PALM BEACH GARDENS —
Bobby C. Billie, 69, an independent Seminole, visited Palm Beach Gardens on June 5 to speak against developing the Briger property, a 681-acre forest slated as a commercial and residential offshoot of the Scripps biomedical research campus.
Ruddy cheeks, gray ponytail down his back and heart on his sleeve, he used his allotted three minutes to urge the City Council to scrap the development and save the forest. They voted 5-0 to approve the initial 360 houses and townhomes.
What about the Briger site troubled you?
It’s not only that particular area but all the natural environment is disappearing. We have to acknowledge the creator’s gift to the survival of the future generations. We can’t pass it on as concrete. We’re not going to survive.
I’m trying to make them acknowledge the importance of nature. That’s what our ancestors have been doing from the beginning of creation. Nature is important. Water is important. The air is important. Especially that some of those sacred sites, archaeology, digging up all those things. It’s important to acknowledge that. That’s why I go different places to speak.
After Palm Beach Gardens, you traveled to Naples?
It was a similar situation. It took us all day to wait to speak just for two minutes. But it’s important to us to make them understand what’s important besides dollars.
Troubling that no one seems to listen?
We’ve been dealing with that almost 500 years. So it doesn’t bother us. But we have great concern what’s going to happen, the end of that life. That’s why we never give up our teaching in the right way to people.
Who is ‘we’?
Animals, trees, the winds and rains, the rivers and all of those things. It’s all connected with the gift of life. That’s why, connected with that, we say ‘we’ all the time. A lot of other indigenous people have no voice.
What tribe or clan are you part of?
We’re not enrolled in a recognized tribe. The reason we’re not enrolled is because it doesn’t make any difference. It doesn’t make the value of the life we have. What we have is who we are. When we enrolled in government, it changed the value of our way of life. We lose the land, the food, the natural way. It’s not like that anymore. We are who we are.
Where are you from?
We grew up in the woods, the one they call Everglades, the one they call Big Cypress. But now the people give them names, phrases, Big Cypress and Everglades. It didn’t used to be like that. I was born in the swamp, not in a hospital.
Do you have children and do they live your natural way?
I have six kids. They don’t live like me. Technology’s got a hold of them. I feel sad. But we have to try to be the best we can to survive.