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Dec 19, 2012 8:41 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Ousted Tribal Leaders Defend Their Moves As Protecting Tribe

Dec 19, 2012 12:30 PM

The internal divisions that have embroiled the Shinnecock Indian Nation in recent months and led to the ouster of two of the tribe’s elected Tribal Trustees this fall took another hairpin turn on Tuesday night, when tribe members reportedly approved a package of impromptu motions to unseat three newly appointed interim trustees.

The vote also challenged the authority of the tribe’s de-facto leader, Tribal Trustees Chairman Randy King, and sought to suspend the appointed board that has been overseeing the tribal effort to develop a casino somewhere in the New York metropolitan region in its entirety until official guidelines for their operation can be drafted.

On Wednesday morning, it was not clear exactly how many tribe members had participated in Tuesday’s vote—some tribe members estimated the number at 50 to 70—or to what extent the vote went in favor of the motions, which would appear to have essentially dissolved the bulk of the tribal government and halted nearly all casino-related business for the foreseeable future.

The steps taken this week do appear to basically mirror the approach used in September and October by a rival faction within the tribe to remove two of the three Tribal Trustees from their posts, along with two of the five members of the tribal Gaming Authority, which is tasked with steering the casino effort. In that push, a group of tribe members leveled a host of accusations of fraud and abuse of authority against the men, empaneled an ad hoc investigative committee that issued a damning report and then called for a vote of tribe members to remove the men from office.

Supporters of the accused and ousted officials appear to be driving this week’s effort to undo what they say was a political coup orchestrated by a Detroit casino developer. The four tribal leaders ousted from their positions in October had just this week offered a public defense of their actions and leveled harsh criticism on those members of the tribe who orchestrated their removal.

The four men—elected Trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, and appointed Gaming Authority members Barre Hamp and Phil Brown—said their actions in the line of their official duties were grossly misrepresented to unwitting tribe members by supporters of Detroit casino developer Michael Malik in order to facilitate their removal from office.

The coup was carried out, they claimed, because their work on development and financing agreements with entities other than Mr. Malik’s company, Gateway Casino Resorts, posed a threat to the developer’s attempts to gain a stranglehold on tribal gaming plans. The four also condemned the internal process by which they were removed from their positions as illegal under tribal law, concocted by those bent on appeasing Mr. Malik.

In a series of interviews, the four dethroned officials and a fifth tribe member, Charles Randall, who was serving as a consultant, painted a picture of repeated attempts over the last two years by the developer and a faction of the tribe’s leadership to ink contracts without the knowledge of tribal membership or independent review by expert advisors. Those agreements, they say, hamstring the tribe’s long-term economic plans in favor of greater and quicker potential profits for the developer.

When they questioned or raised objections to the dealings and alerted other tribal members to the direction the developer was steering the agreements, the men said, others within the tribe, used deliberately distorted evidence, a kangaroo court and contradictory protocols to remove them from office and replace them with handpicked, unelected substitutes.

Following the October 23 vote to remove the men from their posts, Mr. King, apparently unilaterally, appointed three men—Fred Bess, Brad Smith and Avery Dennis Jr.—to the Tribal Trustees in place of Mr. Wright and Mr. Gumbs. It was the first time the tribe has ever had more than three Trustees since it started electing its leaders in 1792. The three men are all former elected Trustees. Mr. Hamp and Mr. Brown’s seats on the five-member Gaming Authority have not been filled.

“They have thrown away hundreds of years of tribal custom—right out the window, just threw it away,” Mr. Gumbs, long the face of the tribe’s casino effort, said this week of the campaign to remove him and the others from their official posts. “Now they’ve got four trustees? Where the hell does it say that anywhere? They’re making a joke out of the whole thing—centuries of sovereign governance by just making [stuff] up as they go along ... doing what they are told by Mike Malik.”

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Good evening Lance, You and I have casually meet several times I have meet Randy and some of the Bess family as well. I have been watching this all unfold. I believe you are all trying your best to manage a difficult situation.

I must ask, why would you want to develop a Casino so far from home. It seems to me I read somewhere in the federal regulations that they require you stay within 25 miles of the reservation. It also seems to me that if you locate a new resort casino out east... ...more
Dec 24, 12 8:17 PM appended by joe hampton
In every revolution there is one man with a vision. J.T.K.
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Dec 21, 12 8:17 PM