, Eugene, went to McCrory’s Five and Ten Cent Store. Although Indians had to go down an alley to the back of the store to order their food like the black people did, I decided that we should sit down at the counter and order a hamburger and a Coke. The waitress came over and said, “I can’t serve you. You’ll have to go to the back door.”
Then the cook appeared and said gruffly, “You bastards get out. You’re not welcome!”

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 116

A Final Point & Call to Action

Throughout the turning points discussed in this post of her young life, Betty has shown a changing perspective of herself and of the world in which she lived. The final point in her young life prior to beginning her journey into adulthood was to finish what she started at Cherokee Boarding School. The year was 1945 and she was getting ready to graduate. Betty reflects on her graduation:

I had learned from my grandmother to set a goal and go after it. So I set my goals at an early age. To finish school was one goal. To work among my people and get them on their feet through health care and education were my goals for the future.

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 117

Prior to graduating, Betty wrote a letter to Mrs. Ivy Stranahan, an early supporter of Florida Seminoles, to express her hopes for the future:

“I hope that it will be possible for more to follow and as I saw children following in my footsteps toward an education I knew then that I would never quit school which my grandmother wished me very much to do, because it means everything to me to see my tribe take an interest toward the school which we need so badly. All the years I have been in school I pray that someday all my people may realize the needs of an education and that my influence may mean something to them.”

Jumper & West (2001), Pg. 117

Betty’s call to action as relayed in her autobiography speaks to the culminating events of her young life. The rest of her life, to be discussed in a future post, was spent demonstrating her continuous resolve to fulfill her goals.

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Filed under education, Women's History

I Don’t Like What I See…

We’ve all done it. We’ve looked in the mirror and not liked the reflection. Sometimes we don’t like it so much that we avoid looking. Other times we use it as a driving force for change. What happens when a community takes a look and decides it doesn’t like what it sees?

Setting the Scene

The driving push behind many adults is their children. Parents recount the years in a series of memories, filled with a range of emotions. There is the joy of first steps and first days of school. There is the pain of seeing a child suffer a broken bone or enduring an illness. In many ways these memories establish who the child is later in life; the type of adult and parent they will become. No childhood is bliss, and no childhood should be misery.

Yet, how is a parent supposed to react when their child experiences a terrible trauma? Unfortunately, this question is one that many parents go through first hand in communities across the country. This is especially true in Native American communities. The statistics of violence against Native American women are numbing, and the inability to bring justice is shocking to those unfamiliar with the relationship between federal, state, and Tribal sovereignty.

Incidents of sexual abuse and sexual harassment have a long history on Native American reservations, and stepping up to confront them can be seen as difficult to do. The driving force behind one community’s reaction to violence against women and children has been the willingness of women to speak out against their assailants. This action is commendable to say the least, but it also deserves mentioning that those who are responsible for protecting women and children have not fulfilled their role. The list is long of people who have neglected this responsibility, and it bears repeating that if there is a search for who to blame then it must begin by looking in the mirror.

Looking in the Mirror

Recently, citizens of the Seminole Tribe of Florida collectively looked at the mirror. The discussion that took place began on August 16, 2020 and it was started by a young Seminole woman and mother of two named Rebecca Cypress. The discussion centered on the protection of children and it began with the following Facebook post:

The comments under the post were overwhelmingly messages of support. The comments were also quickly filled with names of people that had been convicted of a sexual offense and were registered on the Florida Sexual Offenders and Predators Search tool. In addition to this, the comments also began to mention names of people who were suspected or alleged to have committed sexual abuse or sexual harassment. It is important to mention here that although the post was made on Facebook, it was done so in a closed group just for members of the Seminole Tribe. Consequently, many within the Facebook group know one another in a familial or acquaintance manner.

As names of suspected or alleged people began to be posted additional comments from others would add to or confirm the suspicions. At this point, due to the nature of what was being alleged it must be noted that there were several comments containing names of other people from within the group. Several of these alleged people came to their own defense within the comments.

