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Almost the oldest man in the village

James E. BillieHappy New Year. The year 2013 has finally arrived. Maybe the Mayan theory of the end of the world is still on Indian time. Anyway, we are all still here. I was having a conversation with some of the people who were organizing the 75th anniversary of the Brighton Reservation when someone asked, “Who is the oldest person on the Brighton Reservation? Let’s interview them to get a firsthand idea what it was like out here in those early days.”

So, we started looking around, trying to figure out who was the oldest lady on the reservation and got several names; then, we started searching for the oldest men.

A cold reality slapped my face. There are only two people older than myself, and these gentlemen are in their 70s. There are no gentlemen on the Brighton Reservation in their 80s. The oldest are in their 70s. After that, comes people in their 60s, which I am a part of. In fact, I will be 70, myself, in just two years.

I thought to myself, “Wow, I used to know people like Eli Morgan, Billy Bowlegs, Oscar Hall, Oscar Jones, old Sam Jones, Frank Shore; all these people have now passed on and these were, to me, the real senior citizens. I never thought there would ever come a day when I would be considered one of the oldest people on the reservation.

So, now that I have become part of the top 10 percent of the senior citizens on the Brighton Reservation, I started wondering: What do I know about history? All I can remember is the late ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, on up until present day. The ones who can remember further back are almost all gone.

So, I really don’t remember what they call hard times. I never had any hard times. I’ve always enjoyed my life, hunting and fishing. I remember watching the Seminole Tribe become organized in the ‘50s, and I remember the Tribe struggling through the ‘60s and part of the ‘70s until prosperity finally arrived in the late ‘70s continuing on to this present day.

I believe that in the entire male population of the Seminole Tribe, the oldest male is in his late 80s and the oldest females are in their late 80s.

I knew the day would come when I would be a senior citizen, but when I actually did reach that age, it was hard to accept. Gone are the days of trying to jump on the biggest alligators. Now you must worry about having a heart attack or a stroke.

I would love to live until I am 150 years old just to see what the world would look like then.

As we enter 2013, I wish all of you the best of health and a prosperous year. Seminole Tribe of Florida is in the best economic position it has ever been. We are doing our very best to keep it that way for a long time.


James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.