CHOCTAW, Miss. — Betty Mae Jumper was the first female chairwoman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida in 1967.
But during her long and eventful life, she also founded the United South & Eastern Tribes in 1969.
The Seminole Tribe would go on to establish and maintain a constant and influential presence in the organization – one that continues today. USET’s reach has expanded over the decades as well.
The Tribe’s influence was evident as USET held its 50th annual meeting Nov. 4 through Nov. 7 in Choctaw, Mississippi. The three-day gathering took place at the Pearl River Resort where the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians served as hosts.
“If not for the vision of our founders, we would not be gathered here today,” Kirk E. Francis Sr., current USET president and chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation, said at the meeting’s first day. “That is why it’s most appropriate to start our week by first recognizing our founding tribes.”
The Seminole Tribe was one of the four founding members. The other three were the Miccosukee Tribe, Eastern Band of Cherokee and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw.
Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. was presented with a plaque in honor of the Tribe’s footprint and for Jumper’s role as founder.
“It’s truly amazing what this organization has become over the last 50 years,” Chairman Osceola said. “Just because you aren’t one of the founding four doesn’t mean you’re not just as important as we are.”
Chairman Osceola thanked the “founding fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts.” “There is truth in unity and strength, and I think the four founding fathers of this organization realized that long ago,” he said.
Chairman Osceola added that today’s fights for Native Americas aren’t on battlefields anymore, but in courtrooms.
“A lot of people don’t know our story. And I know that if we don’t tell our story as Native Americans, no one is going to tell it for us, and if they do, they’re going to tell it wrong, so it’s up to us to carry that on,” he said.
Several Tribal members have served as president of USET. They include Joel M. Frank (1986 to 1989), Michael Tiger (1978 to 1982) and Howard Tommie (1973 to 1975).
USET’s first president was Joe Dan Osceola, who served from 1969 to 1970.
Tribal members and Tribal employees have also had a role in USET leadership positions, including on committees.
For example, Chairman Osceola and general counsel Jim Shore currently serve as the Seminole representatives on USET’s board of directors.
In addition, Dr. Paul Isaacs, executive director of Health and Human Services for the Seminole Tribe, is the USET committee chair for health.
“I appreciate everybody who has fought and given, if they haven’t given all, they’ve given some,” Chairman Osceola said. “And we appreciate just the honor to be here representing our people, as Native Americans, not just our Tribe, but Native Americans as a whole.”
In USET’s early years, the organization primarily focused on health and education issues.
Five decades later, it still tackles those areas, but has also become a powerful lobby with state governments and in Washington, D.C. USET oversees an expansive list of issues that affect its – now 30 – member tribes.
Additional committees have been added on culture and heritage, economic development and entrepreneurship, homeland security and emergency services, housing, natural resources, social services, transportation, tribal administration and veterans affairs.
USET’s headquarters are in Nashville, Tennessee. It operates an office in Washington, D.C., as well.