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North Stonington — Months after launching a disputed attempt to revive its bid for federal recognition, the Eastern Pequot Tribe has elected a new chairman.
The tribe announced Wednesday in a press release that Brian Geer, a member of the tribal council, was elected council chairman in a July 28 vote of tribal members. Geer, an incumbent who most recently served as council treasurer, succeeds Jim Cunha, who did not run for re-election.
Cunha, who served a single three-year term as chairman, exposed a deep divide among tribal members this year when he disavowed a lawsuit filed on behalf of the tribe against U.S. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar. The suit, pending in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeks to overturn the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ 2005 denial of the tribe’s application for federal recognition.
The denial reversed a 2002 ruling in which the BIA granted the recognition.
When attorney James Benny Jones Jr., a tribal member, filed the suit in January, Cunha informed the judge in the case that the suit “was neither reviewed nor authorized” by the tribal council. In a letter to the judge, Cunha indicated he would seek to have the suit withdrawn.
Cunha’s action prompted some tribal members to call for a recall vote of the council. They also said they would ask state and federal authorities to investigate their claims that the council had been corrupted by outside business interests intent on blocking the tribe’s pursuit of federal recognition. Such recognition would enable the tribe to apply for federal aid for housing, education and health care and to have land taken into federal trust for casino development.
It’s unclear whether Cunha’s tribal opponents ever pressed for an investigation. Attempts to reach Cunha and Geer were unsuccessful Wednesday.
In March, Jones amended the suit, changing the name of the plaintiff from “Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation” to “Historic Eastern Pequots.” The BIA used the latter name in its 2002 decision combining the federal recognition applications of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and the more populous Eastern Pequots. The BIA ruled that the tribes, which have shared a reservation on Lantern Hill in North Stonington, were actually factions of a single “historical” tribe, the Eastern Pequots.
According to the tribe’s press release, Geer, in his first address to tribal members, said “unity will be the driving force in moving the tribe forward and improving the lives of all tribal members.”
Prior to the consolidation of the tribal factions, Geer was a member of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, as was Cunha.
Also elected to the Eastern Pequot Tribal Council last month were incumbent Sheri M. Jones and Katherine Sebastian Dring, a former councilor. The other members of the council are: Vice Chairman Dennis Jenkins; Corresponding Secretary Brenda Geer, the chairman’s sister; Recording Secretary Lynn Powers; Agnes Cunha, Jim Cunha’s mother; Marcia Jones Flowers; Joseph Perry; Thomas Perry; Valerie Gambrell, and Mary Sebastian.
In its press release, the tribe said: “As the duly elected governing body of the tribe, the tribal council will continue to carry out the tribe’s mission as stated in its constitution — ‘To protect our sovereign rights, preserve our history and culture, develop our common resources, promote self-sufficiency and provide for the general welfare of our tribe for seven generations yet unborn.’”