As the comments began to wind down, they began to be centered around resources to help others and the initial steps to take a more formal and organized stand against sexual abuse and sexual harassment within the Tribal community. The need to continue this discussion and involve other community stakeholders is the next step that Cypress wants to take. In another Facebook post on the group page Cypress posted the following on August 18, 2020:

Cypress strikes a tone that shows care and concern. Furthermore, she appears to be making an effort to push the conversation forward. To gain a better understanding of what drove her making to the original post, as well as to see what progress has been made since, Ms. Cypress agreed to an interview.

Interview

The following are questions asked and Ms. Cypress’s responses (edited for clarity):

Your first post is dated August 16th. What compelled you to making that first post?
For me it started with the hashtag #saveourchildren. I started looking at what happened to those kids and I thought about my own two children, and I feel that we need to protect kids in our own communities. These things happen in our families, to our close friends. I was really mad and angry at that moment because these things weren’t being talked about.

When you were making the first post, how did you feel? What did you think the reaction to your post would be?
My grandma would say when I was younger to “stay away from this person or that person.” My family was really open about these things, they weren’t shy about sharing. But I didn’t think the reaction would be what it was, I thought that only two or three people would talk about it. I thought that it would be hush hush like always.

After the post, when the reaction from others started, what thoughts came to you?
I didn’t expect the responses that came, and it was overwhelming at first. I was also happy that people were willing to speak up. What really got me was when I started to get direct messages from other people, they were telling me their stories. It was so heartbreaking that there was so many, I cried when I read them. People were also thanking me for bringing it up. I also had people message me saying I could get in to trouble or cause trouble. Some people were angry at me for bringing it up.

When you first received names of people who had allegedly committed sexual crimes or sexual harassment, what did you think?
One person named was my uncle. After he was named it made me rethink his actions from when I was younger. I realized what he did was really inappropriate and questionable. A friend shared a similar story about him. I think these things are suppressed because no one wants to face ridicule. No one wants to face the questions like “why did you hang out with him?” or “why didn’t you say something sooner?”.

What is it that you would like to see come out of the conversation about these sexual crimes?
I would like to start would tribal policies, beginning with people who have been convicted. I want to see support for our people. I want people to feel that they aren’t the only one. I don’t want people to feel afraid to see a person who has done something terrible to them. It really hurts that it’s taking so long. Everyone that I know is hurt by this. People should not have feel that this is something that can’t be talked about. We [the tribe] are all about family, we talk about how we should stay together. But some people move away from the reservation because of these things.

What solutions to this issue would you propose?
I think there should be support groups for families for them to know that they won’t face ridicule. I think the police and fire department should interact with kids more. They are the first people that kids look to for help. I’ve looked to see what other Tribes are doing, but I didn’t find much.

Making Changes

If you don’t like what you see when you look in the mirror, then first step to making a change is to decide to. If you’ve read this far then you’re either wrestling to make the decision to speak up, or you have already done so in your own way. If you’re still wrestling with the decision, Ms. Cypress posted another comment that you need to read:

The kids need you to decide.

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Filed under family, Native American, reflection

1992: You Had To Be There

Last week I wrote about Shoni Shimmel, and in the process of writing I found out that Shoni was born in May of 1992. I noted this because my own sister was born September 1, 1992. As I was writing about Shoni I kept coming back to thoughts of my own sister. CeeJae passed away in January of 2019 of a drug overdose, and with today being her birthday I decided to write about the process I’ve experienced since the day she passed.

Setting the Scene

The primary education yearly calendar is like a river, with points of calm and rapids. Most welcome the reprieve that comes with the end of December, when schools go on a two week break. Count me as a part of that group, and when the break winds down we’re recharged and ready to teach again. On Sunday, January 6th I woke up feeling refreshed, looking forward to the next day when I returned to work. My intention that day was to take down our Christmas lights, a final farewell to the holiday season. After some morning chores I felt sleepy, so I did something I don’t often and I laid down to take a mid-day nap. My phone rang and I awoke in time to see it was my mom, so I answered.

