Nuvamsa removed as Hopi Chairman by Tribal Council

Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa reflects on his options following a highly controversial decision by the Hopi Tribal Council on March 27 to nullify results of the Hopi primary and general elections held earlier this year, which removes Nuvamsa from office (Courtesy photo).

Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa reflects on his options following a highly controversial decision by the Hopi Tribal Council on March 27 to nullify results of the Hopi primary and general elections held earlier this year, which removes Nuvamsa from office (Courtesy photo).

KYKOTSMOVI-The Hopi Tribal Council voted 10-8 to nullify the special primary and general election for tribal chairman because Ben Nuvamsa did not prove adequate residency.

The rules require that candidates for Hopi chairman have residency on the Hopi Reservation for two years prior to the election.

Nuvamsa won the special primary and general elections for Chairman after Ivan Sidney was removed from office. Nuvamsa was inaugurated March 21, but the Hopi Tribal Council voted March 27 to nullify the special elections and remove him from office.

The Hopi Tribal Council has scheduled an April 9 meeting to decide whether to call another special election or wait until the next general election.

Both Nuvamsa and his opponents say this issue is far from over. Nuvamsa stated that he would seek legal action and Hopi Councilman Caleb Johnson said there is a movement to rescind the nullification of the special elections. He said the Hopi Tribal Council has received at least 34 form letters calling to rescind the action nullifying the election.

"This matter will continue for quite some time," he said.

Johnson was one of four councilmen who led the movement to oust Nuvamsa.

Harry Nutumya, who lost to Nuvamsa in the general election, originated the action item and Johnson said he "endorsed" the action item in order to bring it before the Tribal Council.

Johnson noted that there were a number of actions filed with the Hopi Court regarding Nuvamsa's residency, but that none of them were heard by the court.

"The court has not ruled on any of their appeals. They've been taking their time," he said.

The Hopi Tribal Council reviewed Nuvamsa's residency issue Feb. 5, but adjourned before taking any votes about his residency and the special election.

But this time the nullification vote passed by a 10-8 margin. Those voting for the nullification and to oust Nuvamsa were Leon Koruh, Jerry Sekayumptewa, Phillip Quochytewa, Cliff Qotsaquahu, David Fred Pecusa, Lyman Polacca, Alvin Chaca, Gary Hayah, Anna Silas and Caleb Johnson.

Those voting against the nullification were Nada Talayumptewa, Cedric Kywaninvaya, Anita Bahnimptewa, Alph Secakuku, DeAnn Shebala, Harry Seweyestewa, Kingston Honanie Sr. and Eugene Kaye.

Archie Dewahoyeoma, Jack Harding Jr. and Alene Garcia were absent and did not cast votes. Nuvamsa excused himself from the meeting during the vote and Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma Sr. can only vote in the event of a tie, which there was not.

Nuvamsa said the Hopi Tribal Council did not have the authority to nullify the elections.

"They exceeded their authority and showed blatant disregard for the vote of the Hopi and Tewa people," he said.

Johnson said the council has the authority to remove chairman and vice chairman as shown by removing Ivan Sidney as chairman and Elgean Joshevama and himself as vice chairman in recent years.

"The Hopi Tribal Council has tribal recognition by the federal government and can remove anybody according to the Hopi Constitution," he said.

Nuvamsa said by nullifying the vote that Hopi voters are less likely to vote in the future.

Johnson wasn't buying that argument. He said voters didn't stop voting when past chairmen or vice chairmen were removed from office.

"It's up to the individual to exercise his or her right to vote," he said.

Nuvamsa said he is compelled to take legal action and will be meeting with his attorneys to determine the proper legal action. He added that he was totally surprised by the action since the residency question had already been challenged on five separate occasions.

"Residency was never a question. This was decided by the election board," he said. "I'm still the chairman. That's my position and that of the Hopi voters."

Nuvamsa said since becoming chairman that the tribal government held a listening conference in Phoenix, identified lobbying issues to take to the federal government and won the Snowbowl case. He said the Snowbowl decision was already in the works, but he was there to represent the tribe.

Nuvamsa called the vote to nullify the elections "a total embarrassment again." He said the council members voting for the nullification showed a lack of integrity.

