Narragansett tribe members file suit to unseat longtime leader

Chief Thomas Narragansett Indians

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A group of Narragansett Indians filed a federal lawsuit, asking the court to uphold the October impeachment of Mathew Thomas who has been chief of the tribe for two decades.

The complaint cites a July 30, 2016 “tribal-wide” election that put several new members on the tribal council.

The council voted to impeach Thomas October 1, making a number of claims against him, including that he is currently a Florida resident.

Target 12 reported last December that according to several tribe members, including Election Council member Darlene Monroe, tribe rules require the chief to live in the state of Rhode Island or within a 50-mile radius.

After the impeachment vote, Narragansett Medicine Man John Brown said the tribal assembly that voted to oust Thomas was not legally elected and not authorized to impeach the chief.

The lawsuit is asking the court to order Thomas to give up his post and to declare the July election valid.

The plaintiffs allege Thomas has continued to conduct tribal business, and refused to turn over the necessary paperwork for the Tribal Council to initiate the election of a new chief.

The suit also claims Thomas created a tribal government that is illegally “receiving and authorizing the expenditure of tribal funds.”

Thomas has not returned requests for comment from Target 12, but he did speak to the Providence Journal about the lawsuit.

“I’m rolling with the punches,” Thomas said. “There are laws that people have to follow.”

Thomas cited a 2014 ruling from the tribal court that he said his opponents “have completely and utterly ignored.”

The tribal court is part of the tribe’s ongoing controversy. Monroe and other tribe members claim the court does not exist.

Brown has countered that claim, calling it “ridiculous.”

Target 12 will have much more on this tonight on Eyewitness News.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.