Let us go back in time to the days when our Seminole Tribe Founding Fathers were gathered together at the Council Oak discussing our Constitution. I try to imagine what that must have been like – the debates, the arguments, the ideas, the hard decisions. Somehow, through many discussions, our Founding Fathers decided the new organized Seminole Tribe would need a Tribal Council and a Tribal Board of Directors. Even in those days, our leaders determined the Board would be the economic development arm to make the Tribe prosperous, relying very little on government subsidy. The Constitution says nothing about a Tribal Council subsidy.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. has existed for 55 years. For the first 54, there has been no change in the structure or policies and procedures of the Board. I’m not sure what the circumstances were or exactly when the Council began subsidizing the Board, but it’s been more than 30 years. Now it is time to change that model. It is my sincere hope that this year the Board won’t need that subsidy from the Council. I want the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. to be self-sufficient, to prosper relying on its own resources.
We need this to happen now. We do not have the luxury of time. I applaud the knowledge and dedication this administration came into office with. Without their determination to entertain new ideas and change for the better, everything would remain status quo. A half-century later, we are faced with crucial decisions. We have to find another way to further the vision of our first government leaders and protect our current shareholders – the members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
There have been complaints that this administration is not as visible as the previous. I spoke to an individual who felt that was an indication we are not living up to our promises. Well, it would have been nice to walk into a situation where everything was healthy, where there were staff members who were efficient, who could evaluate proposals for enterprise projects, along with a marketing plan to grow the enterprises, and have the appropriate policies, procedures and processes in place necessary for initial and continued success. That would have been nice. But that was not the case.
This administration has spent a lot of time cooped up in the office engaged in a tremendous amount of discussion about our economic enterprises, the direction we are going, reviewing the various directors and staff, doing our best to repair and maintain our financial situation. While it may seem to some that we are absent, nothing is further from the truth. It really is not hard to find any of our elected officials. We’re stuck in meetings trying to determine the next course of action.
I will be the first to acknowledge that while my desires are to be out and about in our various communities, it is my first duty to ensure that our business needs are addressed. And that requires me to be in an office evaluating personnel and proposals. There is simply a tremendous amount of work that has to be completed, and we do not have the luxury of time. In the end, as you know, this administration will be judged on the issues of dollars and cents, not on our attendance at events. Believe me, there will come a time when we will all be able to attend all the community meetings and functions, gatherings and celebrations. Nothing will make me happier.
It’s just not going to happen overnight. There are so many things that we are fighting one day at a time. We are fighting the old business culture that used to exist around here. We are fighting the inefficient mindsets of department heads and employees, making changes when our expectations are not being met. If we are not willing to make those kinds of decisions, then what are we doing here in leadership positions with the Seminole Tribe?
We’re here to build upon the vision of our Founding Fathers, to put a modern spin on their wisdom and forethought. For example, this Tribe has been a big benefactor of tobacco sales for many years. Now, with the evolution the tobacco industry is experiencing, the major cigarette companies are entering the electronic cigarette (e-cig) market. This administration identified this as an opportunity for the Seminole Tribe to become a major player in that market, and we acted on it. Now we have our own brand of Seminole e-cigs, certified safe for use on airplanes and in restaurants, complete with our same tax advantages. Who could have predicted this?
My position is, by the end of this administration, to have the Board hand out its own meaningful dividend to Tribal members. That has never happened. It was not the process put in place by the Founding Fathers, who maintained a great vision of future success, despite having no way of predicting a future of such wealth for the Seminole Indians.
It is the vision of this administration that our shareholders, the members of the Seminole Tribe, will receive two checks each month: one from the Board, one from the Council. We can do it. But to get there, we have to overcome years of status quo, years of no vision. Remember, it is always much easier to sit back and criticize; it takes a much stronger person to stand up and contribute to the future success of the Tribe.
The only thing I ask from Tribal members is to continue their support – physical support and emotional support – for our efforts to keep the Founding Fathers’ vision – the very foundation of our existence as a sovereign government: moving forward and upward.
Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.