The Detroit development company that has bankrolled the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s ambitious drive toward a gaming facility has suspended its monthly stipend for tribal operations since November, as a power struggle swirls within the tribe following the ouster of two of the three Tribal Trustees and two members of the tribe’s Gaming Authority.
The company, Gateway Casino Resorts, suspended the payments until the tribe can resolve its internal conflict, according to letters to the tribe from Gateway attorneys. Gateway had been giving the tribe some $3 million a year—$250,000 each month—to fund its operations and pay the salaries of the two dozen tribe members employed at the tribal offices.
In December, members of the splintered Gaming Authority appealed to Gateway to restore their traditional business relationship, including the hefty monthly payments, which have fueled the tribe’s growing operations and the jobs of the Gaming Authority members for more than a decade. An attorney for Gateway responded on January 16, declining to return to normal business until the tribe resolves its internal issues.
“First and foremost, thank you for acknowledging the continuing ‘tribal governance issues that have caused Gateway concern’ with the current business relationship,” Gateway attorney R. Lance Boldry wrote in the letter to the Gaming Authority, a copy of which was provided to The Press by a tribe member. “These communications demonstrate the continuing existence of the internal Shinnecock issues, which remain for the Shinnecock people to resolve. Gateway’s position has not changed since our last communication on December 18, 2012. It will continue to monitor this situation and weigh all of its options.”
Those issues seemed to stride further from resolution this week, as two divergent groups claimed to be the legitimate leaders of the tribe and traded conflicting declarations of authority. Also, one of the two backed out of a planned mediation arranged by the U.S. Department of the Interior in an attempt to help the tribe settle its internal dispute. The mediation meeting was initially scheduled for January 21, but Tribal Counsel Marguerite Smith canceled the meeting on behalf of Tribal Trustees Chairman Randy King.
On Tuesday night, the two Tribal Trustees removed from their posts in a much disputed tribal referendum in October, Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, attempted to convene a tribal meeting, claiming that they are still the legitimate quorum of the Tribal Trustees, having been elected in the most recent tribal elections.
But they were barred from using the tribal Community Center building, following a statement circulated by the Tribal Trustees office that said no official tribal meeting had been called on Tuesday. Tribal spokesperson Beverly Jensen on Tuesday appeared to reject their claim to authority, saying the meeting hall is available for use only by tribe members, other than leadership, by an arranged lease.
Mr. Gumbs and Mr. Wright instead convened a meeting attended by about 20 tribe members in a nearby family services building, at which they addressed some of the evidence they have presented about the impropriety of their ostensible ouster from office.
Last week, Mr. Gumbs and Mr. Wright sent a package of documents to all tribe members, reasserting their claims that the two public votes which removed them from office were illegal under tribal law, and orchestrated by a faction of the tribe bent on kowtowing to the demands of Gateway. They have said the votes—the second of which was a landslide in favor of removing the men from office—violated specific statutes of tribal law and were not certified by the tribe’s Election Committee. They also said that tribe members acknowledged at a public meeting that ineligible people had cast ballots, and that ballot boxes were opened and at least one vote removed without supervision.
“Randy [King] threw tribal law and tribal history away to protect himself,” Mr. Gumbs said. “He said he was going to defer to the ‘will of the people,’ but that’s what is causing all these problems. You cannot have 200 chiefs and three Indians and expect the nation to function.”
The men have, likewise, dismissed the legitimacy of the three “interim” Tribal Trustees appointed unilaterally by Mr. King in December. On December 18, a group of several dozen tribe members tried to turn the tables on Mr. King by calling their own vote at a tribal meeting and voting overwhelmingly to depose the interim Trustees.
Mr. Gumbs has called the campaign to remove him and Mr. Wright and Gaming Authority members Phil Brown and Barre Hamp a political coup intended to silence questions the four men had begun raising about the contracts past Tribal Trustees had inked with Gateway. He has said that Mr. King and Fred Bess, a former Tribal Trustee who is among the three men Mr. King appointed as interim Trustees, have concealed facts about the Gateway contracts on several occasions.