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Oct 31, 2012 11:10 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tribal Council Wants Government Mediator To Resolve Internal Turmoil

Nov 2, 2012 12:42 PM

The Shinnecock Indian Nation’s Tribal Council has asked that the tribe request that a federal mediator review the actions of four tribal officials and determine what the proper path to quieting the internal turmoil that has embroiled the tribe for months.

The recommendation from the Tribal Council, a 13-member elected board that advises the three Tribal Trustees, came in the run-up to last week’s unprecedented vote by tribe members to remove four tribal officials, including two of the tribe’s three elected Tribal Trustees—for allegedly negotiating on their own to acquire land in western Suffolk County for a casino separate from one the tribe as a whole is in contract with Gateway Casino Resorts, a Detroit-based casino development firm. In its letter to the tribe’s membership, the Tribal Council voiced disapproval of the October 23 vote.

At the vote, the tribe members who cast ballots voted overwhelmingly—170 to 95—to remove Tribal Trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright and Gaming Authority members Phil Brown and Barre Hamp from their official positions. It was the second time a vote to remove the men was held, after the validity of a July vote by a smaller number of tribal members at a more hastily assembled meeting was called into question by the accused officials.

“It is our recommendation that the Board of Trustees obtain a federal mediator to provide objective, unbiased counsel to help resolve this unfortunate situation,” the Tribal Council penned in a letter to the Tribal Trustees, a copy of which was delivered to The Press offices anonymously. “We do not support the tribal vote being posted for October 23, 2012, and believe mediation is the best course of action at this time.”

In a separate correspondence, a letter signed by the Tribal Trustees but apparently only penned by Mr. Gumbs and Mr. Wright noted that only nine of the 13 council members had supported appointing a mediator rather than relying on the results of the vote.

Additionally, Tribal Trustees Chairman Randy King said in a letter to all tribe members that the recent internal divisions have “saddened and frustrated” the tribe and that he would support the holding of the vote and would honor the recommendation the ballots bore out.

The day after the vote, a public statement was released by the Tribal Trustees office, the letterhead listing only Mr. King, the chairman, saying the tribe would begin the process of filing the vacated seats, though it did not give a specific timeline or process by which that would be done.

In the statement, Mr. King offered additional support for last week’s vote.

“When the Nation speaks, the Nation speaks,” Mr. King said. “And once again we came together as a people to resolve our internal business as we have done for generations. This vote demonstrates that the Nation comes first and always will come first before any individual members. This is who we are, this is who we have always been.”

After the disputed July vote to remove the four officials and to bar a fifth man, Charles Randall, from representing the tribe in any business dealings, Mr. King empaneled a committee of five former Tribal Trustees to investigate the charges of conducting inappropriate business dealings on behalf of the tribe. In a letter to the tribe the day before the historic vote, that investigative committee said that it supported the sentiment of the July vote to remove the men from their representative positions, official and otherwise, and that it supported the holding of a second and decisive vote.

“A Trustee has no responsibility other than to represent the Nation and its citizens in [the] most positive and constructive manner as is possible,” the letter signed by former Tribal Trustees the Reverend Michael Smith, Thom Williams, Bradden Smith and Avery Dennis Jr. reads. The fifth committee member, Walter Wise, did not sign the letter. “Our ability to move forward as a Nation depends upon our elected officials’ role in effectively communicating our needs and establishing positive government-to-government relationships with local, state and national entities. When the actions of our elected officials threaten these historical relationships, the people have the sovereign right and responsibility to speak up and speak out.”

The report submitted by the investigative committee accuses the five men of using their official positions to hold unannounced private negotiations with various private organizations about the acquisition of thousands of acres of land in western Suffolk County, including drafting blueprints for private corporations and agreements between the tribe and an international real estate investment firm to fund the purchase. Documents show that the men had apparently set their sights on arranging for the tribe to pursue gambling and non-gaming ventures beyond the agreement the tribe already has with Gateway Casino Resorts, a Detroit-based casino development firm that has been paying the tribe some $1.5 million per year and bankrolling millions more in legal costs in exchange for the right to be the sole partner in the development of the tribe’s first casino.

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