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Ex-Shinnecock Leaders Challenge Vote

Two former trustees of New York’s Shinnecock Indian Nation have appealed to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to mediate a longstanding dispute about what they call an illegal constitutional vote. Lance Gumbs (l.) and Gordell Wright were ousted after the vote—wrongly so, they claim.

Vote was 80 short of the required quorum

Two past leaders of New York’s Shinnecock Indian Nation have asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to deny a new council of trustees on grounds that the tribe’s 2013 constitution was improperly ratified.

According to Newsday, Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright say the constitutional vote “did not reflect the will of the majority of those eligible to vote.” Of 383 eligible voters, they said, 112 voted for the new constitution, short of the necessary 192 eligible voters. After the constitution went into effect, they add, 150 tribal members signed a petition declaring the vote invalid and nonbinding.

Gumbs and Wright claim they are “deeply concerned about the legitimacy of our tribe’s governance,” and say the vote “occurred without our permission as a quorum of the nation’s tribal leaders and in direct violation of tribal law.”

But current Shinnecock leaders said they are “confident that all processes and protocols pertaining to the constitution vote and 2013 election were in alignment” with all pertinent guidelines. The constitution, they added, “affords all tribal citizens the right to file grievances, propose amendments, or go through the repeal process.”

The new constitution replaced the Southampton tribe’s longstanding three-member trustee board with a new seven-member council, elected once every two years.

According to Indian Country Today, the rift among tribal members began in 2012, when casino developer Michael Malik made an unsuccessful attempt in to remove Gumbs and Wright from office. Though Keel continued to recognize Gumbs, Wright and a third trustee, Randy King as the legitimate leaders, King appointed interim trustees and called for a constitutional vote.

In the April 9 letter to Keel, the former Shinnecock elected officials said those actions were illegal. “As a result, the events that occurred after this vote, which are conditioned upon the legitimacy of the constitution’s enactment, must be called into question,” they wrote.

The former leaders want the BIA to act as mediator, and hope the agency can help to reinstall the tribe’s traditional form of government or to conduct a “valid, transparent and legally accountable” vote on a constitution. “We are requesting your assistance in helping us find a solution that will bring stability, the rule of law and peace back to our community,” they wrote.