Where we came from

The Council Oak

A new generation of Seminole leaders began to meet regularly under the branches of an old oak tree on the Hollywood reservation during the 1950s. They were there to discuss a series of laws put forward by the United States’ Congress, laws that sought to dissolve all official recognition of Native Tribal identity, aid, and sovereignty. While the policy was being presented by congressmen as a good thing for tribes, the title they gave it showed the true threat. They called it “Indian Termination”.

Those meeting under the oak knew that something had to be done to maintain the Tribe’s sovereignty. Their decision was to form a Tribal government, one supported by a formal constitution that would be recognized by the United States’ government. In 1957 a constitution was forged establishing a two-tiered government, composed of a Tribal Council and a Board of Directors, with elected representation from each reservation community. That same year, the U.S. Congress officially recognized the unconquered Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Tribe immediately began wading into the mainstream of the federal Indian system.

This was not the only reaction however to the government’s termination policies. In 1954 the governing council of Miccosukee elders had delivered a response directly to President Eisenhower. The Buckskin Declaration stated that they had no desire to become part of the American system that the Indian Termination policy offered. They and their followers held to this, and were recognized separately in 1962 as the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. Others stayed apart completely, and a few dozen Florida Indians who are not enrolled in either Tribe exist today as organized "Independent" Seminoles.

Despite these fractures, the first Tribal Council and Board of Directors were able to work through the difficulties and build a lasting Tribal government, beginning the modern era of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The authors of the Seminole Constitution foresaw an economic prosperity far beyond the burgeoning tourism ventures: alligator wrestling shows, airboat rides, roadside arts and crafts booths, and village tours that had become a staple of individual and Tribal economy.

The next generation of Seminole leaders took firm advantage of the sovereign paths to economic prosperity. Businessmen merged their expertise with natural-born leaders to move the Seminole treasury far beyond the million dollar mark. Native linguists and communicators such as Betty Mae Jumper - the first woman to be elected chairman of an American Indian tribe - were instrumental in guiding the community through the doorways of the new age of opportunity.