Former Shinnecock Leaders Ask BIA to Reject New Council, Mediate Dispute

Gale Courey Toensing

A group of former Shinnecock Indian Nation elected leaders has asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs not to acknowledge a new tribal council, which they said was elected on the basis of an illegally enacted Constitution. The former leaders also seek the agency’s help in finding a solution for the Nation’s ongoing leadership dispute.

“We are writing… because we are deeply concerned about the legitimacy of our tribe’s governance,” former trustees Lance Gumbs and Cordell Wright, along with former council members Kenneth Coard, Nishwe O. Williams, Lauryn Randall, Maurice Williams, and Terrell Terry wrote to BIA Regional Director Franklin Keel. The letter details for the second time the process leading up to and beyond what the group said is “an illegal vote to enact a Constitution” that took place on February 26, 2013.

Gumbs and Wright first wrote to Keel on the subject in March 2013 while they were still duly elected members of the traditional three-member board of trustees, notifying the regional director about “the ramifications of this illegal vote and its import for the future governance of the Nation.” The vote to enact the Constitution took place in the midst of a bitter leadership dispute, the former leaders told Keel, which was a year old by the spring of 2013. The dispute centered on Michael Malik, a casino developer who at the time was financing the tribe’s efforts to establish a gaming facility. A faction of Malik supporters made an unsuccessful attempt in 2012 to oust Gumbs and Wright from office, making dozens of allegations of misconduct against them. The two men denied the allegations, which were investigated by a committee of former trustees and found to be baseless.

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Gumbs and Wright had refused to be ousted, but Randy King, the third trustee at the time, appointed “interim trustees” at the end of 2012 – even though Keel continued to recognize Gumbs, Wright and King as the legitimate government.

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In the April 9 letter to Keel, the former Shinnecock elected officials said it was illegal for one elected trustee to appoint “interim trustees,” unlawful for them to call for a vote on what would be the Nation’s first Constitution, and “a direct violation of tribal law” for the constitutional vote to take place without the permission of a quorum of the Nation’s leaders recognized by the federal government.

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