Unconquered The remarkable history and triumph of the Seminole Tribe

By Admin | June 5, 2024 | North Eastern | 0 Comments

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The remarkable history and triumph of the Seminole Tribe

The story of the Seminole Tribe of Florida – the only tribe in America that has never signed a peace treaty – is one of the great Indigenous success stories in American history. Their strength, resilience and determination would form the foundation of the entrepreneurial spirit that defines them today.

The Origins of the Seminole

What is now the Seminole is believed to have originated from the migration of the Creek Indians into Florida, from Georgia and Alabama, in the late 18th century. These indigenous people fled to then-Spanish controlled Florida territory due to constant clashes with colonists and other tribes. Seminole means “wild people” or “runaway.”

Some historians also trace Seminle ancestry to Calusa, Jeaga, Tequesta, Tocobaga, Ais, Apalachee and other indigenous tribes that have lived in the Florida area for centuries before European settlers arrived.

The Three Seminole Wars

Nearly as soon as the Seminole people arrived and settled in Florida, the United States government began trying to run them off.

Even though the Florida territory was under Spanish rule, the United States still authorized military incursions into Florida to attack the Seminole in the early 19th century. This was due to several factors, notably that the Seminole often provided safe haven for escaped slaves – something southern US states were not happy about – and the increasing number of US settlers to the area who often clashed with the local tribes.

The Seminole War lasted two years, from 1817 to 1818. Gen. Andrew Jackson led many military incursions, forcing the Seminole to retreat farther south.

Not long after Spain agreed to hand over the Florida territory to the United States a few years later in 1821, and more colonists began to migrate to the area, the Indian Removal Act in 1830 was signed into law. The US Army once again began a military campaign to forcibly relocate the Seminole to the designated Indian Territory in Oklahoma, known as “The Trail of Tears.”

In 1832, some Seminole leaders signed a treaty under duress and agreed to leave their homeland within three years. Other Seminoles, however, remained defiant. They refused to recognize the treaty and fled into the Everglades. This is the reason that there are two recognized Seminole Tribes today – one descended from the Seminoles that were relocated to Oklahoma (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma), and the much smaller Seminole Tribe in Florida (Seminole Tribe of Florida) that stayed behind.

When the three years the Seminole were given under the treaty was up in 1835, the US Army arrived to force the holdovers to leave. However, the Seminoles would not give up their homeland so easily, and the second Seminole War began. A war that stretched out an amazing seven years.

The Second Seminole War is considered the bloodiest and most ruthless military campaign against Indigenous people in American history. After spending years hidden in the Everglades, the Seminole became extremely adept at guerrilla warfare, killing an estimated 1,500 US soldiers during the conflict.

After a series of stunning military defeats, the US Army resorted to deception to try to demoralize and defeat the tribe. Setting up a supposed diplomatic meeting between Seminole Leader Osceola and US generals under a flag of truce, Osceola was captured and imprisoned when he arrived for the meeting in 1837.

However, the capture of their leader not only did not demoralize the Seminole, it galvanized them. Osceola became a symbol of oppression and injustice, as the tribe fought on for another five years. Osceola died in prison in 1838.

In 1842, the military conflict finally drew to a close, however there was never a formal peace treaty. But there were few remaining Seminole left to sign it even if there was. Most had been forced to move to the Oklahoma territory, or had been killed.

A third Seminole War began in 1855, when fighting broke out between the tribe and an increasing number of settlers in the area. By the time the last of these military campaigns ended in 1858, only 200 or so Seminole were left. Mostly scattered in swampland.

Hard Fought Recognition

In the early twentieth century, the United States formally created three Seminole Tribe of Florida (STOF) reservations: the Big Cypress, Brighton and Dania Reservations. These reservations were only a fraction of the land the Seminole considered to be their homeland, but the federal recognition formed the foundation of the Seminole Tribe’s claim to sovereignty and self-government. Three other reservations were later added.

In 1957, the Seminoles drafted and ratified their own constitution which formally created The Seminole Tribe of Florida. Under the Seminole government, the Tribal Council is the primary governing body, composed of a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman and Council Representatives from each reservation. Its capital is in Hollywood, Florida.

In addition, The Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. was created as a federal corporation. There is a Seminole Board of Directors that oversee the Tribal corporation, and every Tribal member has an equal share in the ownership.

Early pioneers of Tribal Gaming

In 1970, the Indian Claims Commission awarded the Seminole Tribe (of both Oklahoma and Florida) $12,347,500 to compensate them for the land taken from them by the United States government over a century earlier. Rather than squander the windfall, the Seminole looked to invest some of it so that, over time, the tribe could one day become self-sustaining.

Soon after, the Seminole fought for, and won, the right to sell tobacco products on their land tax free. Then, in 1979, the tribe opened the Seminole Bingo Hall, the first large stakes bingo hall in the United States. The establishment was an immediate success, generating a tremendous new revenue stream for the Seminole people.

