This year, 2017, is an important year of anniversaries for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Seminole Wars, in 1817. It is the 60th anniversary of federal recognition of the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a government and a business enterprise. Over this year, this column will alternately explore key events of the so-called First Seminole War and highlight the great advances of the Tribe during the last 60 years. This month we continue to explore the roles of the Chairperson in the development of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
It was not entirely surprising that Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was the second chairperson for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. She was part of the original Constitution Committee that set the Tribe’s governing system and allowed the Tribe to attain federal recognition. As a registered nurse, Betty Mae was active on all of the reservations and well known. With encouragement from her brother, Howard, she set out on the campaign trail.
Elected in 1967, Betty Mae took office on June 5. There was supposed to be $35 dollars in the Treasury, but a trip to the bank found even that was not there. While Billy Osceola had done a great job in establishing the new government, money was hard to come by. As the saying goes, ‘it takes money to make money.’ So Betty Mae sought out grants and loans from the federal government, overseeing their application on the reservations. She leased out Tribal lands to citrus growers. This approach meant when she left in 1971, the Treasury had $500,000 in the bank.
Besides setting the Tribe on financially stable footing, Betty Mae boosted the Tribe’s reputation as a reliable and capable Native American government. As a result, President Richard Nixon appointed her to the National Council of Indian Opportunity in 1970, a role she would fulfill for 16 years. As one of two Native women to be appointed, she had direct conversations with President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew about the needs of the Seminoles in particular, and Indian Country in general.
Throughout her time as chairwoman, Betty Mae remained committed to the health of the Seminoles and other Native Americans. One of her biggest achievements was the founding of USET, the United Southeastern Tribes, in 1968, along with Buffalo Tiger (Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida), Emmett York (Choctaw), and Walter S. Jackson (Eastern Band of Cherokees). The goal was to provide the Southeastern Tribes more lobbying power in Washington, D.C. With its united front, USET has been able to obtain better health and educational opportunities for all Native Americans throughout the southeast.
In 1971, Betty Mae ran for chairman again and lost to Howard Tommie. However, this was just the beginning of a new story for Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. Among other achievements, she became the Director of Communications – overseeing The Seminole Indian News in the 1960s and The Seminole Tribune from the 1970s to the early 2000s – and the author of three books. To learn more about Betty Mae’s amazing life, pick up “A Seminole Legend: The Life of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper” by Betty Mae Tiger Jumper and Patsy West.