Target 12

After more than 2 decades, Matthew Thomas quietly out as chief

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) -- A move out of state, a disputed impeachment vote, a federal lawsuit and the seizure of the Narragansetts' headquarters were not enough to do what time did. 

For the first time in 23 years, the Charlestown-based tribe has a new Chief Sachem after a barely publicized election officially brought Matthew Thomas's tenure to an end.

According to tribe member Darlene Monroe, who for years pushed for Thomas's ouster, Anthony Dean Stanton beat Yvonne Simonds Lamphere in a May 2 election.

Native News Online was first to report the election results, noting Stanton has 30 years of administrative experience with the tribe. 

Thomas, whose last term expired in October, was unavailable to comment. Stanton has not returned a request for comment at this time.

The tribe has about 2,600 members and an annual budget of around $7.5 million, Just over $750,000 of comes from Rhode Island Video Lottery Terminal money, according to 2016 records. 

Thomas was the face of the Narragansetts since the mid 1990s, trying on multiple occasions to convince Rhode Island voters to allow a casino to be built on tribal land.

He was in the middle of the violent clash during the 2003 state police raid of a short-lived smoke shop. 

Thomas's final years in office were marked by a different sort of turmoil, starting with questions about his residency. 

As Target 12 was first to report, records showed Thomas's Rhode Island voter registration was canceled in March 2015 after he moved to Florida.

Thomas would later call his residency "irrelevant," but Monroe and others claimed tribe rules require the chief to live in Rhode Island or within a 50-mile radius.

That and other complaints by the tribal faction that called for change prompted a vote to impeach Thomas in October 2016.

Thomas did not step down, insisting along with his supporters that the vote was invalid. 

The anti-Thomas group filed a federal lawsuit about a month later, asking the court to force Thomas to step down from his post. 

The dispute reached a boiling point in December of that year when several tribe members protested by seizing the Narragansetts' headquarters for several days.

State police got involved in an effort to control the dispute, and according to Monroe, federal authorities confiscated documents and computers from the building. 

At the time, Thomas said "a very small group of dissident members was defying their own tribal court system in a misguided attempt to seize power from the lawfully constituted tribal government." 

Monroe has argued for years the tribe doesn't have a court system.

While 22 years in office is considered long by Rhode Island standards, Narragansett Medicine Man John Brown emphasized, "We're not Rhode Island."

"Chief Sachem was considered a lifetime position," Brown said. 

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


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