"This puts us in the national limelight in a bad way. We wanted to get beyond that. We were starting to do that," he said. "It's the people's whose rights have been violated. It's not about Ben Nuvamsa, but about the people's rights."

Johnson disagreed that the action by council is an embarrassment.

"It was a simple action by the Hopi Tribal Council after hearing the evidence. The evidence was clear that he did not live on Hopi for the past two years,"

Johnson said. "If he would have shown his driver's license it would have cleared it up, but he changed his license to Hopi residency the day before going to the Hopi Election Board."

Nuvamsa also felt the action was unfair to his five member staff who were instantly out of their jobs.

"The five people who joined our administration were knowledgeable and committed to my agenda for the Hopi people," he said. "That was not [even] considered by the council."

Johnson said when he was removed from office that he felt sorry for his staff.

"But they are political appointees. It's just the way it is. I had great sympathy for my staff, but I don't know his staff," he said.

Nuvamsa said the vote regarding his residency showed selective enforcement.

"It's to the point where it's harassment," he said.

Johnson again disagreed. "That's not true. He wants a different standard. All the other candidates met the standard. He's trying to be an exception," he said.

Johnson said this is "a crisis situation in the tribe's history," but he hopes interim Chairman Todd

Honyaoma Sr. will stabilize the tribe.

Johnson said when the chairman is removed, the vice chairman automatically becomes the interim chairman.

Johnson hopes Nuvamsa will let it go. Johnson said when he was removed from office that he considered taking the issue to court, but his attorneys told him he would be wasting his time and money.

"That's the best advice he (Nuvamsa) could take for himself, his family and others," Johnson said.

Johnson said if Nuvamsa stays on Hopi for the next two years that he could run in the next election.

Johnson added that if the Hopi Election Board was "awake" that it would have caught Nuvamsa's residency issue immediately.

"They really complicated the issue," he said.

Reaction from Dr. Alan Numkena

MOENKOPI-Dr. Alan Numkena stated that he was saddened by the Hopi Tribal Council's action removing Ben Nuvamsa as chairman.

Numkena, a Tuba City chiropractor, said it's a shame because the issue should have been resolved sooner. He said the Hopi Election Board should have resolved the issues before the election.

"The Hopi Election Board should have taken care of their duties," he said.

Numkena, who finished third in the primary race, said he isn't sure that the Hopi Tribal Council was making sure that the election guidelines were being followed.

"They should have made sure that everyone met the qualifications. I don't think there are any procedures to rectify what has happened," he said. "This is another black eye for the Hopi Tribe."

Numkena, who lives in Moenkopi, said the Hopi Tribe needs to adopt better procedures to deal with election problems.

Numkena emphasized that this shows that the Hopi Constitution needs to be revised, especially to separate the three branches of executive, administrative and judicial government.

"Now, the Chairman is at the will of the council," he said.

Three complaints about Nuvamsa's residency were filed with the Hopi Courts, but none have been heard.

Numkena said with the urgency at hand that the courts should have heard the issue in a timely manner.

Numkena said the proper act to take at this point is to hold the primary election again with all the candidates who entered except for Nuvamsa.

Since Numkena was one of the candidates to challenge Nuvamsa, he thinks it is proper that Nuvamsa was removed.

Nuvamsa reiterated that this shows the tribe needs to reorganize its election procedures, guidelines and ordinances in order to operate efficiently.

"It's vital that we improve our procedures," he said. "Right now we just go with our gut feeling and it may not be the right procedure."

Harold Joseph, who finished fourth in the primary race, said the Hopi Tribal Council made a careful decision.

"The Hopi Tribal Council did not make a snap decision. They looked at all the facts. I don't have all the facts, but they do," he said. "I support their decision."

Joseph, who is now serving as an educational consultant and working on his doctorate in higher education administration, said these facts may not have been available at an earlier time.

"We have laws and we need to follow them," he said.

Joseph declined to comment on whether the Hopi Election Board should have acted sooner.

Joseph, former chief of staff for former Chairman Ivan Sidney, said a lot of voters were turned off after the primary race because Nuvamsa was allowed to run despite questions about whether he met the residency requirements.

"All of the voters constitutional rights were violated because Nuvamsa did not meet the residency requirements," Joseph said. "I support the Hopi Tribal Council's decision and believe this will start the process for healing for all Hopi people."

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