Hopi court rules villages can remove tribal reps

Appellate court renders decision in favor of whole membership

The over year-long awaited answer to a question posed by the village of Bacavi, Hopi Tribe in January 2008 to the Hopi Tribal Appellate Court, Appellate Case No. 2008-AP-0001, "Certified Question of Law in the Matter of Village Authority to Remove Tribal Council Representatives," was issued to the Hopi public on Feb. 11.

A unanimous decision arrived by all three of the Hopi Appellate Court judges, Chief Justice Anna M. Atencio and Associate Justices Paul S. Berman and Robert N. Clinton determined, "The court finds that, under both the (Hopi) Constitution and Hopi custom and tradition, the Hopi and Tewa villages, regardless of their form of government, have authority to remove, recall or decertify their duly certified Tribal Council representatives during their term of office by whatever process the Village selects and that Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution governs both selection and removal, recall, or decertification of Tribal Council representatives."

This final Hopi Appellate Court decision further clarified this constitutional removal, recall or decertification, "The power rests with the Village as a whole. Under Article IV, the Village, not the Kikmongwi, make that decision ..."

The decision further stated, "The Kikmongwi only performs a certifying role attesting to the propriety and results of the selection process. Should any Village actually decide it wants the Kikmongwi to either directly select or remove its Tribal Council Representative that is the Villages' right, but that choice of selection or removal process must be made by the Village, not the Kikmongwi acting alone. "

"Furthermore, 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. The Villages delegated limited power to the central Hopi government."

In addition, "Only a Village, not the Tribal Council, can reinstate a council representative. The Tribal Council lacks the authority to reseat or recognize a Tribal Council Representative removed, or recalled or decertified by a Village unless and until a Village itself informs the Tribal Council, through its Kikmongwi or otherwise that it has under its own process reselected the previously removed Tribal Council representative."

This answer to the Bacavi Village question has been at the center point of a year-long power struggle that allowed a select group of current Hopi Council members to restructure their tightly held council majority, petition and change internal budget controls and expenditures, hire and fire varied employees who opposed their leadership plans, determine how and when a formal entire tribal election was held and allowed the passage of over 100 tribal resolutions and action items that created a "presiding officer" and an "interim Chief Executive Officer." This also allowed the Council to limit the executive privilege and authority of the current, newly elected Hopi Tribal executive officers.

Many Hopi and Tewa community members feel that the next formal Hopi Tribal Council meeting, which is slated for March 1 at the Hopi Council Chambers in Kykotsmovi, will be a "showdown" of sorts.

In the past two weeks, both Hopi and Tewa community members in two separate community petitions have "mandated" new Hopi Tribal Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa and Vice Chairman Herman Honanie, to uphold and follow the Hopi Constitution and also to exercise their executive authority by enforcing the recent Hopi Appellate Court Feb. 11 decision by removing eight current Hopi council members from First Mesa (four) and Mishongnovi Village (four) who were "appointed" and not "elected by the Village whole."

Campaign promises were made by both Shingoitewa and Honanie that they would follow the Hopi constitution to the letter and that they would hold anyone who didn't follow suit, "accountable."

Hopis and Tewas are now saying it's time for Shingoitewa and Honanie to start making good on those public promises and showing their own honesty and integrity to their people.

A second mandate in the latest community petition is to put on formal tribal record, that eight council members were not "elected by the whole," that their individual village leaders, James Tewaguna (First Mesa) and Vernon Sieweyumptewa (Mishongnovi) who certified the eight's participation in Hopi Council, "Have clearly violated the Hopi Constitution" and "acted alone" in their authority to certify these eight appointed representatives."

In all, there are five mandates in the second public community petition including the request for an immediate reinstatement of the "duly elected village representatives from Sipaulovi "who were removed illegally according to the final Hopi Appellate decision, last month.

One of the final mandates in the second community petition is the demand by the Hopi and Tewa signers, for the immediate removal of current Hopi General Counsel Scott Canty, for "serious breach of contract." It also demands that Canty be subjected to "an immediate tribal and federal investigation as well as a formal complaint filed with the Arizona State Bar Association on behalf of the Hopi and Tewa People."

Quoting from the petition, "Our eyes will be on you," the Hopi and Tewa people have made it plain to the new Hopi Chairman and his Vice Chairman, that they will be at the March 1 meeting to see if their constitution will be taken seriously and if the recently, newly appointed Hopi Appellate Court decision will be upheld.

March 1 is the next Hopi Tribal Council meeting in Kykotsmovi. It most likely will be a standing room only event.

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