Shinnecock Indian Nation elects new leaders

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Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Tuesday voted to elect a new slate of tribal trustees, including two men who had never before held the leadership position, as the tribe seeks to move on from one of the more contentious periods in its long history.

Daniel Collins was elected chairman with 166 votes, followed by Taobi Silva with 124 and Brad Smith, who was previously a trustee, with 117 votes.

Longtime tribal chairman Randy King, who held the top post since the tribe won federal recognition in 2010, did not seek re-election but in an interview said he would return to tribal government in the future. "This isn't the last people will hear from me," he said. Trustee terms are for one year.

More than 350 tribal members were eligible to vote, and more than 170 had registered. Members must be over 21 and have lived on the reservation for the past six months to be eligible. The tribe has elected trustees since 1792.

Tribal members not living on the reservation have long complained of being disenfranchised, even though their ranks helped the tribe gain federal recognition in 2010. More than half of the tribe's 1,400 members live on the Southampton reservation.

The election came amid a bitter leadership rift following an attempt by tribal members last year to oust two trustees they charged had engaged in unauthorized business deals. Those trustees, Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, have denied any improprieties. They say the removal attempt was illegal and part of a "political coup" by the tribe's outside casino backers, Gateway Casino Resorts. Gateway denies the charge.

Gumbs and Wright have called for an investigation of former trustees King and Fred Bess over a failed bid to open a casino in Willets Point, Queens, saying the deal was never authorized by the full tribe.

Gumbs and Wright, who have been recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs as active trustees in letters as recently as last week, were among the eight candidates Tuesday. Their rivals also tried to remove them from the ballot, but the tribal election committee disagreed. State Police were called to the polling place Tuesday after reports of confrontations. This follows months of infighting, capped last month by a move to reverse a vote on the first tribal constitution.

Gumbs said he was gratified the election went forward legally. "It's not about whether I win or lose, it's about the fact that this is being done by tribal law, unlike the other vote" to remove him, "which was illegal," he said.

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King, whose brother Jason King died in a car accident on the reservation last year, said it was time to "regroup."

"I don't think anyone knows how tough it is to be a trustee," he said, noting the unpaid position required him to work an outside job while taking on trustee responsibilities.

King has been trustee chairman for seven of the past 10 years.

During his tenure the tribe won federal recognition in 2010, and recently adopted a constitution that it has yet to ratify. Last week, more than 150 tribal members voted to nullify the document on technical grounds.

King declined to discuss specifics of the dispute with his fellow trustees. He said he believes the constitution will soon be ratified, and said he hopes the tribe gets a meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to talk about a casino deal.

"I hope the constitution is able to be reviewed and amended in a way that benefits the whole tribe," he said. The nation will begin holding Saturday meetings to review each article in the document. On gaming, he said, "The governor has an obligation to sit down with us. That day hopefully is close."

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