by Carol Berry, Today Correspondent
Indian Country Today
15 June 2010
Ariz.—Dismissals and a general shakeup appear to be the latest
phase in a long-simmering controversy over tribal leadership and
village representation on the Hopi Tribal Council.
most recent round of infighting began some time ago, a tribal
council meeting May 13 brought matters to a head when the
tribe’s long-time attorney, Scott Canty, was dismissed, and
Tutuveni, the Hopi tribal newspaper, was reinstated after being
shut down last December.
pending a hearing was Mary Felter, tribal secretary, who had
been acting CEO of an interim government created after the
resignation of the former tribal chairman and vice chairman,
sources said. The status of that government and its actions were
also called into question at the recent meeting.
tribal government has challenged the standing of some village
representatives on the tribal council, and, at the same time, it
is still faced with unsettled issues that include the management
of vast Black Mesa coal resources, constitutional questions, and
politically-tinged court battles.
explosive fallout may result from the tribal council’s current
decision to nullify the interim government that was in power for
most of 2009. That government retained control despite an
executive order issued by former tribal chairman Ben Nuvamsa as
he left office that declared a constitutional crisis and
attempted to initiate a special election – which did not take
place – to fill vacated chair and vice chair positions.
If the interim
government is found to have been illegally constituted, actions
it took could be called into question.
taken in 2009 included support for an Office of Surface
Mining-approved permit for Peabody Energy to expand mining on
100 square miles of Hopi and Navajo lands on Black Mesa;
negotiations on a 10-year lease reopener with Peabody;
diminution of the tribal chairman’s authority as part of a
reorganization; and legal intervention against opponents of
Peabody’s now-withdrawn expanded permit.
A week before
the recent tribal council meeting, an attempted coup reportedly
was thwarted by Hopi Rangers and others who shut down an ad hoc
meeting of some tribal council members who sought to name a
village representative as presiding officer instead of Leroy
Shingoitewa, who was elected tribal chairman by Hopi-wide vote
suspended eight village residents sitting on the tribal council
pending a determination by their villages on their status as
representatives. The four representatives, each from First Mesa
and Mishongnovi Village, representing roughly one-third of the
tribal council, declined to step down and sought tribal court
The Hopi appeals
court in February had ruled that the “entire structure of the
Hopi Constitution indicates that the authority of the central
government of the Hopi Tribe rests on the bedrock of the
aboriginal sovereignty of the Hopi and Tewa villages (which)
delegated limited power to the central Hopi government.” The
ruling contradicted the former tribal council’s position that it
alone could remove council representatives.
million-acre Hopi Reservation includes three mesas where
villages are located: First Mesa, villages of Tewa, Sichomovi,
and Walpi (Consolidated Villages) atop the mesa, with Polacca at
its base; Second Mesa, villages of Shungopavi, Sipaulovi and
Mishongnovi; and Third Mesa, villages of Kykotsmovi, Old Oraibi,
Bacavi, and Hotevilla. The mesas project southward from the
Black Mesa formation with its large, rich coal deposits.
The way in which
village representatives are selected has, some contend, caused
difficulty between the Western-oriented tribal council and
traditional village leadership, particularly the role of
Kik’momngwit (traditional leaders) in the secular political
tribal governments formed under the 1934 Indian Reorganization
Act, “all members of the Tribal Council (of) Representatives,
according to the express language of the Constitution,
constitute ‘representatives from the various villages,’” and
only the tribal chairman and vice chairman are elected at-large,
the Hopi appeals court said.
council also rescinded a resolution that it said had illegally
suspended Nuvamsa when he had already resigned as tribal
chairman. It suspended the tribe’s treasurer over losses in the
tribal investment portfolio, pending a hearing.
Actions taken by
the council May 13 could be appealed administratively or through
tribal court, and it is believed likely that opponents will
challenge the decisions in further infighting.