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Senior profile: Marie Osceola

HOLLYWOOD — During her 69 years (and counting), Marie Osceola transitioned from living a solitary life in the Florida Everglades to being a thriving member of society in the ever-expanding Seminole Tribe. Surrounded by family and friends on Oct. 14, she celebrated her birthday and her life, which is still deeply rooted in Seminole tradition.

Marie was born Oct. 5, 1943 at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital to Frances Billie Willie and Homer Osceola. Frances, daughter of medicine man Josie Billie and Louise Billie, lived out on the Tamiami Trail and traveled with her family frequently to find work picking crops for local farmers.

“It was hard, but we didn’t know any different,” Marie said of her early childhood. “I remember walking out in the Everglades, and we didn’t have shoes because we lived out in the hammocks. We traveled by canoe or walked when the water was low.”

As independent Native Americans, the family set up canvas tents where they found work, living off the land for food and water. They hunted deer, birds and turtles and dug wells for water, which they boiled on open fires before drinking. Canals gave them a place to wash clothes, which they did using lye soap. As a small child, Marie accompanied her mother in the vegetable fields picking the harvest.

“They used to have crates for the tomatoes, and I would be in there while my mother picked them,” she said, laughing. “That was my playpen.”

In addition to working on farms, her family found other ways to support themselves during the mid-1940s; Marie said they boiled garfish and sold their scales to locals for use in jewelry making. Although a simplistic lifestyle, Marie said she has fond memories of living in the Everglades. To this day, she craves the food she ate as a kid.

When Marie was about 5, her mother married Jackie Willie and the family relocated near Tropical Hobbyland, an Indian village tourist attraction in Miami. Jackie got a job wrestling alligators at the attraction.

“It was a real pretty place,” Marie said. “It was like a tropical paradise. It had plants and animals. It was beautiful there, I thought. I really didn’t like the gators though, and I still don’t today. I was scared of them, I guess. They never bothered us out there in the Everglades or anywhere, but I just didn’t like them.”

The move from Tamiami Trial brought a huge transition in Marie’s life: She started public school at Citrus Grove Elementary in Miami and eventually moved onto the Hollywood Reservation, despite warnings from her grandparents.

“They didn’t trust anybody because of the wars, but eventually we came and joined the Seminole Tribe around ’49 or ’50,” she said.

She and her four half-siblings moved into a chickee on the reservation and lived similarly to the way they did in Tamiami Trail.

Beginning school proved challenging for Marie, as she only spoke her native language, Mikasuki. She didn’t learn English until about the second grade and found herself isolated from the rest of the students.
“I was still happy though,” she said. “I had a happy childhood.”

Marie finished elementary school at Dania Elementary and moved on to McArthur High School. Her family moved from their chickee into a house on the reservation when she turned 15, and Marie found the transition relatively easy. She had grown accustomed to outdoor living and found modern appliances convenient.

“I liked my outdoor home at the time, but now I’m so used to living this way I would never go back,” she said. “I still cook my Native American foods and speak my language fluently and make my Native American crafts. I have the best of both worlds.”

In the 11th grade, Marie married Jimmy Osceola in a ceremony at Miccosukee Church in front of family and friends. Her brother-in-law Bill Osceola officiated. Marie’s step-father, who she refers to as her father, introduced her to Jimmy.

“We’ve been married for 53 years,” Marie said. “He’s my first and only husband. I picked him because he was a good man. He was so nice, and that caught my attention.”

Coming from a traditional upbringing, Marie learned Seminole patchwork from her mother, and she learned how to use a sewing machine from her home economics classes in high school. She enjoys creating patchwork more than any other Seminole craft.During the ensuing years, the couple had five children: Jimmy III, Tammy, Todd, Amy and Matthew Paul, whom they adopted. But even with five kids to juggle at home, Marie completed her high school education five years after getting married and worked in various capacities for the Miccosukee Tribe. She eventually landed in the Seminole Tribal Office, where she worked as a receptionist for 20 years.

