KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - Last week, Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa formally requested that the appointed Tribal Council representatives from the villages of Mishongnovi and First Mesa step down from their council seats at the request of their respective village membership. He was strongly supported by Vice Chairman Herman Honanie.
Shingoitewa opened the second quarter meeting of the Hopi Tribal Council by acknowledging the "final opinion" from the Hopi Appellate Court and with letters sent from Sichomovi, Tewa and Mishongnovi villages. Shingoitewa was very specific that neither he, Honanie or the Hopi Tribal Council had made this ruling, but that the Hopi Appellate Court had, and that as Chairman, he fully intended to comply with both the ruling and the Hopi Constitution.
Shingoitewa stated to the embattled Council members, "I ask you to go back to your villages. It is not up to the council to make decisions for the villages. It has to be the village, as a whole, to decide. It is up to the representatives of those villages to ... work this out."
Shingoitewa also reminded the Council that this decision from the Appellate Court came as a result of the Tribal Council, because it was the Council who didn't allow the village of Bacavi to exercise their authority to remove their Council representatives. The issue at question was the process in which a council representative is selected and whether a village has the authority to remove or recall a Council representative, if the village so chooses.
In all, Shingoitewa asked the Council representatives five separate times to step down, but all refused to do so. After the final request, Dale Sinquah, representing First Mesa, turned to face Hopi community members in attendance and stated, "I will not step down."
He later added, "Right now, you have the court ruling and you are under a lot of public pressure to do what the grassroots community is saying you should do. But at some point, [these] the same people are going to be against you, too, for something ..."
The representatives asked to step down include Archie Duwahoyouma, Emma Anderson, Leon Koruh and Owen Numkena Jr. from Mishongnovi and Sinquah, Celestino Youvella, Alvin Chaca and Leroy Lewis from First Mesa.
The representatives who were asked to step down refused to comply, which prompted the Chairman to call a recess until March 22, stating, "If [you] do not bring [in] some type of documentation that [you] have met with their respective villages and gotten their formal endorsement to serve as their representative ..., then I will have no choice but to not recognize [you] as part of the Council. You as a Council last year, established the new appellate court and agreed to abide by whatever final decision would come from it regarding this issue."
Shingoitewa then suspended the eight Council members, stating that they were no longer authorized to travel or act in the capacity of a Tribal Council representative or represent the Hopi Tribe in any manner until further notice.
In refusing to step down, several representatives stated that this was an unwarranted change in government. Sinquah stated, "Government in the hands of the grassroots people is not good."
Later that same day, Hopi Council Secretary Mary Felter was reportedly attempting to arrange a special meeting for March 2, in deliberate violation of Chairman Shingoitewa's earlier suspension of the eight Council representatives.
Felter herself has been under scrutiny for some time, as she does not possess any executive authority to call a special meeting according to the Hopi Constitution. She was accused of insubordination and neglect of duty by several Council members in a letter written to the Hopi Council on March 4. The letter demanded Felter's immediate removal from her position effective at 5 p.m. on March 24.
A public meeting was held March 4 at the Tewa Administrative building in Polacca so that Chairman Shingoitewa could share materials and information on what the Appellate Court's final ruling means to the local community, what authorities it supports in the villages and also to update Hopi and Tewa tribal members on what is currently happening at the Hopi Council executive level.
Former Chairman Ben Nuvamsa expressed some disappointment at Chairman Shingoitewa's actions.
"It's unfortunate that those who are illegally sitting on council were not removed automatically on March 1. The villages have already spoken - they held their village elections, they argued and won their case in Hopi court. What more will villages and the Hopi people have to do? The tribal constitution is clear. The kikmongwit do not have authority to appoint [council representatives] and the tribe's highest court just validated that provision. As tribal leaders, we ... have to abide by the Hopi Constitution and follow the Rule of Law," Nuvamsa said.
Sam Shingoitewa Jr., staff member and policy analyst for Chairman Shingoitewa stated, "I am hoping that the Hopi and Tewa community understands what we are trying to do right now ... to stabilize our tribal government. I encourage each village to work on their own village constitution and by-laws ... Even though this ... political turmoil has been very stressful for our tribal members, we should see this as a really good opportunity for change [and] a chance for us to make some drastic improvements for our own Hopi people and villages."
The villages of First Mesa have had elections, but the elected representatives were removed by a village leader and replaced with appointed representatives, which has been contested by the village members. The village of Mishongnovi also had elections for representatives at one time, but has since not been allowed to hold elections by their village leader, which has also been contested by the village members.
A series of public meetings will be scheduled soon. For more information, call the Hopi Chairman's Office at (928) 734-3102 or 3112.
(Editor's note: Bonnie Secakuku and Rosanda Suetopka Thayer contributed to this report.)