Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today
In 2006, at the New York City news conference announcing the Seminole Tribe’s purchase of Hard Rock International, Max B. Osceola Jr. uttered an original quote that is still repeated today.
“Our ancestors sold Manhattan for trinkets," he said. "Today, with the acquisition of the Hard Rock Cafes, we’re going to buy it back one hamburger at a time.”
The tribe would not only get some Manhattan real estate, it became the first tribe to buy an international company.
Osceola, a longtime Seminole tribal councilman, died Oct. 8 from complications to due COVID-19 at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida.
He was regarded as a fair, kindhearted, generous man. But he was perhaps best known for his smile, infectious laugh and his constant barrage of quips and one-liners, often referring to “BC” as the time “Before Casinos” at the Seminole Tribe.
His wife, Marge, said Max’s Seminole name translates to “storyteller,” a title he lived up to throughout his life.
Osceola served for more than two decades as a representative on the Seminole Tribal Council from the Hollywood Seminole Reservation.
Osceola held the position of Tribal Council representative from 1985 through 2010. Well-liked, he was elected and reelected to 13 consecutive two-year terms.
He served on the Seminole Tribal Council, the five-member elected governing body of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, during a time of major expansion of Seminole gaming and the purchase of the Hard Rock brand, which has grown to become one of the world’s most successful gaming and hotel operations, with revenue estimated at $10 billion worldwide.
Osceola often acted as an ambassador of the tribe to the South Florida community and beyond, and was active in the region’s tourism industry and community organizations.
He positively impacted members of the Seminole Tribe and the larger population in South Florida, including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Ann Storck Center and Winterfest. He supported the Victory Junction Camp, a North Carolina nonprofit camp for children with serious medical conditions.
An active motorcyclist, he loved to ride his Harley Davidson and participated in the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America.
As the Seminoles fortunes grew, he supported Native musicians and filmmakers with sponsorships of festivals in South Florida and across the United States.
Chris Osceola, who serves as Tribal Council representative for the Hollywood Seminole Reservation and is not related to Max, called him a “modern-day warrior and a true legend among his people and many others around the world.”
“He will forever be embedded in our hearts and the history of the Seminole Tribe,” Chris Osceola said. “He was my friend and mentor, and I will miss him dearly. It has been an honor to call him my friend. My sincere heartfelt condolences to his family and my sincere gratitude for sharing him with us.”
Martha Redbone, a frequent performer at Seminole Fairs, fondly recalled: “I had just announced being pregnant, and Max came over and gave me a big bear hug. He was so fun, and he’s the one who gave me the name ‘Aretha Franklin of Indian Country!’ After that, him and Mitchell Cypress would call me that whenever I visited.”
Grammy-winning musician Micki Free, who ran a Seminole Star Search program Max helped sponsor, said: “He was my friend and Native brother – my heart has a place for you Max, RIP.”
Actor Gary Farmer, who made several appearances at Seminole Film Festivals, added, “My sincere condolences. He gifted me with a ribbon shirt last time I saw him, will wear it in remembrance.”
“Max was always a good, fair man with an amazingly captivating presence,” said North Miami singer Matt Kramer, formerly of the rock band Saigon Kick. “A total rock star. I’m very sad to hear this. The Seminole tribe lost a great man.”
William Osceola, who served on the council for years along with Max, said: “I will miss my brother Max. One thing I know is he loved my sister’s egg and dumpling soup; he always came over for some real quick, didn’t have to tell him twice! Missing you, Max.”
Max Osceola was born in August 1950 in Hollywood, Florida, and grew up on the Hollywood Seminole Reservation.
He graduated from McArthur High School in Hollywood and attended the University of Tampa, where he played college football. He transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Oklahoma, where Osceola and his team won a national college football championship. He graduated from the University of Miami and was a fervent supporter of Miami Hurricanes Football.
Osceola was most proud of his impact on the education of members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which extended full educational opportunities and benefits to all tribal members during his time as council representative.
Osceola was inducted into the Broward Education Foundation Hall of Fame in 2017.
In addition to his wife, Marge, Max is survived by his son Max Osceola III, daughter Melissa Osceola DeMayo, daughter Meaghan Osceola and son Jeff Pelage, as well as several sisters and brothers, grandchildren and extended family.
The family suggests donations to honor him through the Max Osceola Memorial Scholarship Fund at the American Indian Graduate Center, the center for Native scholarships, at www.aigcs.org.
Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, The Grammy Museum, The Queens Museum, and has produced three films on Native musicians.
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