Cattle has always been a solid part of our Seminole history from way back when the Spanish took off and left their cows. Today, we are still making history with our cattle program. We had a tasting event for Seminole Pride Beef at the Hard Rock recently as a way of setting up a national distribution for our beef. We had H.T. Hackney, who services a lot of independents and mom and pop carriers, the same ones who carry our water, Cisco, Sedano’s Supermarkets, which has more than 40 Latino stores.
At our event, we attracted owners, their operations people and a number of other people in all corners of the industry. I was stunned to keep hearing the same question over and over again: People wanted to know where the beef came from. We’d tell ‘em, “That’s from our cattle.” And they were amazed. They are surprised when they find out we are the second-largest beef producer in Florida and No. 4 calf producer in the country.
We take a lot for granted. I am guilty of that myself. But in this job I can’t afford to. I need to find out how it all works in order to find out how to capitalize on our resources. So, I recently spent some time with Bigg (Big Cypress cattleman Moses Jumper Jr.), and he really enlightened me. I never really understood the actual mentality of the cowboy, the thought process behind their rodeos and lifestyle. I always wondered, when the day was done, what they were trying to gain out of all that. But let me tell you, after talking with Bigg Shot, I learned a lot about the industry and about our Tribe.
Cattle were all we had back in the old days. And we used the cattle and the rodeos, the prize money, anything we could, to finance our efforts to form an organized Tribal government. Bigg had a lot of stories about how the cowboys would take the money they won and pay for the gas it took to drive to Washington. To lobby, to go to meetings, to do what it took to get noticed.
Like Bigg kept saying, cattle have always been part of our history. I’ve heard the stories, how they packed their sandwiches and drove to Washington, but I never really connected all of that to the cattle program. Those early Tribal leaders were supporting the efforts with their lives and work. It was not just a matter of putting food on the table, but using it as a means to be heard and a way to attract attention to the very reason why we are here. I have a whole new perspective on the cattle industry.
But in our culture that is how it works. I hope, 20 years from now, I hope one of the young bucks will come up to me and ask the same questions I was asking Bigg: “Tell me about those days. Tell me all about what you were thinking when you did this or that. Help me understand how it made you feel. How were you able to convince people? Help me understand.” And I’ll let them know. Much better to ask questions first than to just go out and take a shot in the dark, right?
Honestly, if I am faced with a decision on whether we will support rodeos, I’m gonna be a big proponent, a big proponent. Now that I understand where it came from, to NOT continue to support that would be a slap in the face of those guys who did that so long ago and the guys today who are keeping that memory alive.
I’m not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” The person I lean on the most in the cattle program is Alex Johns, who is college educated and has spent his whole life in that industry. Hey, that is who I am leaning on. I don’t have a discussion with anybody about cattle issues unless he is in the room with me.
One of my objectives I hope to accomplish with the cattle industry is, first of all, I want everyone to understand its history and its potential, everything associated with it that is important. It is not just individual Tribal members. It’s a Tribal industry. Tribal members should know and understand why certain people went into that industry, that their families have been in it for generations, what that all means.
And we are going to continue to do whatever we can to support individual Tribal members who want to become businessmen in that industry and yet, at the same time, promote the important role the cattle industry has played in our history. Not just by putting food on the table, but what it has meant for our initial survival and continued existence. I am coming into a situation where it is my responsibility to make that venture maximize its potential. But in doing so, I am educating myself on all these things I just mentioned: the who, what, where, when, why. Like we are doing with everything.
The key to making decisions, making recommendations is knowledge – I need to know and understand, and that is what I am doing.
I am proud of the role the Seminoles play in both the state and national cattle industries – that is something every Tribal member needs to know and be proud of. Cattle are how we survived when we began as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Without those cattle, we wouldn’t be having any of these discussions.
As you know, I am a huge advocate for Tribal members wanting to be entrepreneurs, to capitalize on the things they know, and if the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. can play a role in helping them become more successful, we’re gonna play that role.
