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Shinnecock Nation tribal trustees elected

Randy King, center, and members of the Shinnecock

Randy King, center, and members of the Shinnecock Nation meet with the editorial board at Newsday. (Feb.29, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Two former leaders of the Shinnecock Indian Nation regained their seats as tribal trustees in an election on Tuesday that also saw longtime trustee chairman Randy King returned to the tribe's top leadership spot.

Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, who previously held trustee posts for nine and seven terms, respectively, returned as trustees after a year's hiatus. They replace Fred Bess and Gerrod Smith. Smith did not seek re-election.

Meanwhile, at the Poospatuck reservation in Mastic, longtime Unkechaug tribal chief Harry Wallace was voted back into office after a year's absence. Wallace, who had been chief for 17 straight years, had lost the title last year to Matthew Carroll.

Elected trustees of the Unkechaug Indian Nation, according to Wallace and others, were Victoria Scott and Ollie Maynes.

Wallace said his aim is to promote healing within the sometimes-divided tribe, and work to open a community center he conceived and which is nearly completed. "I certainly want to see it open and working and doing work for the community," he said in an interview. The center was to serve as a cultural, health care and education center for the tribe.

The official Shinnecock tribal tally gave King 177 votes, Wright 125, Gumbs 119, Bess 100, Michelle Johnson 60 and Jennifer Cuffee-Wilson, 21. In Shinnecock elections, the candidate who garners the most votes becomes chairman, with the next highest taking the remaining two trustee posts.

The Southampton tribe holds its election annually on the first Tuesday in April, a tradition for more than 200 years.

Only members who are living on the reservation and are 21 years or older can vote -- a point of contention for some off-reservation tribal members.

Janine Tinsley-Roe, executive director of the Shinnecock-Sewanaka Society, an advocacy group, said in an email that Shinnecock and Unkechaug trustee votes "have been skewed for years because only the [reservation] community are allowed to vote and even then you have to be 21 years old. . . . Why is the majority of the tribe being kept from leadership positions and from voting?"

A Shinnecock spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

There are more than 1,400 Shinnecock members. About half live on the reservation.

Gumbs, in an email Wednesday, said his objective was to work on projects beyond planned casinos. "We intend to refocus our energy on the internal tribal needs," he wrote.

He pledged the next year will "be about unifying the Nation once again, developing our infrastructure and finding solutions with the input of the nation as a whole to some of our more pressing issues."

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