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Chief Jim Billie is one of the most influential Native Americans of the late 20th century. The chairman of the 2000-member Seminole tribe of south Florida since 1979, Chief Billie spearheaded a drive that resulted in the Seminoles becoming the first Native American tribe to establish a gaming industry on sovereign land. The tribe's casino brings in more than 150 million a year and has led to the Seminoles becoming one of the most financially solvent tribes in the United States.
Chief Billie has simultaneously established a successfully musical career. In 1999, he received an outstanding musical achievement award from the First Americans in the Arts Council. Chief Billie's second album, Alligator Tales offered a musical exploration of life in the Everglades swamplands. A video based on one of the album's songs was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1999 and was nominated as Best Music Video at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. According to producer John McEuen, former leader of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Chief Billie's "songs are universal themes from his unusual point of view and make a perfect bridge between all cultures."
A half-breed, Chief Billie was born on the grounds of a South Florida tourist attraction and raised by his grandparents. Singing by the age of three, Chief Billie taught himself to play guitar as a teenager. After serving as a paratrooper in Vietnam, Chief Billie returned to Florida and became involved with politics. Although he was arrested for violating the Federal Endangered Species Act by killing a Florida panther in 1982, he was acquitted after he successfully contested that his actions were based on Seminole tradition.
Despite his busy schedule as chairman of the Seminole tribe, Chief Billie has continued to tour with his band, the Shack Daddies.
20 March 1944
'80s, '90s, '00s