Saturday, May 8, 2021

Our Voices, Our Story: Native Born

The Collier Museum at Government Center hosted its last presentation of “Our Stories, Our Voices: Native Born.” Seminole Tribe member and Tribal Judge, Tina Marie Osceola, spoke candidly about her upbringing in Collier County.

The purpose of the lecture series was to share Collier County’s diversity and educate attendees about Native American culture in our area.

Osceola answers questions after her presentation.

Given an invisible microphone, Tina Marie Osceola told stories that connected people from across the nation. Although every person’s story differed, the focus was not on those differences, but the similarities that people share.

“When you look through your lens living in Collier County, I think the most remarkable thing for all of us to grasp is the environment in which we were raised,” Osceola commented. “We’ve been able to celebrate our area’s beaches to the Everglades and everything in between. Depending on what you called home defines who you are today.”

Tina Marie Osceola grew up in the Golden Gate area. She shared her memories of harvesting Cypress and Palmetto prawns to build chickee tents with her family, learning about diversity, and finding her voice through education. She also gave her observations of the many changes that have taken place in Collier County over the last 50 years.

Most people are interested in hearing what it was like growing up as a Seminole Indian girl, but it was not until the start of first grade when Osceola discovered her upbringing differed from others.

“I started first grade at Saint Anne’s Catholic School and it was when I walked into that classroom and I looked around and discovered no one could really understand or relate to my everyday life,” Osceola continued. “Being outspoken I would answer questions about us and the kids learned a lot and that difference that I felt from my classmates didn’t feel like a negative part of my childhood. To me it taught that there’s dignity with difference.”

It was through her education that Osceola learned more about her culture from a different perspective. At home, her grandfather, Corey Robert Osceola (1893-1978) was considered “grandpa” but to the tribe, she discovered, he was the Chief. His parents were involved in the Seminole War.

Chief Osceola ran the Moose Island Indian Village in Broward County for many years, known as the One Arm Chief. By the time they built their village here in East Naples, the tribe was already known as farm workers as well as for the tourism business.

The chief is famous for saying, “Just leave us alone,” which was a position statement toward Washington, D.C. on behalf of the independent Seminoles when the Indian Reorganization Act was introduced in 1934 as a last effort to terminate tribes. This memory played a huge role in Osceola’s upbringing to share her stories with the community and beyond.

Photos by Jesus Calo | Dakota and her mother Tina Marie Osceola, in skirts made by one of their tribe members.

The reorganization act required all her family members to organize as federally recognized tribes. The classification criteria was (and still is) grueling, but as the environment in Washington changed, it influenced Osceola’s life far more than anything in Collier County for her and others in similar tribes.

“We weren’t raised on the reservation and we weren’t tribal members,” Osceola stated. “We were raised by a grandpa and grandma who didn’t want to be that way and were going to do anything we could to not to be a ‘government Indian.’ On the other side of it, the historic trauma of war never leaves you and it transfers to the next generation.”

After the chief’s passing, permission was granted to join a federally recognized tribe. The members ultimately decided on classifying as Seminole because it offered the best educational scholarship opportunities.

A big part of Tina Marie Osceola’s mission was to represent the mixed-tribe culture for members born to non-native parents. Tina Osceola’s father, O.B Osceola Sr., was a Seminole while her mother Joanne was of Norwegian descent. Being part Norwegian, traditionally there is no tribe to belong to. That changed for Osceola when she went to college and found her voice.

“The most valuable lesson I’d like to pass on to any generation is to never stop learning and never think that learning is only in the classroom,” Osceola stated.

After the lecture Osceola opened the floor for questions and stayed behind to greet guests.

The Collier Museum at Government Center offers free admission and is located 3331 Tamiami Trail E, Naples. Call 239-252-8476 for more information on the upcoming lecture series.

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