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May 27, 2017
Louise Gopher is a 'Florida Icon'

Photo: Michael Heape

Florida Icon

Louise Gopher is a 'Florida Icon'

Art Levy | 9/26/2014

I was born in an orange grove because that’s where my parents were working at the time, so that’s where they established their camp. I was born in a chickee. Sometimes, we would live in a trailer or some other structure. I must have been almost finished with school before I actually moved into a house with all the comforts — indoor bathrooms, indoor showers, running water.

When I was a kid, I only spoke my native language: Creek. No English. I guess my father knew a little to get by at work and my mother probably did, too, but I didn’t learn English until I started going to school.

I like football games. I’m a fanatic.

My daughter Carla was FSU’s first Seminole Indian graduate back in 1996. While she was there, I guess I made a lot of contacts. I started taking kids up there, like on spring break. We would tour Gainesville, too, and go on up to Florida State, tour, and we’d always meet Bobby Bowden. They always rolled out the red carpet for us.

Don’t forget our ancestors. They went through a lot to get us here.

I was the first female member of the Seminole Tribe to earn a bachelor’s degree. I lived in Fort Pierce, and a junior college had been built, Indian River Community College, and I Finished two years there and then went to Florida Atlantic University. After awhile, people kept saying, ‘She’s been going to school forever,’ but I knew the education was helping me.

We were so into pushing our kids into the white culture and catching them up that we were forgetting about own culture. We were trying to fix this for years, trying to teach the Native American language and history to our young people, and the effort became a charter school, which opened on the reservation in 2007. We call it ‘Pemayetv Emahakv,’ which means ‘Teaching Our Way.’

The traditional foods are still my favorite foods. I like fry bread and sofkee. Sofkee is a drink that we drink all the time, any time. It’s made from grains, like rice or grits or oatmeal. In the old days, it was made from roasted corn, which was a long procedure. We still make it that way, but not often, so when we do have it, everybody jumps on it.

We lived in camps, near Fort Pierce, with a lot of other families living nearby. My parents did agricultural work. It seemed like every evening there was a big bonfire or campfire and we sat around and that’s when you listened to the stories and legends and learned the history.

Somebody told me awhile back, ‘education is your gold mine,’ and I would spout that to kids, everywhere I went. What you learn stays with you. The gold mine is in your head.

Being a little 5- or 6-yearolder, I didn’t realize what problems my father had to deal with getting me into school. He had to go to the school board to get us enrolled in St. Lucie County. This was back during segregation. You had the white students and the black students. Native Americans, where did we fit in? Finally, they put us in with the white kids.

Living on the reservation feels comfortable and safe. I can’t imagine having family living across the country. Here, they’re right down the street.

We have two dialects in the Seminole Tribe. It’s like having two languages. One is the Creek language, and the other is Miccosukee. I speak Creek. The languages are so different. A lot of people who understand one can’t understand the other.

I own beef cattle. I like to ride out where they are, where it’s peaceful. They call to me, and I talk to them.

My grandfather, Desoto Tiger, he was killed when my mother was 2 weeks old. He’s a history story. Did you ever hear of the John Ashley gang? They ran up and down the south Florida coast in the 1910s to about the 1920s. They were outlaws. Where my grandfather fits in, he was their first victim. He was a fur trapper and was taking some otter hides down to Miami in 1911. John Ashley killed him and took the hides.

Public education always needs improvement. I know it’s a budget thing, but we need more teachers and smaller classrooms.

Gopher is a Native American name, I guess. I don’t know what it stems from. My sister’s name was Smith. In fact, we had brothers with different last names: Frank Shore, Oscar Hall, Sam Jones. They just gave us names.

Tags: Florida Icon

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