Osley Bird Saunooke Jr. 71, died March 2, 2015 with his loving bride of 50 years sitting by his side.
Osley, affectionately known by his friends as “Butch”, was born in Jacksonville, Fla. on April 6, 1943. He was the son of the Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. His mother was the first woman member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council. From them, he learned how to build and serve his Native American family. Butch grew up in western North Carolina on the Eastern Cherokee reservation where he attended and graduated from Swain County High School. An all-around athlete, Butch was a standout in every sport which ultimately led him to attend Brigham Young University where he was a place kicker for the BYU football team.
Butch served in the United States Navy and was honorably discharged shortly after the untimely death of his father Chief Saunooke. Shortly thereafter, he traveled west to Provo where he attended BYU under a scholarship from the American Indian program. While at BYU, Butch met the love of his life – an Australian beauty named Elizabeth Anne Hodson. They married in 1964 and began a wonderful life together which resulted in six children, 24 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (“LDS”), Butch served in every capacity within the church as Home Teacher, President, Bishop, Teacher and Temple Worker.
Butch attended the University of New Mexico School of Law graduating in two years. He moved his family to Florida becoming the first director of the newly created United Southern and Eastern Tribes in Sarasota, Fla.. He continued in that position assisting tribes throughout the southeast including the Seminole, Miccosukee, Cherokee, Poarch Creek and Mississippi Choctaw. His efforts led to new economic development that helped pull the Tribes out of poverty and into self-determination and their own economic success. Butch began planting seeds of financial independence that spread throughout Indian Country resulting in the successful casino, manufacturing plants, agro business and energy resources now a permanent fixture with Tribes.
Butch helped create the Florida Governor’s council on Indian Affairs with then Governor Rueben Askew and was its first Director. He served as First Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, was nominated for Assistant Secretary of the Interior, received numerous honors and awards throughout the Native American community and spent his entire life working to help improve the lives of Native Americans throughout the United States. Just prior to his passing, the United Southern and Eastern Tribes honored Saunooke with its highest honor, the “Earl Barbry Lifetime Achievement Award”.
Butch loved life and, most importantly, loved his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. When not working tirelessly for Native Americans, he spent every free minute spending time with them teaching them the importance of serving others and making the world a better place. His love for life and his people were evident in his spirit and example as a true Native American Warrior
Services will be held in Sarasota, Fla. with a viewing on March 13 from 6-8pm at Toale Brothers Funeral Home, 6903 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL. Services will be March 14 at 10am at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 7001 Beneva Road, Sarasota, FL. A fund has been set up at the University of New Mexico through the American Indian Graduate Center in his name. At his request, donations in his honor may be made to the American Indian Graduate Center, Inc. 3701 San Mateo Blvd., NE #200, Albuquerque, NM 87110 or by going to www.aigcs.org, 505-881-4584