KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - Three Hopi Tribal Council members from Sipaulovi were removed from their seats last Wednesday, just one month after they were sworn into office.
The move came in response to a letter and testimony from Gerald Numkena, who said he is the Sipaulovi leader and that he did not certify Alph Secakuku, George Mase and Cedric Kuwaninvaya to represent the village.
Numkena said Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa's seating of the trio - Mase and Secakuku on Dec. 14, and Kuwaninvaya on Jan. 4 - was a "deliberate intrusion into our village matters, including actions against my position as the ordained Bear Clan Leader of Sipaulovi Village" and was a "gross violation of the Constitution and By-Laws of the Hopi Tribe and our traditional form of government."
Council members also learned on Wednesday that an attorney for Secakuku, Mase and Kuwaninvaya had filed a civil complaint the day before in Hopi Tribal Court against Numkena and his spokesman, Dennis Koeyahongva.
Attorney Gary LaRance asked the court to declare Lorena Charles the village leader and that Secakuku, Mase and Kuwaninvaya are lawfully elected and certified council representatives. LaRance said in a letter to the council that if the council recognized Numkena as the leader of Sipaulovi Village and acted to remove the three council members, he had been retained to file a civil lawsuit against the council.
Council members agree that the selection of village leaders is a village matter. They disagree as to who the leader is - Numkena or Charles.
This is not the first time the question has come up. To deal with it, the council in 2008 passed a resolution. It said, in part, "Representatives shall be recognized by the council only if they are certified by the kikmongwi [traditional village chief] of their respective villages." The council at the time recognized Numkena as the leader at Sipaulovi. It is that resolution (H-074-2008) that several council members pointed to Wednesday, saying it should be the guide for how to proceed.
"It (the 2008 resolution) is a living document. The item identifies who is the leader. [It] is the law of the land and the council should follow it," said Council member Leroy Lewis.
Scott Canty, the tribe's general counsel, told council members that based on the documents submitted by Numkena and LaRance, there is some question as to whether the three Sipaulovi representatives had been seated properly.
"The underlying question is have they been property certified by the religious leader," Canty said. "That is up to you (the council)... It's a serious question." He added that the council "should not be hindered in its decision" by the threatened lawsuit.
He also noted that the council already had taken a position on who the Sipaulovi leader is in 2008, and that the Hopi Constitution says it is up to the Tribal Council to recognize council representatives if they are certified by the kikmongwi.
Mase said he believes the resolution contains some contradictions, and that since it was passed the village has sent two letters to the council stating that Charles is the official leader. Secakuku agreed, saying "It is not up to the Tribal Council to decide for a village who the leader should be," and that he believes the council overstepped its bounds in making the resolution and that it should be rescinded.
Numkena had sent a letter to the council Dec. 31 outlining his concerns about how the Sipaulovi representatives came to be seated. Council members voted last week to allow him time to speak to them on Wednesday. A number of council members said that they wanted to take action after Numkena's presentation.
"This session was to hear Gerald Numkena. Now we have come to a point where we have to do something," said Council member Leon Koruh.
Council member Dale Sinquah agreed, saying, "It's the responsibility of the council" to entertain motions if members want to do so. "We'll decide," he said. "If we don't get the votes, we don't. You can certainly make a motion during a meeting." He had said previously that he believed the chairman overstepped his authority in seating the three council members while there was conflict in the village over who the village leader is.
Canty said there was no prohibition against making motions and voting on them without an "action item" on the agenda.
In his letter, Numkena expressed "great disappointment" in Shingoitewa for seating the Sipaulovi council members.
"The Constitution is absolutely clear that the chairman has no authority to determine the rightful leadership of a village, solely acknowledge certification and administer the oath of office," Numkena said.
He said the election of Kuwaninvaya Dec. 22 was illegal, and said the Tribal Council should "immediately acknowledge my directive and enforce any actions against the chairman for violating the Constitution."
The primary reason for him not certifying any council representatives from Sipaulovi, Numkena said, is that he wants "politically motivated unrest" to subside, and "respect, peace and harmony" restored.
In the letter, Numkena states that his appointment and confirmation as leader "was executed by the Sipaulovi Bear Clan and confirmed by the Shungopavi religious leaders, which was confirmed in a letter written to the Hopi Tribal Council and was read into record."
Among other things, he urged the council to:
Immediately remove Mase and Secakuku from their council seats.
Immediately suspend Shingoitewa and his staff for violating the constitution, and discuss the need for a special prosecutor to handle the case.
Immediately remove the chairman's authority to represent the tribe during the suspension.
Investigate all tribal representatives to determine whether they have violated their oath to uphold the Hopi Constitution.
Not recognize the election of Kuwaninvaya.
Direct the chairman to provide in writing references to the legal authority that he acted under to take the actions regarding the Sipaulovi representatives.
Conduct an audit of Sipaulovi Village funds, starting with fiscal year 2006, and withhold further use of all funds allocated to the village until the audit is completed.
Shingoitewa said he and Numkena had agreed to get together soon and talk.
The council vote on upholding the 2008 resolution, as well as having the three Sipaulovi representatives step down, was 10-7, with four abstentions and two council members absent.