Some very touchy subjects came up recently at a community meeting I attended in Trail. These are important issues that have long needed to be addressed but have not really been adequately approached because of their nature. I’m talking about budget cuts, reduction in services, elimination of Tribal Council allocations, non-Indian resident issues and blood quantum. Instead of addressing these and other touchy issues, they have been swept under the rug.
This administration realizes that when we take on any discussions of certain issues, the emotional levels in a lot of people go sky-high. Even so, the time has come to pick up the rug, bring these issues to the table and make some decisions. This administration needs to talk among ourselves and ask the questions: What do we want this Tribe to look like in 10, 50, 100 years? The answer to that question will drive what winds up in the Constitution and provide support for whatever changes and practices we choose to implement and follow.
I realize that we are going to probably create some divisions among ourselves, but there is simply no other way to do it. These issues can no longer be ignored. They must be tackled and fully addressed. Defining and deciding the direction the Seminole Tribe must take regarding these issues will directly impact how we allocate the funds we receive from gaming; what services we offer Tribal members; how much additional land we need to acquire; and many, many other aspects of our Tribal government and social systems.
And, at the end of the day, this will give us a real portrait of the look and feel of the future Seminole Tribe.
One subject we spent a lot of time on during that community meeting in Trail was blood quantum. How do we raise the blood quantum requirement for Tribal membership? The discussion immediately brought thoughts of myself growing up in Immokalee back in the ‘70s, when so many left to live in the new homes built on the Hollywood Reservation. When that happened, my family and my Aunt Nancy’s family were the only Seminoles left in Immokalee.
Talk about blood quantum in that situation! My only possibilities were the girls in school or the girls in town. And I guarantee 99.9 percent of them were non-Indian! You naturally end up moving toward people outside the Tribe. This, of course, affects the blood quantum of our children and directs whether the child has a clan or whether the child can even be a Tribal member.
So what can we do today? We must go to the heart of this issue. We need to introduce our children to each other, let them know who they can consider within the Tribe. We need to teach our children about blood quantum and what it means to them, their potential children and the Tribe. We need to teach them: this one is OK, but this one, no – this is your clan; you have to stay away.
We should put on large, fun get-togethers and do just that: get our youth together. And we must never forget that we are doing these things because we want to preserve the future of our Tribe and keep our blood quantums up. If we are really serious, we have to create those opportunities. Maybe get our youth together every quarter to interact with each other through such a process, and let our youth find out who is who, what clan everyone belongs to and who is available for them individually.
We have to keep the blood quantums up and the bloodlines going. The time has come to see what needs to be done to get this all in place.
Another topic we spent time on – both as the Council and the Board – is the need for this administration to be smart on how we spend money. On the Board, we strive to spend money to make money. But we have to be smart about it. We have to collect as much information as we can before making a decision. And we have to always be knowledgeable that any decision we make not only affects each Board member, but it affects the whole Tribe.
On the Council side, casinos represent the only source of income we have. Above all, we are going to protect Tribal member dividends. But we have to take a hard look at all the services we have to offer and make sure we are very, very efficient. If we need to cut, we have to cut.
There is a method to this madness: Believe me when I say we aren’t trying to reduce Council costs just to say we are reducing costs. The casinos are our only revenue source; if we don’t reduce costs, the Tribe would be living month to month, paycheck to paycheck. We all know that is not the way to live and survive. We are talking 3,700 Tribal member dividends, not just one person.
That dividend will be the last thing we would ever touch. And that requires decisions, difficult decisions that we have to make.
But there has been good news! We recently received word that the “destination resorts casino” bill was withdrawn from the Florida Legislature. I really want to commend the hard work of the Tribal Council, the lobbyists, the General Counsel’s office and the Seminole Gaming staff. All their hard work and diligence fighting this issue was well worth it.
So, we are OK for this year. But don’t worry, it will be back. But so will we; we will be ready to fight that fight again to protect the Tribe. There will be new twists and turns, legal challenges, political maneuvering and threats to our Seminole Gaming compact. There is still more hard work to be done. We will keep you updated.
Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.