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Jo Motlow North retires after nearly a half century

HOLLYWOOD — After 47 years working for the Tribe, Jo Motlow North retired March 1. Her decades of service impacted everything from the Hollywood Culture Department to the Tribe’s Boys & Girls Clubs and led to the creation of a new Mikasuki and Creek language app for iPads and iPhones.

“I got tired and just needed to get on to other things,” said the Hollywood resident. “I’ll still be around. I live here; this is my community.”

North began working at 14 at the Okalee Village gift shop and cooking stand. She moved on to various departments within the Tribe, which included the Board of Directors’ Office and the food stamp program, where she served as an outreach worker to ensure people needing help received it. She has been involved in youth development since the 1970s working for the Education and Behavioral Health Departments.

She attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico, where she fell in love with fellow art student Robert North. They married, moved to his hometown of Winnebago, Neb., had daughter Erica, moved back to Hollywood and had son Robert Cloud. An accomplished artist, she put her brushes away to focus on working and raising her family.

Over the years, drawing and sewing patchwork were her creative outlets.

Because she grew up in a traditional chickee camp off U.S. 441 north of Miami, North was raised immersed in Seminole culture. Her mother, Mary Buster Motlow, taught her to sew, while her father, Jack Henry Motlow, sold wood carvings and wrestled alligators for tourists. Her upbringing paved the way for her work in the Culture Department.

In 1999, the preschool director asked North to help develop a language program. North agreed, and as the only preschool employee, she traveled to other reservations to teach.

Because language is part of culture, they expanded the program into a full-fledged Culture Department to also teach arts and crafts, cooking, chickee building, stickball and gigging. The Culture Department aims to preserve ancient Seminole ways for future generations.

“It’s all about utilizing your heritage and keeping it alive for the youth,” North said. “Sometimes the kids don’t understand how we lived off the land. I lived it, so I know what I’m talking about.”

North, a traditional woman with a modern side, also worked with former Hollywood Councilman Max Osceola Jr. and Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola for about a year to complete a language app. The app, available in Mikasuki or Creek, is one more tool to help pass on Seminole language.

Tribal members, one per household, can bring their iPad or iPhone to the Culture Department in Hollywood, Big Cypress or Brighton to download the app.

“If you forget where you come from and don’t speak the language, then you become like everyone else,” she said. “That’s why we work hard to pass the language along. The new app is a tool for people to use and I hope they use it to ask questions. It is perpetuating our culture in a most modern way. You learn what you can from non-Indians.”

The app is North’s proudest professional accomplishment, and she hopes people will realize its usefulness.

In addition, North spearheaded the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) program on the reservations. Working with Max Osceola Jr., the first club in Hollywood was chartered in 2004.

North worked as a volunteer since the start and served as Chief Professional Officer as required by BGCA charters. In 2013, she earned the National Service to Youth Award for her nine years of continuing concern and deep involvement in the development of the club’s constructive activities and guidance for youth.

“I’m not there for awards or an ’attaboy,” she said. “I’m just there to do the job. If it works, it works; if not, we can do it better. I enjoy the work, not the recognition.”

Despite her impressive resume, North believes her greatest accomplishments are her children and grandchildren.

“You don’t know they are listening, but they were,” she said. “They are doing well on their own, doing what they wanted to do and taking care of themselves.”

Retirement for Jo Motlow North won’t be just sitting in a rocking chair; she will continue her community involvement by serving on committees, caring for her sister’s grandchild and finally traveling.

“I can take those trips with seniors now that I’m not working,” she said. “I never took the time to travel, but now I can. I’d like to go back to New Mexico, to see my daughter and grandchildren in Idaho and to Alaska in August. I’ll probably get back into art, too. But right now I’m just taking my time and not rushing myself.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at