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Former Shinnecock leaders ask federal agency to reject new trustees council

Two former leaders of the Shinnecock Indian Nation have asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to reject a new council of trustees because, they charge, the tribe's 2013 constitution was improperly enacted.

The April 9 letter to BIA Regional Director Franklin Keel laid bare yet again the bitter tribal rift that resulted from the nation's 2012 attempted ouster of then-trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, charging they worked on unauthorized gaming plans. The men denied the charges and refused to comply with the ouster, even as an "interim" trustee board was installed.

In the letter from Gumbs and Wright, the former leaders charge the process that led to the February 2013 ratification of the tribe's first-ever constitution was improper. The constitutional vote, they wrote, "did not reflect the will of the majority of those eligible to vote."

Of the 383 eligible voters, 112 voted to approve the constitution. That was short of the needed 192 eligible voters, they said, charging the constitution was later improperly amended to say "participating" eligible voters.

Gumbs and Wright said they were writing near the anniversary of the traditional date for trustee elections because they were "deeply concerned about the legitimacy of our tribe's governance."

In a statement, current Shinnecock leaders said they were "confident that all processes and protocols pertaining to the constitution vote and 2013 election were in alignment with all the guidelines set forth in the Shinnecock Indian Nation Election Ordinance and Constitution."

They noted the constitution "affords all tribal citizens the right to file grievances, propose amendments, or go through the repeal process."

Gumbs and Wright didn't respond to requests for comment. Calls and an email to the BIA's Keel were not immediately returned.

The vote for the constitution, Gumbs and Wright wrote in their letter, "occurred without our permission as a quorum of the nation's tribal leaders . . . and in direct violation of tribal law."

In the aftermath of the constitution's ratification, 150 tribal members signed a petition declaring the vote "invalid" and "non-binding," the letter states.

The new constitution replaced the Southampton tribe's centuries-old three-member trustee board with a new seven-member council of trustees, elected once every two years in December. Previously, trustee elections were held on the first Tuesday in April.

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