HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The Seminole Tribe of Florida has officially reached diamond status. A nation was born in 1957, and now 60 years later, the Tribe remembers what it overcame and looks forward to what’s next.
On Aug. 21, hundreds of Tribal members and friends gathered to celebrate Seminole sovereignty. The Tribal Council and Board, Miss and Junior Miss Florida Seminole and elected officials from neighboring municipalities joined. The festivities were held under a giant white tent near the Council Oak on the Hollywood Reservation.
The event featured catered food, live music from Paul Buster, Ted Nelson and Spencer Battiest and traditional songs from the Brighton elders group of Emma Fish, Mable Johns, Onnie Osceola, Jimmy Smith and Alice Sweat. Moses Jumper Jr. also read poetry and a group reenacted the Seminole Wars.
“Celebrating 60 years as a federally recognized tribe is nothing but a small feat compared to what will be possible in the near future,” said Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. “There’s not anything that any of us can’t say about how proud we are to be Seminole Tribal members and to be part of where we are today. We’re a huge family, a loving family, a caring family.”
Sharing in the festivities were officials from neighboring towns, including Cooper City, Dania Beach, Davie, Hollywood and Pembroke Pines. The Broward County Commission attended as well.
“I think bringing everyone together is so important,” said Davie Mayor Judy Paul, a retired social studies teacher. She said that Native American history was a large part of her curriculum and seeing the Tribe’s culture shine through speakers such as Seminole medicine man Bobby Frank was a treat.
“I loved hearing the members speaking in their Native tongue knowing that part of their culture is being retained,” she said.
Highlighted during the celebration were the Tribe’s significant moments throughout the past 60 years and beyond. This history began in 1510 with the first recorded European contact with Seminole ancestors. As more explorers ventured to the U.S. and claimed land as their own, Native Americans became enslaved, unofficially starting the fight for Native rights and sovereignty.
Leading to the Seminole Wars that occupied about half of the 1800s, the Seminoles experienced massive loss. However, they ultimately gained their sovereignty after Congress established the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. Just 23 years later, after years of meetings and establishing a fundamental political system, the Seminole Tribe of Florida became a federally recognized tribe and obtained its official sovereignty Aug. 21, 1957.
S.R. Tommie, host of the 60th anniversary celebration, explained that tribal elders led the Seminoles to the success the Tribe sees today. She expressed her gratitude for the Tribe’s everlasting perseverance.
“Many moons ago, our elders made decisions that impact our lives today and we are living the dream they fought for us so long ago,” she said. “There is much to say of the changes that have occurred over the last 60 years. Better than that, there are people here who saw those changes firsthand.”
While the occasion proved to be a walk down memory lane for many tribal members, for others, it was a learning experience.
After she observed a displayed timeline that was prominently displayed on walls, Miss Florida Seminole Princess Randee Osceola said the Tribe’s history opened her eyes.
“200 years ago was when we were in the Seminole Wars. We were treated like slaves and hunted like animals,” she said. “But look at us now. We have come together as a nation.”
Melissa Billie, originally from Big Cypress, took four of her children to the celebration. She wanted to show her children how far the Tribe has come and allow them to experience history for themselves.
“[Younger generations] need to know what’s going on and how we got to this point,” she explained. “We’ve come a long way. … Even when I was little, we didn’t have big events like this. I want my kids to know how things have changed.”
Some significant changes the Tribe has made include: creating the first Seminole newspaper, then called “Smoke Signals” in 1964; opening the Ahfachkee School in 1965; Betty Mae Jumper becoming the first woman to serve as a chair of any tribe in 1967; expanding the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations to include multi-purpose centers in 1987; setting up casinos in Hollywood, Immokalee and Tampa in 1988; opening the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in 1997; and acquiring the Hard Rock International franchise in 2007.
Speakers also noted past achievements are not all that the unconquered Seminoles have in store. Many current projects, including revamping the Seminole Hollywood Hotel and Casino, renovating the Ahfachkee School and creating new galleries within the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, are expected to make a positive impact on the Tribe.
While many speakers and attendees highly praised these accomplishments – past, current and future – and agreed that the Seminoles have made significant strides, Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. stressed that it’s important for the Tribe to preserve its culture.
“We must not forget who we are and where we come from,” he explained to the audience. “There’s something called culture out there and we all talk about it. Some of us still hang onto it, come join us.”