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Shinnecocks elect tribal leaders

The Shinnecock Indian Nation on Tuesday elected a slate of seven trustees under a newly formed government, including its first two women, although some tribal members on and off the Southampton reservation questioned the process.

The underpinnings of the new seven-member government, including first-time seats for two elder trustees called a sachem and sunksqua, were put in place in February with ratification of the tribe's first constitution. Before that, a three-member trustee board, headed by a chairman, had run tribal government since 1792. Those trustees served annual terms, while the new seven-member council of trustees will serve two-year terms.

Three of the newly elected trustees were incumbents: Daniel Collins, Taobi Silva and Bradden Smith. First-time trustees are Bryan Polite and Nichol Banks. The sachem is Eugene Cuffee II, and the sunksqua is Lucille Bosley. The sachem and sunksqua -- male and female elders, respectively -- have equal votes on the council and ceremonial roles.

The tribe did not release the vote count.

Some tribal members called the vote into question long before election day.

In a letter to tribal leaders before the vote, two members, Lauryn Randall and Nishwe Williams, charged the election was invalidated by the constitution itself, which mandates a biennial April election with the exception of one to be conducted within 90 days of the February ratification of the constitution. They noted that the February vote that ratified the constitution didn't win a majority of the total 383 eligible Shinnecock voters (it passed 112 to 59 with three abstentions, while 192 people didn't vote).

Further, the women wrote, the election ballot excluded two former tribal leaders, Lance Gumbs and Gordel Wright, who had sought to run.

Two years ago, the tribe sought to remove the two men from office after alleging they attempted to negotiate casino agreements without tribal authorization. Gumbs and Wright denied the charges and, despite the appointment of an interim slate of trustees, remained in office, continuing to be recognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs as officeholders.

"The leadership dispute that engulfed the Nation last year was left unresolved," the letter from Williams and Randall states.Janine Tinsley-Roe, a Shinnecock member from Bellport who like 1,200 others can't vote because she doesn't live on the reservation, called the system "undemocratic."

"We really don't pay too much attention to it until they include everyone fairly," she wrote in an email. "They [tribal government] continue to act in an untraditional and undemocratic way. The rez [reservation] community elections [will] only have authority and effect [when] they include all of the tribe living throughout the U.S."

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