HOLLYWOOD —Max Osceola Jr., who passed away Oct. 8 at age 70, leaves a lasting legacy for the Seminole Tribe, South Florida and beyond
He passed away at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston due to complications from Covid-19, according to the tribe.
A leader, athlete and educated man with an easy smile and infectious laugh, Osceola served as Hollywood Councilman from 1985 to 2010.
Current Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, who is not related to Max, described him as “a modern-day warrior and a true legend among his people and many others around the world.”
“He will forever be embedded in our hearts and the history of the Seminole Tribe,” Councilman Osceola said. “He was my friend and mentor and I will miss him dearly. It has been an honor to call him my friend. My sincere heartfelt condolences to his family and my sincere gratitude for sharing him with us.”
During Max Osceola Jr.’s tenure on Tribal Council, Seminole Gaming expanded and flourished as a major presence in Florida’s gaming industry; scholarships for tribal students were established for K-12, trade schools and higher education; and Florida State University was given the tribe’s blessings to use the Seminole name for its athletics teams.
“We don’t look at it as a mascot, we look at it as a representation of the Seminole Tribe,” he said in an Orlando Sentinel article in 2003. “They work with us in representing our heritage. This is our tribe, and the tribe that is represented needs to have final say, and they need to respect that.”
His platform for re-election to the Tribal Council in 2007 outlined his perspective on life as he emphasized preserving tribal culture; the importance of education so tribal members could learn to manage tribal affairs; housing; health and recreation for exercise; employment training programs; dividends; trust funds and tribal economics.
“The future is bright and the strength of the Seminoles is not measured in money but by our character of ourselves which is taught to us by our Elders who saved this tribe from termination 50 years ago,” he wrote in his candidate statement in the April 27, 2007, edition of The Seminole Tribune.
Osceola’s effort, dedication and time devoted to the community extended beyond the tribe.
He was active in the tourism industry and organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs, Ann Storck Center, Winterfest Boat Parade, Stranahan House and the Pine Crest School.
He supported Victory Junction Camp, a North Carolina nonprofit for children with serious medical conditions. He was an enthusiastic motorcyclist and participated in benefit rides, such as the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America.
He was a key figure in brokering the tribe’s purchase of Hard Rock International, which was completed in 2007.
He often referred to the time before casinos as “BC.” During a 2006 press conference at Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square to announce the tribe’s purchase of HRI, he served up some memorable words for posterity.
“Our ancestors sold Manhattan for trinkets. Today, with the acquisition of the Hard Rock Cafes, we’re going to buy it back one hamburger at a time,” he said.
“Max was a great mentor, friend, brother and tribal leader,” said Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. “He had a tremendous passion dedicated to advancing not only his Seminole people but all of Indian Country. His passing is a tremendous loss for us all.”
In his memory, the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC) has established the Max Osceola Memorial Scholarship Fund to honor his dedication to advancing educational opportunities for Native American youth.
“He was a true gentleman with high standards who believed in working hard for our Native American communities, especially our youth,” said Stevens, who is also a board member of AIGC. “He not only worked towards the betterment of their livelihood, but the importance of their education was always his top priority.”
Education was an important part of Osceola’s life. He attended the University of Tampa, where he played football. He transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College where his team won a national
college football championship. He earned degrees from Broward Community College and the University of Miami, and was an avid Hurricanes fan.
His service to the tribe dates back to the 1970s when he served as the tribe’s education director. He was proud of the impact he had on the education of tribal members.
In 2017, Osceola was inducted into the Broward Education Foundation Hall of Fame. A star with his name on it is in the plaza in front of the county’s public schools office building in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
He said the most satisfying aspect of his education is that he followed the Elders’ wishes of more than 50 years ago by getting an education and returning to help the tribe thrive.
As an athlete at Hollywood’s McArthur High School in the 1960s, Osceola excelled on the football field. He was part of the team’s talented group of Seminoles. In 1967, Osceola (defensive end), Moses Jumper Jr. (linebacker), Moses Osceola (defensive tackle) and Mike Tiger (safety) earned All County First Team Defense honors.
For four kids from the Hollywood Reservation to make County First Team was no doubt one of the most remarkable accomplishments in the tribe’s history with athletics.
On Feb. 5, 2002, all four were inducted into the Seminole Sports Hall of Fame. Their plaques are displayed in the lobby at the Howard Tiger Recreation Center on the Hollywood Reservation.
Max Osceola Jr. is also in the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame, alongside professional athletes such as Rocky Marciano, Dan Marino, Jeff Conine and Jason Taylor.
After he got word of Osceola’s passing, musician Stevie VanZandt, of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, tweeted “RIP Max Osceola Jr. Former representative of the Seminole Tribal Council. One of the great visionaries that has helped make The Hard Rock a huge success, and believed in and supported Little Steven’s Underground Garage from the beginning. Our love and condolences to his family.”
Condolences on Twitter also came from FSU President John Thrasher who stated: “Max Osceola Jr. was a great friend to FSU and always supportive of our relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Jean and I are deeply saddened to hear of his passing.”
Former Florida governor and current U.S. Senator Rick Scott tweeted: “Ann and I send our thoughts and prayers to former Seminole Tribe leader Max Osceola Jr.’s family and friends. We are thankful for his leadership and his legacy will live on for generations to come.”
Osceola is survived by wife Marge, his son Max Osceola III, daughter Melissa Osceola DeMayo, daughter Meaghan Osceola, son Jeff Pelage, as well as several sisters and brothers, grandchildren and extended family.
The family suggests donations be made to the Max Osceola Memorial Scholarship Fund at the AIGC, the Center for Native Scholarships, at aigcs.org.