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2013: Time to get mandatory

Tony SanchezMany projects and ideas that we have talked about in this column are still in the works, and we are still working them through the process. When I think in terms of goals for this calendar year, a few thoughts immediately come to mind: The Board definitely needs to continue improving our entire business process, especially our evaluations of current enterprises, our staff and the important legal issues that we have to address.

Hopefully, we will be able to put these legal issues to bed this year, and at the same time, finalize our new projects like the Seminole electronic cigarette brand, the Hard Rock energy drink, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in St. Maarten – all projects on which we are making substantial progress. Those are among goals for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.

Since I do wear the Vice Chairman’s hat on the Tribal Council, I have 2013 goals for the Council as well. I think we need to continue our discussions on various “touchy” subjects, whether it is enrollment, budget cuts or our strategy in protecting our gaming enterprise. These are subjects that will have huge impacts on the Seminole Tribe, issues that not only affect current generations but will also set a foundation for future generations.

I hope that we will take a stronger stance in addressing individual financial affairs by making participation in financial literary classes mandatory, not only for those coming of age but also for all Tribal members. As the Tribe continues to be successful, Tribal members will continue to reap the benefits. We all have to be prepared to handle that success.

A major goal is to find the best answers we can for an important question: How do we prepare our youth to be the leaders of tomorrow? Well, you know what? One answer is obvious: We have to make sure education is a priority. What are the things that we can do? Well, first we need to evaluate our current education programs and understand if they are really generating positive results. If something is lacking, then we must explore the changes required to fix it.

One solution everybody understands is money. One of the options I will propose is rewarding education accomplishment. If you complete high school, you are given a certain bonus. If you go on to complete either a two- or four-year degree, you are given another level of abundance, and for those who stay in and get a master’s, the reward continues to increase through graduate school.

I don’t think anyone has ever put that suggestion forth. What you hope for is that everyone will buy into it and what you will eventually get is a greater pool of educated Tribal members. And with that pool, you will definitely start to fulfill the dream of Tribal members running the Tribe and not having to rely on non-Tribal members to fill top management positions. Again, it can only happen by recruiting educated, experienced individuals. All the better if they are recruited from our own pool of Tribal candidates.

But we can’t stop at just departmental roles. We need to start educating our youth on participating in politics and recognizing the core value issues that we just can’t compromise on. But it is my feeling you have to establish a reward system and mandates for political and leadership education as well. I’m sure there are other ideas. Let’s hear them.

You can’t just sit back and hope that someone will take interest. You have to force some things. If we are really serious about youth being the future, well then this is what we must do. Again, this is just one option; this is not the only possibility. But the discussion has to start somewhere.

I am sure it will all go through several changes, multiple modifications. But, the bottom line is if we do not start instituting some of these ideas and thoughts and addressing these issues, we are just waiting, waiting for someone to somehow step up. Think about it. If we are not preparing anyone, we might be waiting a long, long time.

A major core issue is health. During my first 18-plus months in this office, I have gained a lot of insight as to exactly what it costs the Seminole Tribe to provide health services. And what stands out for me is a strong feeling that there needs to be a closer relationship between the Health and Recreation departments.

Take a look at how our diet has changed over the generations – in my case, it was, you know, eating fish, turtles, wild hog, grandpa would go out and kill a deer, and grandma would make the frybread. That is what my diet consisted of. But today, it’s, hello Domino’s, Papa John’s or you know what, let’s just go down to Benihana. With schools cutting physical education programs and recess, there is – not only in Indian Country but across America – an epidemic of people who are becoming obese. Let’s not fall into that trap.

And for those of us who do fall, remember: It’s never too late to start becoming healthier. Again, this is another area where mandatory measures can help. We can’t build all these facilities and just hope that people will use them. These are the times when we have to say, “I think our facilities are good enough. We have qualified personnel – if we don’t, then let’s go out and find the personnel who can put together a real comprehensive exercise program for each and every one of us.” Let’s track it, and if someone does not participate, what is the consequence?

I don’t want to always say, “Stop the dividend,” because, really, is that the answer? Maybe, maybe not. But that can’t be the only answer. The healthier we are individually, the healthier the Tribe is collectively. Even today, as I try to get into shape, hopefully I’ll spend less time at the clinic. I mean, we are always going to get a cold, a flu – that’s OK – I am saying I shouldn’t have to go to the clinic because all of a sudden I am becoming diabetic and now my blood pressure is out of control.

If we have a situation where it is mandatory for people to participate in the Recreation program, I am betting that we will be able to reduce our annual health care cost. Really, it is a no brainer. We are only talking less than 4,000 people today. So, out of that group exclude the disabled and the infants, those who are younger than 3 years old. By 3, they are already walking, they are running. I mean, this is a program that has to start very, very early. And it can go into your 80s, 90s, the rest of your life.

