Seminole tribal leader Max Oceana Jr. dies at age 70

This obituary is part of a series about people who died in a coronavirus pandemic.Read about others here..

When Max Oceana Jr. grew up in the Seminole tribe of Florida, many of his fellow tribal members raised live cattle and worked in the tourism industry. In a traditional Indian village along the Tamiami Trail in Everglades, a Seminole woman sold handmade crafts, and a man wrestled with a crocodile for an entertaining tourist to put money in a cup.

Poverty was widespread. There were few educational opportunities. Most families of the tribal Hollywood Reservation lived in a thatched-roof hut known as Shia.

Before the casino, Oceana bitterly called this period “BC”.

In 1979, the tribes began manipulating high stakes bingo on their land. Since winning a federal proceeding in 1981 in favor of the right to operate legal gambling facilities, the tribe has run wealthy casinos, hotels and restaurants.

Mr. Oceana’s life bridged those eras, often referred to as “from the Stone Age to the Space Age,” and in many ways he was a key figure in its prosperity.

According to Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, Mr. Oseora was “one of the longest-serving and most powerful politicians of the tribe” as an elected representative of the Seminole Tribal Council from 1985 to 2010. His adopted son, James Billy, was the longtime chairman of the tribe.

He signed the Gambling Compact with Florida and helped mediate the $ 965 million purchase of Hard Rock International, a restaurant, casino and hotel chain purchased by the Seminoles in 2007.

When the deal was announced, Mr. Oceana expressed his joy.

“Our ancestors sold Manhattan as jewelry,” he told reporters. “Buy back Manhattan with one burger at a time.”

Oceana died on October 8th at a hospital in Weston, Florida. He was 70 years old. The cause was a complication of the coronavirus, said his daughter Melissa Oceana de Mayo.

For decades, Mr. Oceana was the official face of the Seminoles, in which he was his father. He had politician tips to remember everyone he met, ask jokes and family questions, and get people to listen.

Oseora was able to sit in the conference room in a traditional ribbon shirt and rest assured of the contradictions presented, if not the painful history of Native Americans in the United States. He liked to point out that the Seminoles had not been conquered.

“He was a very proud member of the Seminole tribe,” Jim Allen, Chairman of Hard Rock International and Chief Executive Officer of Seminole Gaming, said in a telephone interview. “But Max also understood that the tribes had these great business opportunities in today’s world.”

Max Bill Osiola Jr. was born on August 13, 1950 in Fort Lauderdale. His father worked in the construction industry and raised cattle. His mother, Laura May (Jumper) Oceana, was an interpreter for Creek, Mikaski, and an English-speaking tribe. She was the only woman on the delegation who drove to Washington in 1953 and claimed official tribal status and federal interests. In 1957, the Seminoles of Florida were recognized by the federal government.

Oceana graduated from MacArthur High School in Hollywood, Florida with a bachelor’s degree in history and politics from the University of Miami. He was one of the first tribal members to graduate from college. During his tenure in the council, scholarships were created to pay colleges or vocational schools for tribal members.

Mr. Oceana’s commerce was not without controversy. In 2007, Sun-Sentinel reported that the IRS was obliged to pay a refund tax of nearly $ 1 million. He also owed the tribe $ 227,000 for cigarettes sold at a tax-exempt tobacco shop that he ran in the 1990s.

The article quoted a tribal official who said the tobacco problem was being resolved between the parties. Mr. Oceana didn’t sound disdainful about the unpaid taxes.

“I don’t think Native Americans even had the word tax in their language,” he told the newspaper.

In addition to her daughter Melissa, Mr. Oseora has survived by his wife, Marge Oseora. His sons, Max Oceana III and Jeff Perage. Another daughter, Megan Oceana. My sister Sharon Oceana. His brothers, James Billy, Lawrence Mitch and Steve Oceana. And seven grandchildren.

His family said Mr. Oceana had been thinking for generations in making the Seminole decision. He himself was alive at that moment.

“It was him,” said Melissa Oceana Demayo. “He was happy to be in this world.”

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