Tension grows over control of Narragansett Indian headquarters

Photo: Marcos Valentin | WPRI-TV

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — The dispute over who has the right to control the Narragansett Indian purse strings and occupy the administration building continued with one side saying they are “conducting the tribe’s business,” while opponents went to court for help and insisted the other faction “broke in” to the building.

Chastity Machado, elected to the tribal council in July, is one of about 12 tribe members who slept in the offices after what was called a “transition of power” on Tuesday.

“We are taking care of payroll, and doing some internal processing to determine where we should go next,” Machado said. “We want to conduct a forensic audit to determine where our finances are.”

Some claim the tribe, which receives federal and state financial assistance, has a multi-million dollar deficit.

Long-time Medicine Man John Brown is among the opponents who insist that the July election was flawed. Brown said the council members who are in the building now were not elected legitimately.

“We must take a measured approach in extracting them [from the building] now,” Brown said. “They broke in and are claiming they took the high road. They’re trying to boot-strap themselves into this [government].”

Tribal election committee chairperson Bella Noka and Machado are part of the group that stand by the new council’s vote in October to impeach Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas over a number of issues, including his residency in Florida.

Thomas is still the tribe’s Chief Sachem according to Brown and Thomas.

Thomas filed a motion for a temporary restraining order Wednesday, asking federal authorities to step in and “restrain and enjoin the Plaintiff Narragansett Indian Tribe Tribal Council and any individuals acting on Plaintiff’s behalf from occupying the Tribal Administrative Building.”

A conference call on the motion and other legal issues is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Noka said the group had a key and did not break in to the building. Noka said the locks have now been changed and the new council is in the process of securing banking information.

Chief Sachem Thomas got a Florida driver's license in March.
Chief Sachem Thomas got a Florida driver’s license in March.

About a month after the impeachment, Thomas called for the “imposter tribal council to end their political charade.”

He called the residency questions “irrelevant,” adding that U.S. boundaries have nothing to do with his sovereign nation.

His opponents have cited tribal election rules that state the chief must live in Rhode Island or within a 50-mile radius.

Target 12 revealed that documents from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles showed Thomas has been a Florida driver since March 10, 2015.

The July election was the second time Brown, Thomas and others disputed voting results. Last December, members of the council who were elected in June 2014 were informed in emails that their “appointment to Tribal Council has concluded due to the invalidation of the 2014 Tribal Election.”

Thomas has not responded to requests for comment about these recent developments.

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