Shinnecock interim leaders appointed amid leadership rift

The Shinnecock Indian Nation said it has appointed three interim trustees to replace two who were removed from office this summer amid a bitter tribal rift over leadership and signals from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs that the conflict requires third-party mediation.

In a show-of-hands vote at a meeting Tuesday night, tribal members approved the appointment of interim trustees Bradden Smith, Avery Dennis Jr. and Fred Bess. Each of the men had formerly been trustees, and two -- Smith and Dennis -- had served on a committee that probed the business dealings of the two trustees who were removed from office.

Randy King remains chairman of the tribal trustees, marking the first time since the tribal government's founding in 1792 that the tribe has had four trustees.

But the removal of Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, who had been in office since April's tribal elections, remains a source of bitter contention within the tribe. Both have previously maintained their innocence on charges that they sought unauthorized land and casino deals, and they have asserted that their ouster was part of a "political coup" orchestrated by supporters of casino developer Gateway Casino Resorts, the tribe's financial backer. Gumbs and Wright declined to comment Wednesday.

After Shinnecock members in October voted a second time to affirm the trustees' removal, the tribe in a statement said the daylong vote addressed "accusations of wrongdoing" against them. Tribal trustee chairman Randy King said at the time that the vote demonstrated that "the Nation comes first, and always will come first before any individual members."

The new appointments come as the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs continues to monitor leadership conflicts at the Shinnecock Nation and recommended that it be resolved through a third-party mediator.

In a Nov. 19 letter from BIA eastern regional director Franklin Keel, the agency noted conflicting correspondence from the tribe about recent votes and leadership claims. "We are aware of some of the internal conflicts that are affecting the Nation," Keel wrote in a letter shown to Newsday. "Trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright do not believe that the voting was legal. There is some uncertainty as to the position of Trustee Randy King, chairman, as to the voting prior to the vote."

A BIA spokeswoman didn't return a call seeking comment, and Keel's assistant said he was traveling and unavailable.Keel also took note of a lack of governance procedures at the nation. "From the application process for federal recognition, it was determined that there is no written document describing the Nation's current governing procedures. The Nation submitted written statements describing the governing procedures in the federal recognition process. However, there is not sufficient information to determine if the current removal of Trustees is in accordance with the Nation's governance procedures."

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