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Council votes for more control over Tribal land

BIG CYPRESS — The Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) was approved by Tribal Council to create an ordinance that will streamline the process of protecting and utilizing Seminole land.

“It’s a mechanism for the legalities to go back into the hands of the Seminole Tribe,” said Paul Backhouse, a THPO officer and the executive director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, at the Oct. 11 Council meeting.

Currently, the Tribe is bound by the National Historic Preservation Act to submit surveys of Tribal land under consideration for development for any reason – including homesite assignments.  The documents are sent for review and clearance to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Backhouse said a team of Tribal members, especially those who are most culturally aware, will help establish rules and regulations that will not be subject to BIA discretion. For instance, if a proposed construction site survey indicates the presence of raccoon bones, the Tribe’s committee will OK construction because Seminoles know that raccoon bones hold no historic or cultural significance.

“We will save money, time in staffing and clearance will come a lot faster. We won’t be held up by an office in Tennessee every time we want to approve a homesite,” Backhouse said.

Backhouse said the recent national government shutdown brought some department business to a grinding halt because offices that route decisions, the BIA included, were closed.

“Right now the entire process is slowed down because paperwork is sitting untouched on a desk in Nashville,” Backhouse said. The new ordinance will clear that roadblock.

In other news, the Council, except for dissenting Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, voted yes to a $337,000 construction contract for a new shooting range in Big Cypress; tabled a decision that could increase the Seminole Tribal Gaming Commission member’s monthly meeting stipend from $2,000 to $4,000; and approved about $6 million in construction bonds for expansions at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School (PECS).

PECS, on the Brighton Reservation, will get a new media center and a new gymnasium.

The Council also OK’d the relocation of the Okalee Indian Village from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood south to a 25-acre plot on the west side of State Road 7. Cultural arts and crafts, alligator wrestling, even the old mural in the gift shop – and the gift shop will move. The location will likely also include a new rodeo arena,  passive park and museum.