NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — The Narragansett Indians’ Medicine Man disputes last week’s impeachment of Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas in a news release provided today to Target 12, proclaiming Thomas is still the tribe’s leader.
John Brown said the tribal assembly that decided to oust the tribe’s long-time chief was not legally elected and not authorized to impeach Thomas.
“Any reports that Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas has been impeached by a lawful Tribal Assembly are absolutely false,” Brown said in a statement emailed to Target 12 late Tuesday afternoon.
On Saturday, Tribal Election Committee member Darlene Monroe told Eyewitness News that members of the tribe’s executive board voted to impeach Thomas last Thursday. She said the full tribal assembly unanimously agreed Saturday morning to sack their Chief Sachem of nearly two decades.
“He’s done,” Monroe said at the time.
But Brown said the vote involved “a small group” that is unhappy with a decision by Tribal Court Judge Denise Dowdell, who according to Brown ruled that the tribal assembly was illegally put in office in a “fundamentally flawed” election.
“A minority group of tribal members are unhappy with that decision and they have repeatedly disrupted subsequent tribal assemblies,” Brown said.
Monroe has forward emails and other documents to Target 12 that indicate Dowdell was removed from her Tribal Judge post several years ago by Chief Thomas, leaving the tribe without a court.
“We will be going to state court to uphold the impeachment,” Monroe said.
The decision to impeach Thomas came 10 months after Target 12 uncovered records showing he obtained a Florida driver’s license and at the same time registered as a Florida voter.
According to the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office, Thomas’ Rhode Island voting rights were canceled in March of 2015 for him “moving out of state.” Florida tax assessor’s records show Thomas owns a home in Port Charlotte.
Monroe said according to Narragansett Indian tribal election rules the chief must live in the state of Rhode Island or within a 50-mile radius.
“That is one of the main points, is that he does not live here,” Monroe said, adding that the residency issue is just one of many problems that led to the impeachment.
Brown has denied that residency is a requirement to be the tribe’s chief.
In order to contest his impeachment, Monroe said Thomas would need to appeal to the U.S. Department of the Interior. In the meantime, Monroe said the tribe will determine how to move forward with replacing Thomas, whose term was set to expire in October of 2017.
Thomas has not returned several emailed requests for comment and phone calls to the tribal office were not answered.