However, the bingo hall was believed to be in violation of state law that only allowed bingo two nights a week, with prizes of no more than $100. After a lengthy court battle, in a landmark case later known as Florida v. Butterworth, the courts upheld the Seminole claim to tribal sovereignty that allowed them to supersede state law on Indian land.

This legal victory would set the precedent for Indian gaming throughout the United States in the decades to come. It also led to the US Congress passing the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the modern framework for regulating tribal gaming across the country. It is not an exaggeration to say that virtually every Native American tribe that benefits from Tribal gaming facilities on their land has the Seminole Tribe to thank.

The Modern Seminole Enterprise - An incredible success story

Today, the Seminole Tribe has an estimated net worth of $12 billion despite a tribal enrollment of roughly 4,200 members. The entrepreneurship and business acumen that began 45 years ago has yielded unprecedented returns in recent years, and has made the small Seminole tribe a model for Indigenous self-determination across the country.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is a national leader in cattle raising, with one of the largest herds in all of Florida and top 15 largest in the United States. They still own several citrus farms and tobacco shops. They also own Brighton RV Resort in South Florida, which has 56 campsites, cabins, a convenience store, salon, and a day spa. Additionally, they have a world class museum: The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki.

However, they are far more renowned for their success in Tribal gaming.

In 2006, the Seminole acquired the Hard Rock Inc, and franchise rights, for $965 million, prevailing over 72 other bidders. That enterprise has since grown to include 23 Hard Rock hotels and 11 casinos in over 70 countries, plus 168 Hard Rock cafes. Dozens of new Hard Rocks around the world are currently in the pipeline.

In 2010 the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida agreed on the Seminole Gaming Compact. The agreement gave the Seminole Tribe a monopoly over certain types of gaming in Florida, such as Class III gaming, in exchange for a revenue sharing agreement with the state – providing the tribe with a massive influx of new revenue.

In 2019, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood launched a $1.5 billion expansion, highlighted by the world’s first and only guitar-shaped hotel. The now-iconic hotel rises 450 feet into the sky and houses 638 luxury guest rooms and suites. And, of course, it looks like a guitar.

In December 2021, the Seminole purchased the Mirage in Las Vegas and immediately announced plans to tear it down and build another guitar hotel – the Hard Rock – on the Las Vegas Strip.

Overall, Seminole Gaming today manages six Florida casino enterprises for the Seminole Tribe of Florida on six reservations: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, Seminole Classic Casino Hollywood, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek. Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee, and the Seminole Casino Brighton.

Seminole Gaming is currently the only gaming company with investment grade ratings from all three primary investment-grade rating agencies: S&P Global Ratings (BBB), Moody’s Corporation (Baa2) and Fitch Ratings (BBB).

The revenue windfall from these enterprises has allowed the Seminole to provide free medical care, public safety like fire and police, job training, housing and top rated schools to Tribal members.

In addition, every Tribal member receives biweekly dividend payments. Every Seminole child has a trust opened in their name that cannot be opened by themselves or their family until their 18th birthday. While the exact amount of money each Seminole tribal member has access to when they turn 18 is not disclosed, it is presumed to be a substantial amount – enough to potentially set them up for life.

Finally, in April 2021, the Seminole Tribe successfully negotiated a new tribal gaming compact that allowed them exclusive rights to offer sports gambling in the state of Florida. The 30-year compact guarantees Florida $2.5 billion over the first five years and $6 billion or more to follow in subsequent years, including roughly $48 million per year for sports betting.

What makes this compact unique is the understanding that so long as the server physically rests on Indian land, then sports gaming can be conducted throughout the state online. Essentially, this gives the Seminole Tribe exclusivity to the lucrative online sports gaming market in one of the country’s largest and fastest growing states. In fact, the tribe’s estimated gross gaming revenue from sports betting alone is expected to exceed $750 million in fiscal year 2024 alone.

Not surprisingly, giant non-Tribal gaming companies are challenging this exclusivity in court. The Supreme Court is expected to review the case – known as West Flagler Associates, Ltd., et al, v. Debra Haaland, et al.,- sometime in June 2024.

A Tribal inspiration

All told, the roughly 4,200 Seminole Tribe of Florida members are the descendants of 200 or so brave Seminole who managed to escape capture by roaming US Army soldiers in the 1800s. Who waged guerilla warfare for years – against impossible odds – to prevent being forcibly removed from their homes. Who – despite near constant threats of attack or capture – never accepted a peace treaty, and never surrendered.

“The Unconquered” are one of the most profitable and successful self-governed tribes recognized in the United States. An inspiration to any Tribal nation that wishes to one day also become self-sustaining, and an economic powerhouse for their people.

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