Letter: Hopi Tribe must now strive to heal

To the editor,

On the 29th of December, in a special session, the Hopi Tribal Council approved two Action Items, 004‑2008 and 007‑2009.

[Action Item] 004‑2008 set the 29th of January for a hearing before the Tribal Council "to determine whether Hopi Tribal Council Chairman Benjamin H. Nuvamsa has engaged in serious neglect of duty under Article V, Section 2 of the Constitution and By‑Laws of the Hopi Tribe and whether Chairman Nuvamsa should be removed from office." Representative Phillip R. Quochytewa Sr. made the motion to approve and, the vote was 11 for, 6 against and 1 abstained.

[Action Item] 007‑2009 established an orderly policy to continue business of the Tribal Council and to provide an orderly process in the day to day administrative business of the Hopi Tribal Government. The reason given was the fact that both the Chairman and Vice Chairman had resigned effective Dec. 31, 2008.

In my opinion, by approving these two Action Items, the Hopi Tribal Council failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to begin the healing process of the Hopi Tribe. Instead, the members of the Tribal Council have now guaranteed another year of conflict between the Tribal Council and the members of the Hopi Tribe.

In my opinion, the approval of [Action Item] 004‑2008 was clearly a vindictive and a vengeful act taken by 11 Council representatives because Mr. Nuvamsa [would] no longer be in office after Dec. 31, but will be an ordinary member of the Hopi Tribe. To spend $15,000 on a hearing before an empty chair makes no sense. This can only bring more embarrassment to the Hopi Tribe and will accomplish nothing worthwhile.

The approval of [Action Item] 007‑2009 is a more serious matter. In my opinion this is an unconstitutional act. The Hopi Tribal Constitution specifies in its By‑Laws, Article I, Section 1 "that the Chairman shall preside over all meetings of the Tribal Council" and in the absence of the Chairman, the Vice Chairman shall act as Chairman with all the attendant powers and duties. The key words in Section 1 are "shall" and "all."

[Action Item] 007‑2009 conflicts directly with these provision cited above because it provides that "in accordance with past practices and precedent of the Hopi Tribal council, the Hopi Tribal Council hereby provides for the selection of a presiding officer from among the members of the Tribal Council on a rotating basis."

This is a clear attempt to amend the Hopi Tribal Constitution without a Referendum by the members of the Hopi Tribe - a right guaranteed by the Constitution so that the members of the Tribe will elect their own Chairman and Vice Chairman.

Historically, the Hopi Tribal Constitution and its By-Laws was approved by the Commissioner Of Indian Affairs on Dec. 19, 1936. This Constitution provided that the Council elect a Chairman from among its members. On Aug. 1, 1969, the Assistant Secretary of Interior approved an amendment to the Constitution which specified that the members of the Hopi Tribe elect a Chairman and a Vice Chairman. Therefore, this amendment took away the powers of the Tribal Council to elect from its members a Chairman and Vice Chairman. Therefore, no pro‑tem presiding officer has the authority to preside over the Tribal Council sessions and sign documents which [Action Item] 007‑2009 delegates to this presiding officer and Secretary of the Tribal Council. This would be absolutely illegal and must not be honored by the federal government.

In fact, by approving [Action Item] 007-2009, the 15 Council representatives may have violated the Constitutional provisions cited above. If I am correct, they have now opened themselves to the charge of a serious neglect of duty specified in Article V, Section 2 of the Hopi Tribal Constitution.

Article V, Section 3 provides that "vacancies occurring for any reason in the offices of Chairman and Vice Chairman or in the office of any other officer shall be filled for the rest of the term in the same manner as those officers are originally chosen."

There is no question that this Constitutional provision provides the authority for the Election Board of the Tribe to set a date for the election of a Chairman and Vice Chairman and they should do so immediately. The $15,000 provided in [Action Item] 004‑2008 should be diverted to the Election Board to pay for the expense of this special election. This would be my recommendation.

Finally, it was indeed an honorable act of compassion for the welfare of their family members and for the Hopi tribal members, that Mr. Benjamin H. Nuvamsa, Chairman and Mr. Todd Honyaoma Sr., Vice Chairman both decided to resign on December 31. I wish them God-speed as they and their families go forth into 2009.

Caleb Johnson

Kykotsmovi, Ariz.


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