The more exposure I can get, not only for our own cattle program but for the whole cattle industry, the better. For a long time, it was just about subsidy, subsidy, subsidy, and we’re only now looking at ways to achieve overall Tribal goals, as well as helping the individual achieve his or her goals. And that applies to any and all endeavors that Tribal members take on.
I want Tribal members to know that when we talk about maximizing the potential of our cattle program, that the key is to let the world know about our product. We are accomplishing that by striking distribution agreements with national vendors, partnering up with other businesses that want to market our product, all with confidence that we have a product that can compete with anyone else on the market. We just need to let the world know. We need to tell that story.
At the Minority Business Enterprise Council trade show in Denver, where there are buyers from Wal-Mart to Costco to Sam’s Club – all big buyers – we had a tremendous response to our water, our beef, our juice. Those are the people we have to be out in front of, and that is what we are doing. The products we are talking about are not new products – these are products that existed, but we’re ready to get out on a mass scale, so the trade shows, the food tastings, food and wine shows we are involved in is all a part of the story you have to tell in letting the world know. The last thing we want is to have the best kept secret in the industry. That won’t make you any money.
I’m not here to talk about what could have happened, what should have happened and all that. I’m here to make it happen now. I have something to work with. I have the water, juice and beef. And I am doing what needs to be done to get distribution on a nationwide scale.
It is no different than building a chickee. If a person building the chickee, no matter how good he is, no matter the quality of his work, if the only people who know he can do that is his family, how much business is he gonna get? But if he gets out there and visits the people who own hotels, visits the people at parks and recreation, puts a sign on his truck, those are the things that tell people, “Hey this is what I do, this is what I have to offer. So if you’re interested, just call me up on this number.” So you are applying the same principles – it all depends on how big that chickee builder wants to be.
He decides, “Hey I want to do the same thing in the next county and the next county after that,” or he decides, “You know what? I am just going to do things in my neighborhood, in my county. If I am successful, you know what I need to get? Yes, another truck. I need to hire another foreman. The new truck is going to need signs. I need to take out an ad in the yellow pages, visit the park people.” To grow, that person has to get out and pound the pavement. We are doing the same thing. We’ve been pounding the pavement. Now, we are out in front of the people we actually need to get out in front of. Same principle, just different products on a different scale.
Again, I don’t care if it is building chickees or making arts and crafts, it’s all the same thing if it is a business. It requires hard decisions: “I will just make and sell to my family.” Nothing wrong with that. Or, “I want to make and sell to other outlets,” or, “I want to make myself available by going to various festivals.” Soon, people will notice what you have to offer and, “Oh yeah! I need business cards and can’t forget a website where people can go online to see what I have to offer.” Same thing as selling beef. It is no different.
You can be sure that Tribal members will know everything we are doing. We go to community meetings, and everything is discussed. The worst thing that can happen is for some bad news to come down and not say anything, and then three months later, the community finds out and wonders why we didn’t tell them before. That makes matters even worse. This administration will talk about anything. You may not like the news. If we have a community meeting and all we have is bad news, we are going to have that community meeting anyway. You need to hear the bad news as much as you need to hear the good. We aren’t going to shy away from it.
Our support for a change in the dividend allocation is just one of those difficult subjects that has been swept under the rug for years. This is certainly not an issue that just came up now when we took office. It’s an issue that should have been discussed years ago, but for whatever reason, it just kept being pushed back. “Oh it will go away, leave it for the next guy.”
Well, you know what? We are the next guy.
If we are not willing to address the hard issues, then shame on us. We don’t need to be here. We have decided we are going to deal with this issue. It is unpopular but, 20, 50, 100 years from now, everyone is gonna say, “You know what? Those guys made the right decision.” This is going to affect us all. Not just the unborn. The leaders have to take it on. You take it on, and you can’t worry about how it might hurt your chances to get re-elected.
If it is all about getting re-elected – if that is your only motive – then stay out of office.
Tribal members are not looking for buddies. They are not looking for yes men. They are looking for people who are going to make a tough decision and stand by it.
Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.