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Tribe, Hard Rock honored for anti-child trafficking efforts

Durante Blais-Billie, from the Seminole Tribe, speaks at the PACT Freedom Awards ceremony June 13 in New York City. (Jenna Bascom Photography)

The Seminole Tribe of Florida and Hard Rock International were recognized June 13 at an awards ceremony hosted by the anti-child trafficking organization PACT (Protect All Children from Trafficking).

The organization – formerly known as ECPAT-USA – named two leaders from the tribe – Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. and Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie – as recipients of its Freedom Award. Due to the recent passing of President James Holt II, the chairman and councilwoman did not attend the ceremony. On their behalf, the tribe’s Durante Blais-Billie accepted the award at the Prince George Ballroom in New York City.

“It gives us honor to partner with PACT to be able to address this, not just for Indigenous children but for children everywhere across these states, across these territories, and worldwide,” Blais-Billie told the audience.

Human trafficking involves the exploitation of a person through coercion, force or fraud to obtain some form of labor or commercial sex act.

“Our Indigenous community really deeply connects with the issue of human trafficking,” Blais-Billie said. “Indigenous people are disproportionately affected and represented across all different sectors and risk factors…all things that affect human trafficking. It is important for us to stand here, have our voices heard, and stand in connection with people who are affecting the whole world, and the United States.”

The award was presented by Faith Robles, an Indigenous native of Mexico and survivor of human trafficking.

Durante Blais-Billie, third from left, and PACT CEO Lori Cohen, second from left, join other honorees at the PACT Freedom Awards ceremony. (Jenna Bascom Photography)

“The Freedom Awards ceremony is a celebration of the progress we’ve made to eliminate child trafficking and exploitation, but also a reminder of the work that still needs to be done,” PACT CEO Lori Cohen said in a statement. “Every day, children in the United States and around the world are robbed of their innocence and forced into unimaginable situations. We’re honored to be able to count on so many valuable partners to shed light on this issue and raise funds to support our work.”

The tribe’s Seminole Gaming and Hard Rock entities have implemented a variety of measures to combat and prevent human trafficking, including incorporating PACT’s anti-human trafficking information into their training programs for team members.

Last year, Hard Rock – whose nearly 300 venues, including cafes, casinos and hotels, stretch across the globe – signed ECPAT International’s Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, aka “The Code.” The global organization describes ‘The Code’ as “the world’s first and only voluntary set of business principles that travel and tourism companies can implement to prevent sexual exploitation and trafficking of children.”

“The Code” provides companies with a framework for establishing internal protocols and training and collaboration with law enforcement and survivor support groups.

Hard Rock has also been involved in educating youth about the online dangers of being lured. Hard Rock teamed up with PACT to launch the “Social Identity Quest” program, a curriculum taught in schools. More than 1.2 million high school students have completed the curriculum, according to PACT.

In January, Hard Rock expanded its direct support for victims, survivors and at-risk youth through partnership programs. Hard Rock announced a partnership with Covenant House New York, the largest provider of runaway and homeless youth services in New York City, for an employment program connected with Hard Rock Cafe Times Square and Hard Rock Hotel New York.

“Hard Rock is committed to working with our community partners across the country and the world to innovate solutions that help prevent human trafficking,” Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming, said in a statement after the awards ceremony.

Durante Blais-Billie is joined by Hard Rock representatives at the ceremony. (Jenna Bascom Photography)
Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at