HOLLYWOOD — Eligible members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida went to the polls May 13 to choose their next set of leaders.
Election results saw some leaders returning to their roles, while three positions changed hands.
Those on the ballot to represent Tribal Council were Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. (incumbent) and James E. Billie; Manuel Tiger (incumbent), David Cypress and Alfonso Tigertail (Big Cypress); Andrew J. Bowers Jr. (incumbent) and Larry Howard (Brighton); and Christopher S. Osceola (incumbent) Sunny Frank and Virginia C. Garcia-Sanders (Hollywood).
Those running for Tribal board of directors positions were President Mitchell Cypress (incumbent) and James Holt II; Joe Frank (incumbent) Nadine Bowers and Paul Bowers Sr. (Big Cypress); Marvin P. Bowers, Helene Buster, Johnnie Jones Sr., Theresa Nunez and Reno Osceola (Brighton); and Gordon Oliver Wareham (incumbent) Christine E. McCall and Larry J. Tiger (Hollywood).
All of the incumbents were voted back in except for Councilman Tiger and Councilman Bowers.
Tiger was replaced by David Cypress and Bowers by Howard, who was formerly the board representative for Brighton. Buster was elected to fill the Brighton board vacancy.
The president and chairman positions are four-year terms, while other positions are two-year terms. In addition, the president serves as vice-chairman of the council and the chairman serves as vice-president of the board.
Hundreds turned out on Inauguration Day June 3 at the historic Council Oak Tree located at State Road 7 and Stirling Road in Hollywood on the north end of the Seminole Classic Casino.
Sally Tommie was the mistress of ceremonies. She welcomed Tribal members, visitors and special guests, including Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger, Miss Jr. Florida Seminole Clarice DeMayo and members of the Miccosukee Business Council.
“It is a pleasure and an honor to have this role to participate in something that is so monumental for our Tribe,” Tommie said.
Tommie pointed out that many significant moments in the Tribe’s history have taken place in the shadow of the Council Oak.
The tree was the site of the signing of the Tribe’s constitution and corporate charter in 1957; it is where the 25th anniversary of the birthplace for Indian gaming was celebrated in 2004; and it is where the Tribe’s gaming compact was signed in 2010.
The Council Oak was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
“Those that have made a path for our future beneath this tree, they gave a lot for us to exist as we exist today,” Tommie said.
S.T.O.F. Executive Director of Administration Lee Zepeda gave the invocation. Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students led the Seminole pledge in Creek, while Ahfachkee School students led it in Mikasuki.
Singing group Native Voices of the Chickee Baptist Church on the Hollywood Reservation sang Seminole hymns.
Tiger thanked the members of the Big Cypress community and his staff for supporting him during his time in office. He also thanked the law enforcement officials of Big Cypress and Immokalee.
“To be the council representative for Big Cypress has been an awesome job, one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life. I learned a lot,” Tiger said. “When I first got here in 2010 I saw the worst the Tribe has had to deal with – no money, no credit, there were chains and locks on the Hard Rock.
We weren’t sure what was going to happen. Don’t ever forget that, we’ve been through a lot.”
Tiger said he was fortunate to work with other members of the council.
“Now the Tribe is at the very best it’s been in its existence. I’m leaving the Tribe a lot better shape than it was when I got here,” he said.
As Tommie introduced Bowers to the stage, she described him as someone who served a “long and legendary” term for the Brighton community.
His departing remarks were delivered in his trademark straight-forward fashion.
“You all know the drill. Regardless of what you think, give your support to these news folks who are coming on board,” Bowers said. “Any decision made is made in the interest of 4,244 members of this Tribe. That’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s how it should be and I hope that’s how it will be.”
James “Chris” Redman (Chickasaw Nation), superintendent of the Seminole Agency, which is part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of Interior, led the official induction ceremony of both the council and the board. It was then time for each Tribal leader to say a few words.
Chairman Osceola said that while it was hard to see Tiger and Bowers leave their leadership positions, he looked forward to the new makeup of both governing bodies.
“It’s truly historic for the Tribe to be here,” he said. “This journey started many, many, thousands of years ago for us to be here today. We have something special. We have 4,244 Tribal members that are family. We are unconquered Seminoles.”
Chairman Osceola is entering his second term as chairman.
“I want to thank Big Cypress and Immokalee,” Councilman Cypress said in short remarks. “[I’m] back by popular demand.” The line got the most applause and laughter from the audience during the ceremony.
Councilman Howard of Brighton, who was first elected to the board in 2011, thanked his family for their support.
“My kids had faith in me and the people had faith in me. You gave me the opportunity to support you and work for you and I went to work every day. Today I stand here strong. Today I take on another level of work,” he said.
Councilman Osceola was elected to his fifth term, representing Hollywood and Fort Pierce.
“I would not be standing here today without the support of my mother, my wife,” he said. “The people of Hollywood, the people of Fort Pierce have shown me tremendous support.”
President Cypress made a point to speak to those who may not have voted for him to return for another four-year term.
“Thank you for your support. Even if you didn’t vote for me, it doesn’t matter – that’s [the] past, that was yesterday. Let’s get on the same train and move forward. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.
One of the new faces and the only woman on the board is Rep. Buster, representing the Brighton and Tampa communities.
“I am blessed to have such a strong family behind me. I’m a hard worker and I’ll work hard for you. I’m called to do this. The board has worked really hard to bring us to a positive place,” she said.
Rep. Wareham said 2018 was one of the best years for the board
“We had $21 million in profits and reduced our debt by half,” he said.
Rep. Wareham added that voter participation was one of the most robust in recent memory with many young people casting ballots.
“Even if your candidate didn’t win, please keep that up; please keep participating in your government. This is your voice, this is what matters,” he said.