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Moses B. Osceola ends 10 years at Tribal Court

Moses B. Osceola meets with international visitors at tribal headquarters in 2018. (File photo)

HOLLYWOOD – Moses B. Osceola recently resigned from his position as chief judge of the Seminole Tribe’s trial court after a decade of service. He left the post to run for president of the tribe’s board of directors.

Osceola previously ran in the election that was won by the late James Holt II who died unexpectedly just three days after being inaugurated. Osceola said he’s also running in the special election to install Holt’s successor Aug. 10.

Tribal Court – which consists of a trial court and appellate court – recently began a search to fill the chief judge position Osceola held. Court staff was accepting resumes through July 28.

Osceola was selected as chief judge of the trial court in December 2013 and was inaugurated in February 2015 by then-Chairman James E. Billie. (Tribal Court consists of a trial court and appellate court). Joining Osceola in the trial court at the time were associate judges Tina Osceola and Mary Tigertail. The appellate side consisted of the late Willie Johns, Moses Jumper Jr. and Amy Johns.

Sitting on the bench was the latest step on a unique life path for Osceola.

Born and raised on the Hollywood Reservation, Osceola, 73, said he first worked for the tribe around 1970 at the former Seminole Indian Village on State Road 7 after serving in the military.

“I started out as a tour guide there. It used to be an A-frame-style building – there was a big exhibit area,” he said.

Osceola guided visitors for about two years to the Seminole women who made arts and crafts underneath chickees and to the Seminole men who carved different items.

“We’d take them around and explain everything and they would see animals, we had panthers, bears … and we had an alligator wrestling show,” he said.

Osceola said it was a time before bingo and casinos, of course. Tax-free cigarette shops would come later as would bingo, class III gaming and other businesses.

“It was more survival than anything else. Our mothers, the Seminole ladies, were making arts and crafts to sell in Fort Lauderdale and Dania where the tourists would come in,” he said. “Seminole kids would sing songs and have a little tin cup and the tourists would drop in pennies, nickels, whatever.”

Osceola went on to study business administration for two years at the former Broward Community College. He completed a business management degree at Florida International University in Miami two years after that.

“All the while I was working for the tribe off and on. I was an accounts payable clerk. I was in charge of the food stamp program – which we had at one time in conjunction with the state of Florida,” he said. “Then we also developed what was called the Women, Infants, and Children program – WIC they used to call it. That’s where we helped new moms with baby food.”

Osceola also worked as a smoke shop clerk and opened his own tribal smoke shop at 6571 Sheridan Street in Hollywood in 1980. He operated it for 10 years before selling it to the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc. (STOFI). The tribe still operates it today.

In 2003, Osceola was elected president of STOFI and served until 2007. It was at the tail end of his term that the tribe would acquire Hard Rock International.

‘Blessed to become a judge’

Osceola said he learned a lot during his term as chief judge. Prior to the court being established, it was primarily the duty of the Tribal Council to resolve tribal disputes.

“Tribal Court is still in the growing stages. You might say we’re coming out of infancy into childhood,” Osceola said. “There are a lot of things we have to work together on to continue to grow into a full blown judicial system.”

Osceola said when he was first appointed to the position, he hadn’t engaged much in the social issues that many tribal members faced.

“But when I was blessed to become a judge, it got me into that side of life. It’s exposed me to social issues and family issues – it’s completed my life education,” he said.

Osceola has many family members in Florida and elsewhere. He has seven grandkids – three in Oklahoma and four in Hollywood. His mother is the late Maggie Osceola and his cousin is the late Max B. Osceola Jr. Among his eight siblings, he said he was the first boy and the last one to be born outside of a hospital.

“My parents came from out of the Everglades,” he said. “They didn’t speak any English – my dad spoke maybe a word or two because he used to guide hunters for a living, but my mom never spoke any English at all.”

Moses B. Osceola (Courtesy photo)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at