Legal action could reinstate Nuvamsa as Hopi Chairman

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. (left) congratulates newly inagurated Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa during inauguration ceremonies held March 21. The Hopi Tribal Council removed Nuvamsa from office a week later on March 28 after nullifying results from both the primary and general elections held earlier this year (Photo by Rebecca Schubert/Observer).

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. (left) congratulates newly inagurated Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa during inauguration ceremonies held March 21. The Hopi Tribal Council removed Nuvamsa from office a week later on March 28 after nullifying results from both the primary and general elections held earlier this year (Photo by Rebecca Schubert/Observer).

Editor's note: As of press time, no details regarding the Hopi Tribal Council's special session were available for publication.

KYKOTSMOVI-Ben Nuvamsa could soon regain his chairman's post with the Hopi Tribe.

The Hopi Tribal Council met on Monday, April 9 to consider rescinding its March 28 motion to nullify the primary and general election. The nullifying of those elections unseated Nuvamsa as chairman.

On March 28, the council voted to nullify the primary and general election after debating whether Nuvamsa had met the two-year residency requirement.

Nuvamsa called the Hopi Tribal Council's action "illegal" and said the council did not have the authority to nullify the election results.

The Hopi Tribal Council initially voted 10-8 to nullify the primary and general election, but since that time, Jerry Sekayumptewa Sr. was removed as council representative for Mishongnovi and Councilwoman Anna Mae Silas said she would change her vote.

More than 100 letters have been sent to the Hopi Tribal Council protesting their nullification of the special primary and general elections.

The session on Monday was scheduled to decide whether the tribe should hold another special election or whether they should wait until the next election. But since the nullification of the special elections essentially unseated Nuvamsa, there has been a movement calling for the Hopi Tribal Council to rescind their action.

Nuvamsa's attorney filed an injunction in Hopi Tribal Court calling for the council to rescind their decision.

Hopi Councilman Alph Secakuku said legal counsel would be at the Monday meeting to inform the council whether or not their nullification of the elections went past their authority. Secakuku said it was likely that the action to nullify the elections would be overturned at that time.

Secakuku, who voted against the nullification of the special elections, said the Council overstepped its authority because it was in violation of Ordinance 34. He said this ordinance calls for any challenges to go to the Hopi Election Board and the Hopi Court.

"The Hopi Tribal Council [makes] the laws, but the court is there to interpret the laws," he said. "The Hopi Tribal Council should not interfere with any Tribal Council elections."

Secakuku said if the Council wanted to have the authority to overturn the elections that they should have put it in Ordinance 34 when it was amended in 1996.

Secakuku added the Tribal Council has no authority to nullify elections or unseat the chairman without cause. Though the Council nullified the elections, they did not remove Nuvamsa for cause. Secakuku noted that the Tribal Council has the right to remove for cause, but did not do that in this instance.

"The Council [instead] nullified the right of the people to vote," Nuvamsa said.

Secakuku said the Tribal Council has received more than 100 letters stating that they "goofed" by nullifying the elections. He added the Hopi Election Board followed the law and did their best under the circumstances.

"They reviewed the material and Ben produced the required documents," he said.

Secakuku said he believes Nuvamsa will make a good chairman. "He's knowledgeable, he's experienced in administration and he's been around the block."

Councilwoman Silas, who represents Tewa Village, initially voted for the nullification of the election, but six Tewa Village Board members wrote her a letter stating that the nullification of the election violated the civil rights of the voters and instructed her to rescind her vote.

Councilwoman Silas said she wants to rescind her vote in order to stand by her people. She added that she wanted to vote on the residency issue and not nullify the election.

But Silas said the residency issue was being blown out of proportion.

"He (Nuvamsa) has rights. He was born in Shungopavi and he has family here. They're making a big issue of [his residency] and they're making too big of an issue of that," she said.

Silas noted that there are only about 18 months until the next election. "So hopefully this will come out in Ben's favor," she said.

Silas said a lot of the council members did not understand that their vote was about nullifying the election.

Hopi Tribal Councilman Cliff Qotsaquahu did not agree, as he believes the Council acted properly and continued to produce documentation that Nuvamsa did not meet the two-year residency requirement.

Jerry Sekayumptewa Sr., who voted to nullify the election results, was removed from his Council job by Mishongnovi Kikmongwi Vernon Sieweyumptewa. Sieweyumptewa, who had appointed Sekayumptewa, wrote a letter to the Council removing Sekayumptewa because he did not feel Sekayumptewa was voting in the best interests of his village.

In the letter, Sieweyumptewa stated that there were complaints from Hopi and Tewa people regarding Sekayumptewa's conduct with the general public. The letter said that Sekayumptewa voted only for his own personal benefit and not for the people he is supposed to represent.

The letter criticized Sekayumptewa for not attending Mishongnovi Village meetings, for voting against a Lower Moenkopi budget item and for his vote on the nullification of the primary and general special elections.

The letter states that his vote for the nullification of the elections robbed the voters of their right to vote as protected by the Indian Civil Rights Act.

Sekayumptewa has not yet been replaced on Council and had not returned any phone calls.

Comments

Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.