I am so proud of my son who is 9 years old. We enrolled him in a gym. He is swimming, and hopefully, he’ll be able to try out for the swim team. When he’s not swimming, he is doing karate; when he is not doing karate he’s doing tennis. He is playing volleyball, doing things that will keep him active.

We are also changing his diet. We only get one body, and I don’t want him to start this process at my age. I want healthy living to be his lifestyle. If that becomes his lifestyle, you know what? He can have a “cheat day.” Go have your pizza, go have your hamburger. Understand that you got to go out and play a little bit more tomorrow, or whatever that activity is, you will have do it a little longer. Don’t just eat that pizza and pass out on the couch.

I think these are the type of things that we can make mandatory because they pay huge benefits and dividends, payoffs not only for the individual but also for the Tribe. Rewards for being healthy. How about that. None of us just woke up one day and said, “You know, I want to be 500 pounds.” We did not wake up and say that.

But, because of individual circumstances, we get into a trap of some kind and one day we wake up, look in the mirror, look at the scale and lo and behold. My personal goal is to lose 50 pounds this year. When I first left here I was at 200. I went to Immokalee, working at the casino, with access to the kitchen…in 12 years, I gained 50 pounds. I’ll never be a skinny minny, but man, I don’t need that 50 pounds.

We can truly control our destiny. We don’t have to accept anything. These are just two subjects: Health and Education, vital areas that need to be reviewed and evaluated to make sure that we are being efficient. There is always room for improvements. Topics that maybe should have been looked at years ago but for one reason or another weren’t. So, I think when we talk about doing things that can have huge impacts on the Tribe, why not make some of these solutions mandatory. It will reap huge benefits. We know initially it will be hard – nobody likes change. If we the people will give it a chance, and keep our eyes on the big picture, the change will be less painful to accept.

We, as the elected officials, need to participate as well. We must be willing to lead by example and not just ask everyone else to make these changes. We have to hold ourselves to the same request.

Subconsciously or not, our youth know what is going on, that their future seems secure. But I hear about some of our young people saying, “I’m not going to just rest on that. I want more than that. I want to do more.” Shouldn’t we embrace these youths, not only for their athletic accomplishments but also for their academic and artistic accomplishments? Yes, we must embrace them. Remember when mom and dad were talking to us when we were young. Did that mean anything? No. But when our friend would speak and say the same thing, it suddenly made all the sense in the world.

Even though mom and dad had said the same thing, we had already tuned ‘em out. Our peers telling us the same thing, why that was gold. That’s why we need to figure out how to capitalize on their success and outlook, feed off their energy, and enlist them to help us spread that message of healthy lifestyle and success through the ranks of our young people.

I often think of Jarrid Smith, who starred for a Division 1 college (Florida Atlantic University) and played in a bowl game in New Orleans. What Tribal member has ever done that before? There are many talented, accomplished youth in the Seminole Tribe; we need to embrace them and enlist their help to spread the word. Without a doubt, other Tribal youth look up to them.

There are a lot of great ongoing programs. Culture is another big issue. Again, let’s make cultural education mandatory. Why not? It is who we are. If we are truly serious about making sure everyone understands their own culture and understand our history, if all we do is just sit back and hope, you know who is going to show up and participate in cultural education programs? The same ones who have been coming.

If we really want to make sure everyone understands, make it mandatory.

I think we definitely live in a different world today. The success we have enjoyed has definitely contributed to the problems we are talking about here. Now kids – everyone, in fact, not just kids – can afford to go out and buy everything they want. All they know is, “Hey look, as long as I can be enrolled, this is the benefit that I get.” But yet, we as a Tribe, we as leaders, have a responsibility to make sure that our youth truly understand who they are and their role in determining where the Tribe ends up. I really don’t think that we do a good enough job on that end of it.

Maybe the youth won’t want to listen to someone like me. I can hear it now: He’s one of the old guys. In this calendar year, it is my goal to reach out and find someone on each and every reservation who is responsible enough to join this mission, to help deliver these messages. It can’t come from the old guy; it is got to come from those peers who the youth look up to.

It is an election year. You know, regarding the upcoming election, for selfish reasons, I would definitely like to keep the current Board and hopefully, there will be no real changes in the way we operate. To be successful, there has to be some level of continuity. But again, that is at the desire of the Tribal electorate. That is just my preference: for continuity, to continue the progress and bring some of the working projects to fruition. If there is a change, my responsibility would be to get everyone up to speed, educate them and move ahead.

At our last Council meeting, I was pleased at the number of people who were vocal. That just needs to continue. It shows us that Tribal members are paying attention to what is happening. This administration is not going to shut anyone down. We are going to listen to what everyone has to say, and take those thoughts into our final decisions. We recognize that we were elected by the Tribal members, and we work for them day in and day out.

We still have many challenges ahead. Please rest assured we will continue to work hard to protect the livelihood of all Tribal members.

God bless the Seminole Tribe.


Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.