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John Osceola joins Hollywood Culture leadership

John Osceola stands outside the Hollywood Community Culture Center on Oct. 17. (Damon Scott)

HOLLYWOOD – John Osceola grew up in the Trail community – “the camps” as he describes it – and said it was a life steeped in hard work and Native culture. He’s now taking decades of personal and professional experience into the role of assistant manager of the Hollywood Community Culture Center. His first day on the job was Sept. 26.

The center on the Hollywood Reservation serves as a home base for a variety of classes and events where tribal members can learn the Elaponke language, beadwork, patchwork, traditional cooking, woodcarving and more. It’s part of the Seminole Tribe’s mission to preserve its language and cultural traditions, especially for younger generations.

Osceola said he was motivated at an early age from one of his clan elders (a medicine man who leads corn dances) to find a balance between a traditional and modern Native life. He convinced Osceola to stay in school instead of dropping out to solely work for his father.

“My grandpa always said we were country boys with street smarts because we grew up right in the swamps but the nearest town was Miami,” Osceola said.

He went to middle and high school in Miami, which was about 40 miles from home.

“It was rough out there and rough out here (in Trail),” he said. “But I loved it. I loved every single minute of it.”

Osceola recalls chatting with his schoolmates about summer and winter break plans.

“They’d say ‘Oh I’m gonna visit my family in Iceland; I’m gonna go fishing with my family in Sydney, Australia; I’m gonna go visit my family in Venezuela. What are you gonna do John?’ I’d say: ‘Go to the swamps and work for my dad.’”

Osceola built chickees with his father starting at age 10; cutting logs, cutting firewood and taking care of camp. He said Saturday mornings weren’t spent eating cereal and watching cartoons.

His father is John “Bear” Osceola (Seminole) and his mother is Judy Osceola (Miccosukee). The family is related to former Seminole Tribe President Mitchell Cypress through the Otter Clan.

‘All I know’

Osceola succeeds Michael Cantu, the center’s former assistant manager. Francine Osceola, who was formerly manager, is now the language program director.

“What [the center wants] me to teach and help out with is how I grew up,” Osceola, who is fluent in Mikasuki, said. “My grandpa was carving wood, my grandmas and aunts were doing beadwork and patchwork and cooking traditional food. Both sides are very immersed in that. That’s all I knew; that’s all I know. I know culturally and traditionally what you’re supposed to do and what you’re not supposed to do.”

Osceola even learned how to wrestle alligators at the urging of an uncle who was a former Miccosukee councilman.

“I learned it from the other elders who had retired, but they showed me how to do it,” he said.

Osceola did daily alligator wrestling demonstrations at the Miccosukee Indian Village, where he’d work as a janitor, tour guide and eventually manager. He also worked as an assistant to the Miccosukee Tribe’s director of marketing, and was a supervisor in the elderly care program.

“I always looked up to my grandpas, but especially my grandma and all the female elders,” he said. “The elder men did a lot, but the elder women like my grandma held it down. They went through a lot. Whatever I go through – they did it with no money, with many kids, and they still had to provide clothes and food every day. If I’m having a bad day I think about them and say: ‘I can handle today.’”

Assistant manager of the center is Osceola’s first job with the Seminole Tribe. Samantha Hisler, a language program teacher and multimedia support specialist, is Osceola’s wife. They have two children together and 12 overall, ranging in age from 6-to-24 years old. The couple lives in Plantation and are due to be grandparents in January 2024. Osceola’s parents and a grandmother still live in Trail.

He said getting to know the Hollywood community better is one of his short-term goals. “That’s the part I like, making connections. By the end of the year I’ll know everybody,” Osceola said.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at