Mitchel Ray elected Eastern Pequot chairman in runoff election
North Stonington — Forty-year-old Mitchel Ray, a Norwalk resident who reconnected with his Eastern Pequot Tribe about 20 years ago after growing up in southwestern Connecticut, has been elected chairman of the tribal council.
Ray won a runoff election Saturday, outpolling the only other candidate, Derrick Strong. The two candidates had finished in a tie for the top spot in a three-way general election in July, necessitating the runoff.
Ray, who reported the runoff results Monday, said nearly 200 tribal members voted. He said the tribe chose not to divulge the tally.
Ray was first elected to the council in 2017, and won a second three-year term in 2020, when he also was named treasurer. As chairman, he succeeds Katherine Sebastian Dring, who did not seek reelection to the council after serving two terms as chairwoman.
Adopted by a Norwalk family at a young age, Ray, who works in payroll accounting, said he has been involved with the tribe since about the age of 20.
“We plan on continuing the fight for federal recognition, strengthening our community through reservation/infrastructure development and create a strong economic development plan that can help all of our people,” he said, describing his goals for the tribe. “We also would like to work with our sister tribes and cousins to strengthen our cultural connections with one another.”
The Easterns have long sought federal recognition, a status that would make the tribe eligible for federal aid for housing, education, health care and economic development.
In 2002, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs acknowledged two tribal factions — the Eastern Pequot Indians and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Indians — as a single group. Three years later, the acknowledgment was reversed.
Earlier this year, the Easterns were awarded $1.5 million in state funding for installation of a community well and a septic system and to improve roads on the tribe’s 225-acre Lantern Hill reservation.
Ray said the tribe is working with planners and engineers to outline the project and also hopes to build a tribal office with meeting space and a place to store files. He said 10 families live on the reservation and that the tribe hopes to accommodate more families once the improvements are in place.
In addition to Ray, the other tribal council officers are Brenda Geer, vice chairwoman; Joanne Silva-Njoku, corresponding secretary; and Tyrone Gambrell, comptroller, who will assume the duties of treasurer. The other councilors are Valerie Gambrell, Natasha Gambrell, Larry Pemberton, La’Tasha Maddox, Lawrence Wilson, Kiana Scruggs and Jamus Eccleston.
Three council seats remain vacant.
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