Meet the Seminoles: Noella O’Donell

By: Gary McKechnie


During my visit with the Seminole Tribe I met, and later profiled, Frank Billie and Mondo Tiger (click the links to read their profiles). Now I’d like you to meet another member of the Seminole Tribe: Noella O’Donnell of the Panther Clan.

At a very young age, my grandmother inspired me. Her name was Julia Billie and she was a full-blooded Seminole and spoke both Miccosukee and Creek. She was such an important part of raising me. She was teaching me our culture and our language and that was such a big part of my life. She passed away when I was in the fourth grade, but she had already made that much of an impression on me.

Something I remember when we were little kids, we would go to this big building where all the tribal members had their names on a list and from that list you were able to receive certain foods -- commodities. Once you got your can of pork or can of chicken or block of cheese or container of lard they would check it off the list. We wouldn’t always get those. It depended on the supply and what they had there and we got it when we needed to get it.

Now that the tribe has come so far, it’s amazing how attitudes have changed. When we were the ones asking for funding or for people to help us -- or when our parents were out there trying to do fundraisers for a team that needed to travel to play -- it was difficult. Now it’s a completely different story. People assume the tribe has this wealth of funding and we can just throw it out here and there. But that’s not the case. We’re self sufficient and we can now take care of the tribal members and help with their education and that is huge. It equalizes things.

Education is very important to me. I watched my mother work her butt off. She had three different jobs and it just broke my heart to see how hard she worked. She was also reading college textbooks to educate herself and I knew. I made up my mind I would not be in that situation. I knew I was going to go off to school so I wouldn’t have to have three different paychecks.

I went away to school, earned a master’s degree, and came home. Now I’ve planted that seed with my own children. I’ve always told them, and I continue to tell them, that they will go to college.

Something I’m aware of is that we’re growing so fast. It’s amazing how fast. But when you grow so fast, you tend to lose things like your traditions, so we are trying very hard to maintain them and preserve them. The good thing is that there are always people around us that are going to share so much.

That’s the beauty and the best thing about being at the Big Cypress Reservation. You’re in a different county. The culture is so rich here, you see it and you hear it every day.

I hear the language and the people conversing and I know I’m still in Florida.

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