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Tuesday, December 27, 2016
UPDATE: STANDOFF ENDS IMPEACHED Narragansett Chief THOMAS REFUSES to Vacate Position; Tribal offices OCCUPIED
UPDATE: A group of Narragansett Indians ended a weeklong occupation of a tribal government building with a promise to resolve their disagreements with supporters of the tribe's longtime leader. The occupiers left the building and handed over its keys to a mediator at about 11:30 p.m. Monday. The breakthrough came after days of mediation that included telephone calls and face-to-face meetings on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. "We accomplished what we set out to do and it was time to go," said one of the occupiers, Councilwoman Chastity Machado, who spent six nights sleeping inside the administration building. The occupying group was led by tribal council members who were elected in July and who impeached Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas in October. Among their concerns is that he spends too much time in Florida, where he has a home.
ABC reports on Rhode Island Tribal dispute. IMPEACHED Chief refuses vacate. Sounds like the corrupt Nooksack tribe
Members of the Narragansett Indian tribe on Friday were in their 4th day of occupying their tribal government headquarters, because the chief they are trying to oust won't step down.
Some members of a recently elected Narragansett Tribal Council said they took over the administration building Tuesday because Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas refused to relinquish power after they impeached him in October. By late Friday, the occupation was headed toward another day.
Here's a guide to the latest developments and key background about the dispute:
The modern-day Narragansett sachem — a title used for centuries by some Northeast tribes — is an elected chief executive representing more than 2,400 tribal members.
Thomas, who has held office since 1997, said the sachem's annual salary is about $65,000.
A DISPUTED ELECTION
A group of Thomas opponents held an election in July to elect a new Narragansett Tribal Council. In October, the new council members held a meeting to impeach Thomas. It was held outside the tribal administration building because tribal administrators wouldn't let them inside.
Thomas and his supporters don't recognize the July election or the October impeachment.
Both sides say a similar dispute arose in the 1980s involving some of the same families.
The disputed election has left two competing factions, each calling themselves the Narragansett Tribal Council, claiming to be the leaders of the tribe.
The faction elected in July took over the administration building Tuesday morning and changed its locks. They slept on couches as well-wishers came bearing food.
The scene grew tense Thursday afternoon when Thomas supporters gathered outside the building and police officers arrived to monitor the dispute. Thomas and his supporters said they had tribal authority to retake the building if the occupiers don't leave, but they didn't enter the building and instead spent hours by a campfire outside.
The tension renewed Friday afternoon when someone cut the building's power. Utility provider National Grid said it tried to restore power but encountered a volatile situation and was advised by law enforcement to leave. The occupiers later began using a generator and lamps.
Charlestown Police Chief Jeffrey Allen said Friday afternoon he's "not so sure it's going to end in a peaceful way."
Tribal council members, elders and community members began meeting informally Friday night to discuss their future. Some people stopped by to bring supplies and a drum group had arrived to play music and sing.
"We're trying to figure things out as a community," said Councilwoman Chastity Machado.
Much of the dispute has centered on where the sachem lives and if he is properly performing his duties. Thomas has a home in Port Charlotte, Florida, where he spends part of the year, but he says he is able to work remotely.
His opponents say the tribe's rules call for the sachem to live within 50 miles of the tribal headquarters. They point to Rhode Islandvoter registration records that show he moved out of the state in early 2015.
Thomas says he maintains a residence in Providence. The state capital is about a 50-minute drive from the tribal land.
LAWSUITS AND MEDIATORS
Thomas' opponents sued in federal court last month to enforce his ouster, and Thomas countersued Wednesday after they took over the building.
U.S. District Court Judge John McConnell threw out both requests on Thursday, saying his court lacks jurisdiction because it's a question of tribal sovereignty. Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo says the state also has no jurisdiction but talked to Thomas on Thursday urging a peaceful resolution.
An independent mediator was being sought after U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha met with both factions on Thursday night. An investigator from the U.S. Interior Department also visited the building overnight and left Friday morning. The occupying group said it was pleased by the federal official's visit because it wants an investigation of the tribe's finances.