Tensions have been rising at the Shinnecock Indian reservation as supporters of two ousted trustees sought to re-assert their leadership posts after trustee chairman Randy King declined to participate in a federal effort to mediate a deep tribal divide.
Trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, who were removed from office last year after two tribal votes that they consider unlawful, attempted to hold a meeting at the Southampton reservation's community center Tuesday night but had been told the center was locked, Gumbs said.
Their aim, they said in a letter to federal regulators earlier this month, was to "restore order, peace and stability" to the tribe as the leadership rift deepens.
In a tribal notice sent out in advance of Tuesday's meeting, King and his slate of interim trustees noted that they did not call a meeting for Tuesday night and said, "Any such attempt to conduct tribal business is illegal and without merit and will have no binding authority within the Nation."
Gumbs blasted locking of the community center as "a violation of our tribal rights," and noted the interim trustees were removed from office in a similar meeting he presided over last month.
Meanwhile, an effort this month by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to mediate the division failed after King declined to participate, according to Shinnecock documents and tribal sources.
Tuesday's planned meeting comes as the tribe also attempts to grapple with a cash crunch after the primary backer for its plans to develop a casino, Gateway Casino Resorts, suspended funding of tribal operations in November, according to tribal sources and documents. A spokesman for Gateway, which is owned by Little Caesars Pizza founder Marian Ilitch and Detroit casino developer Michael Malik, declined to comment.
Members of the tribe voted twice last year to oust Gumbs and Wright and members of a tribal gaming authority, following revelations of an attempt by the ousted officials to secure land and other economic development projects for the tribe, including some that were casino related. The tribe then appointed three interim trustees. But the men said the process was based on a flawed investigation, stolen emails and an illegal process. The tribe then appointed three interim trustees to replace them.
Gumbs and Wright, in a letter to the BIA last week, noted the federal government continues to recognize them as elected leaders, and that there is no precedent for appointing interim trustees.
Correspondence from BIA regional director Franklin Keel said the agency "has never withdrawn its recognition of the slate of trustees elected in April," a slate that includes Gumbs and Wright.
Alan Gross, a mediator appointed and funded by the BIA, was to visit the reservation recently in an attempt to resolve the dispute, but the Shinnecock tribal attorney canceled, saying King was unreachable, according to a copy of a letter from the attorney that was shown to Newsday.
Shinnecock spokeswoman Beverly Jensen declined to comment.
Calls to the BIA's Keel weren't returned and a BIA spokeswoman declined comment.