Max Osceola Jr., Seminole Tribal Leader, Dies at 70


“Our ancestors sold Manhattan for trinkets,” he told reporters. “We’re going to buy Manhattan back, one burger at a time.”

Mr. Osceola died on Oct. 8 at a hospital in Weston, Fla. He was 70. The cause was complications of the coronavirus, his daughter Melissa Osceola DeMayo said.

For decades, Mr. Osceola was the public face of the Seminole tribe, and, within it, a father figure. He had a politician’s knack for remembering everyone he met, for being ready with a joke or question about their family, for making people feel heard.

Mr. Osceola could sit in a boardroom wearing a traditional ribbon shirt and be at ease with the contradiction that presented, if not the painful history of Native Americans in the United States. The Seminoles were unconquered, he liked to point out.

“He was such a proud member of the Seminole tribe,” Jim Allen, the chairman of Hard Rock International and the chief executive officer of Seminole Gaming, said in a phone interview. “But Max also understood the tribe had these great business opportunities in today’s world.”

Max Bill Osceola Jr. was born on Aug. 13, 1950, in Ft. Lauderdale. His father worked in construction and raised cattle. His mother, Laura May (Jumper) Osceola, was an interpreter for the tribe who spoke Creek, Mikasuki and English. She was the only woman in a delegation who drove to Washington in 1953 to argue for official tribal status and federal benefits. In 1957, the Seminole Tribe of Florida became federally recognized.

Mr. Osceola graduated from McArthur High School in Hollywood, Fla., and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from the University of Miami as one of the first tribal members to graduate from college. During his council tenure, a scholarship was created to pay for college or vocational school for any tribal member.


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