“My baby has gone to heaven.”

I remember the rest of the day in detail, which isn’t something I believe is normal. There are days where the memories are vivid, and I think I’ll someday I’ll know why this day is one of those for me.

What is a Sister?

I was asked say some words at the funeral for CeeJae. What I said that day is written below:

A sister is many things.
She is fun. She is a pain. She is complex, and at the same time relatable. She is whimsical. She is prudent. She is all things you are not, and just like you in many ways.

A sister is many things.
She dreams wildly and plans wisely. She overthinks simple matters and then she overcomes improbable odds. She is a daughter and a mother and an aunt. She handles situations and circumstances that you cannot. She bears the burden of others as well as those of her own.

A sister is many things.
She is missed when not around. Through actions and words, she shows me my own flaws. Her choices and decisions, while we don’t always agree, are hers alone. She is strong willed and tenderhearted. She is pride and joy, a sign of life fulfilled.

Who was my sister?
Her name is CeeJae. My mom called her Boo, and so we did too. She shared a room and a in many cases a bed with Stephanie, but when I left home she got her own room. She filled it with music and barking dog sounds. She suffered on the hook of addiction and the fruits of the flesh.

In time she bore a son, and named him Benjamin. It was with hope she pressed on, but again the hook and fruit proved too strong. In 2017 she overdosed, it seemed like everything was too much. Then, with a fresh determination, she began to heal and to thrive. It took her 25 years to decide she wanted the fruit of the spirit, and so last year she was baptized.

Her fate now sealed, we her family now weep. What starts as tears of sorrow, end as evidence for God’s glory. She will be seen again because of what she found that day. She found her God jersey, and now that’s what she wears proudly.

Listen now as I read: Galatians‬ ‭3:27‬ says that “… all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.” So as you pass by, if you are wondering what she’s wearing you now have your answer. It’s her God jersey, now you know her team.

To friends and family alike, if you have not already decided, there’s ample room left on God’s team for all of us. These flowers symbolize her love for her mother, a final Earthly gift from Boo to her mom. So follow my sisters example, and let this day be “a see you soon” rather than “a goodbye.”

I love you Boo, see you soon.

A Final Word (For Now)

CeeJae was born as I entered 2nd grade, when I was seven years old. I have vague memories of being at the hospital when she was born, short flashes of a waiting room and hallways. I don’t remember holding her there. My first clear and unforgettable memory of her was sometime after she came home, it was within the first few months of her life.

Outside of our house it was common to see kids playing from out street, we would play all sorts of games. On the day in question we had built, or more likely threw together, a bike ramp. Where the materials came from is unknown, but we just knew it was going to be epic. When it was my turn I took off, both figuratively and literally. The best accident ever on Ada Tiger Court ensued, with me flying off my bike and landing like a pile of bricks. I shed a few tears, picked up my bike and noticed my arm had a terrible pain.

I made it home and walked inside. I headed straight for the refrigerator and stuck my face in to cool off, then I went to sit on the couch. I cradled my arm in my lap, wondering if I should tell my mom what happened. I wasn’t sitting too long when my mom walked by with CeeJae in her hands. She must have needed them for something because she told me to hold CeeJae. I shook my head no, the pain in my arm getting sharper by the moment. Holding her would be too much. My mom demanded to know why I would hold CeeJae. I don’t even recall the words that came out, but I do remember the surgery and months in a cast.

I used to see this story as more about me and my arm. When I think of it now I think more of my sister. Perhaps that’s the joy of memories, the concept that we can re-frame them into a new context. The pain of grief can fade, but it doesn’t go away. It returns on certain days stronger than others. It can come at moments when you least expect it. This has certainly happened to me many times since last year.

I’ll leave with this. Eternity is forever. God is forever. If emotions were given by God, then we are meant to experience them. As it says in the bible, the greatest commandment is love. So that is what I remind myself of. God bless you and love one another.

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