About 30 years ago when Gloria Wilson was still a little girl, I remember she was always into designing and drawing and engineering something to look a certain way, and as she grew older she maintained that passion. April 16 was a good example at the groundbreaking for the future Public Safety Administration Building.
You see, when I first came to Brighton back in 1948-1950, there was an occasional wood-frame house you could see, very simply put together. They looked just like those in any other community, put together the same, but smaller. Might only be 16 by 20 feet, maybe. But I remember they looked like big houses to me. Sometimes a family of four would be living in that little ol’ wood-frame house with the tin top.
But there were chickees all the way around. It was a chickee village. And that’s what most everybody lived in. I remember that the people of Brighton made their chickees in just a little different style than the way we did down in Tamiami Trail or Big Cypress. We made our chickees with a little bit of a pitch to it, and these people over here made their roofs a little bit flatter. They also used swamp cabbage logs for their legs and sometimes they might have used it for their rafters because there weren’t too many trees around like cypress or pine. But we would all put the leaves on basically the same way.
Another difference I noticed when I first came to Brighton was the way the people dressed. Most of the people down in Big Cypress wore long pants and what looked like a big shirt hanging down with a belt tied around the waist. The Brighton people I visited more often were Dick Smith, Tom Smith, Oscar Jones, Sam Jones (not Abiaka, but the modern-day Sam Jones). There were also guys like Eli Morgan and Frank Shore. Now, Frank Shore, Oscar Jones, Lonnie Buck and Jack Smith, they would dress in trousers with the Indian shirt tucked into their pants with a long scarf wrapped around their necks held with a bolo. And a huge cowboy hat, like a 10-gallon hat. And that set the clothing trend around those parts.
Anyway, back to the way they lived: They all lived in chickee huts. And as time went along, I think the first years that we started to make what they call CBS Homes (concrete, block and steel) were around 1956, 1957 when the Tribe was organized. Several people on the reservation all got these homes; they were only about 30 by 60 feet. These houses were very simply made. Three bedrooms. I remember the bedrooms were only about 10 by 10 feet – some of them were 12 by 10 feet, maybe.
But they were comfortable. These types of houses went on until about the 1970s. Some of them are still standing today. After the ’60s, the lifestyle changed. The CBS houses brought in a new trend: a new lifestyle of living away from chickees until there were no more Indian villages. Today there is not one Indian village in Brighton, except for my place. I live in a chickee hut. I got a cook hut, two guest chickees, and a canoe hut, which comprises what I would call my chickee village in Brighton.
As Gloria Wilson spoke of the changes in Brighton, it brought back old memories, even of herself. I remember Gloria has always being a determined person. It shows today in her dedication to her work, and I think she is doing a very good job. As it turns out, the groundbreaking for the new Public Safety Administration Building would bring forth part of her own personal dreams and dedication to the Seminole Tribe. As she was introducing her staff, I had to chuckle to myself. She stood at the podium and started introducing all her staff without even looking at notes. I thought that was very interesting. There I was sitting in my chair trying to remember a few names and she just stood there and rattled them right off. I thought that was very nice.
It was interesting to hear her tell of the time when she was 10 years old and the teachers in her classroom asked the children to draw what they thought their Indian village of Brighton should look like in the future, and she drew one. It was funny to hear her say that she won the contest and that today Brighton looks a lot like the little sketch she made when she was a child.
The landscape of Brighton has changed tremendously. No one lives in chickee huts anymore. Except for me. You’ll see an occasional building that was built back in the ’50s, still standing, but now we have these very modern architecturally designed homes that easily cost more than $500,000. Or more.
Now we have a very modern building known as the Veteran’s Building, a Senior Center, a new Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School. We have a beautiful rodeo arena, and now we have this Public Safety Administration Building coming to the reservation.
As you drive into the complex you would not think you are on the Brighton Reservation anymore. It looks like you are in some other metropolitan area. But we still have the swamp cabbage palms nearby. If you get out of the community you know you are still in Brighton, where the eagle is still making his nest up in the pine trees, and for some reason, the buzzards are still using the water tower as their home. Or a place to roost. If you get away from the center part of our community and visit the natural forest areas of our reservation, you will see all the swamp cabbage trees. The Miccosukee Indians called this Brighton haven Thal-chobee-yo-ke – or land of the swamp cabbage palms. Big Cypress on the other hand is called Ah-shah-we-yo-ke – land of the cypress trees.
I grew up in Big Cypress, so naturally I would love the area of Big Cypress because of the cypress trees, the vast waters and sawgrass. But I have been in Brighton many years, and I love Brighton. But I have noticed that my two younger children, Aubee and Eecho, they attended the preschool and now they attend Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School and their hearts belong to Brighton.
So at the groundbreaking, I could feel the change of winds. A new building. New architectural design. And it was good to see Gloria Wilson seeing her dreams come true.
Gloria, keep up the good work.
James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.