“When I do this, I don’t feel stress; it’s kind of like therapy, and I like that,” she said. “I enjoy it very much.”

Marie passes along her knowledge to her children, as well as to her 21 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, to ensure their Seminole traditions stay alive. Following the advice of her grandfather, Josie Billie, who said, “Learn all you can and don’t be shallow; be deeply rooted,” Marie spends time helping her family learn how to cook, sew and speak their native language.

“I see our younger generation leaving our traditions,” she said. “I wish they wouldn’t because it sets us apart from everybody, and we’re famous for that as Seminoles because we never signed a peace treaty. They fought back to stay who they were.”

Since her retirement, Marie has devoted herself to her family and looks forward to watching them continue to thrive.

“I have a happy, content life,” she said. “As long as my family is doing good, I think I’ve accomplished my goal.”

“It was a real pretty place,” Marie said. “It was like a tropical paradise. It had plants and animals. It was beautiful there, I thought. I really didn’t like the gators though, and I still don’t today. I was scared of them, I guess. They never bothered us out there in the Everglades or anywhere, but I just didn’t like them.”

The move from Tamiami Trial brought a huge transition in Marie’s life: She started public school at Citrus Grove Elementary in Miami and eventually moved onto the Hollywood Reservation, despite warnings from her grandparents.

“They didn’t trust anybody because of the wars, but eventually we came and joined the Seminole Tribe around ’49 or ’50,” she said.

She and her four half-siblings moved into a chickee on the reservation and lived similarly to the way they did in Tamiami Trail.

Beginning school proved challenging for Marie, as she only spoke her native language, Mikasuki. She didn’t learn English until about the second grade and found herself isolated from the rest of the students.
“I was still happy though,” she said. “I had a happy childhood.”

Marie finished elementary school at Dania Elementary and moved on to McArthur High School. Her family moved from their chickee into a house on the reservation when she turned 15, and Marie found the transition relatively easy. She had grown accustomed to outdoor living and found modern appliances convenient.

“I liked my outdoor home at the time, but now I’m so used to living this way I would never go back,” she said. “I still cook my Native American foods and speak my language fluently and make my Native American crafts. I have the best of both worlds.”

In the 11th grade, Marie married Jimmy Osceola in a ceremony at Miccosukee Church in front of family and friends. Her brother-in-law Bill Osceola officiated. Marie’s step-father, who she refers to as her father, introduced her to Jimmy.

“We’ve been married for 53 years,” Marie said. “He’s my first and only husband. I picked him because he was a good man. He was so nice, and that caught my attention.”

During the ensuing years, the couple had five children: Jimmy III, Tammy, Todd and Amy and adopted Matthew Paul. But even with five kids to juggle at home, Marie completed her high school education five years after getting married and worked in various capacities for the Miccosukee Tribe. She eventually landed in the Seminole Tribal Office, where she worked as a receptionist for 20 years.

Coming from a traditional upbringing, Marie learned Seminole patchwork from her mother, and she learned how to use a sewing machine from her home economics classes in high school. She enjoys creating patchwork more than any other Seminole craft.

“When I do this, I don’t feel stress; it’s kind of like therapy, and I like that,” she said. “I enjoy it very much.”
Marie passes along her knowledge to her children, as well as to her 21 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, to ensure their Seminole traditions stay alive. Following the advice of her grandfather, Josie Billie, who said, “Learn all you can and don’t be shallow; be deeply rooted,” Marie spends time helping her family learn how to cook, sew and speak their native language.

“I see our younger generation leaving our traditions,” she said. “I wish they wouldn’t because it sets us apart from everybody, and we’re famous for that as Seminoles because we never signed a peace treaty. They fought back to stay who they were.”

Since her retirement, Marie has devoted herself to her family and looks forward to watching them continue to thrive.

“I have a happy, content life,” she said. “As long as my family is doing good, I think I’ve accomplished my goal.”

 

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