USET Founders Day

In recognition of the bold and visionary leadership of our founding member Tribal Nations and leaders who set forth the mission of USET back in 1969, we celebrate “USET Founders Day” on October 5 every year.

Thank you to our founding Tribal Nations:

Learn more about USET/USET SPF by reading our Educational Book – Second Edition (published March 2022).

Watch a video that pays tribute to our founders.


Our Story

In the 1950s and 60s, new government policies regarding Native Americans were damaging to Tribal Nations and citizens across the country. Termination of the federal government’s trust relationship became the new policy, and many Tribal governments were disbanded.

Particularly onerous was the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which resulted in thousands of Tribal citizens becoming isolated from their communities and facing racial discrimination and segregation.

Something had to be done.

Under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Community Action Agencies were established across the country. As a result, Community Action Programs (CAP) were started at the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.

In 1968, the CAP directors at these Tribal Nations began to discuss the need to organize in order to pool their resources, improve their respective programs, and have more influence on the federal government. The CAP directors were Johnson Lee Owle, Cherokee; Dr. J. W. Rehbein, Miccosukee; Phillip Martin, Choctaw; and Horst Grabs, Seminole.

They realized they would need the support of their Tribal Leaders, so they arranged a meeting to be held at the Cherokee Tribal Nation on October 4, 1968. That evening, a Declaration of Unity was signed to establish United Southeastern Tribes by Miccosukee Chairman Buffalo Tiger, Cherokee Principal Chief Walter Jackson, Seminole Chairwoman Betty Mae Jumper, and Choctaw Chairman Emmett York. At a meeting in Nashville the following year, Attorney Bobo Dean presented a draft of the corporation charter, and a decision was made to incorporate the United Southeastern Tribes as a non-profit organization. On May 27, 1969, Articles of Incorporation of United Southeastern Tribes, Inc. were signed by representatives of the four Tribal Nations— Phillip Martin, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; Fred Smith, Seminole Tribe of Florida; Mary Willie, Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida; and Walter Jackson, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“When we first started, we didn’t know where we were going. No money and no place to meet,” stated former Seminole Chairwoman Betty Mae Jumper. “After years of battling, we finally lifted the organization, the USET. It was a cold winter night at Cherokee Tribal fair grounds in North Carolina when we passed around the peace pipe and promised each other we all would stick together—no matter what.”

Joe Dan Osceola, Seminole, was the first President of USET; Buffalo Tiger, Miccosukee, was the Vice-President; Fred Smith, Seminole, was the Treasurer; and Johnson Catolster, Cherokee, was the Secretary.