Eastern Pequots electing new chairman Saturday

Jul. 23—NORTH STONINGTON — The Eastern Pequot Tribe, recently bolstered by the promise of state funding that will enable it to pursue infrastructure improvements on its Lantern Hill reservation, will elect new leadership Saturday.

Three tribal members are seeking to succeed Katherine Sebastian Dring, who has been chairwoman of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Council since 2015. Dring said Friday she is not a candidate for reelection.

"I've served two terms. It's time for me to pass the torch," said Dring, who qualifies as a tribal elder, a status held by tribal members 55 and older.

"I'll keep the fires burning any way I can," she said.

The three candidates for council chairman are Brenda Geer, the current vice chairwoman; Mitchel Ray, the current treasurer; and Derrick Strong, president of the tribe's nonprofit organization, the Wuttooantam Foundation.

Running unopposed for council seats are incumbents Tyrone Gambrell, the comptroller, and Joanne Silva Njoku, the corresponding secretary. Four candidates are vying for three other seats: Lawrence Wilson, Kiana Scruggs, Jamus Eccleston and Karif Almond.

Dring said the tribe has invited state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and other dignitaries to a private, tribal event on the reservation Sunday. During the event, the tribe will express its gratitude to Osten for her role in securing a $1.5 million appropriation for the tribe in the 2021-22 state budget.

The funding will enable the tribe to install a community well and a septic system and improve roads on its 225-acre reservation, where about 15 to 20 families live, Dring said.

Most of the tribe's 1,300 members live in the New London County area.

"This is long overdue," Dring said of the state's assistance.

She said the tribe first met with Osten several years ago and the senator had worked since then to ensure the state fulfilled its obligations to the Easterns and two other state-recognized tribes in need of financial help: the Schaghticokes of Kent and the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Colchester and Trumbull.

"We met with her several times," Dring said. "She came to the reservation, saw the conditions, saw that the reservation is not developed, doesn't have a sewer system or a community well. We don't have the infrastructure to support large gatherings."

Dring said that under her successor, the tribe likely will continue to grapple with its lack of federal recognition and how to overcome it. 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 in 2002, but reversed the decision three years later.

The tribe has endeavored to regain the acknowledgment ever since.

"We're going to have to appeal in federal court or find some other route," Dring said.