KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - It was a day of election participation that most Hopis saw as life changing. They were voting to make a difference in the way their lives would be governed and how their traditional beliefs could still stay strong and most of all, to be able to continue on with what makes them one of the most unique of all tribal people - to be truly Hopi with all of their inherent aboriginal rights intact.
The Hopi Constitution Draft 24A lost in a vote count on Thursday night at Hopi Council Chambers in a final count of 656 voting no and 410 voting yes. Draft 24A was strongly supported by current Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa and his interim attorney, Robert Lyttle. Lyttle had drafted similar constitutions for six other tribal reservations in the past 10 years.
The no votes consisted of 61.5 percent of the total final count, outnumbering the yes votes, which were at 38.4 percent. The absentee ballots in this election alone numbered 468. A total of registered absentee voting list numbered 652 possible, if all who registered absentee had participated.
Draft 24A sought to move the current unicameral government system that has majority powers resting in the Hopi Council into a system that would have created four new branches including one titled "villages."
The draft also would have removed any references to a traditionally recognized leader, now phrased in the current constitution as the "kikmongwi," who is required to "certify" its village representatives to be able to sit on and participate in the Hopi Council.
The audience of only 13 community members were the only witnesses to the actual ballot counting at Hopi Council Chambers in a major constitution election that could have changed every single Hopi and Tewa members' lives for the next several generations.
Of the absentee ballots, seven were returned by the US Postal Service in what a BIA representative said were "undeliverable status." Six of these absentee ballots came back "unsigned" without the required voter signature on the outside of the envelope. As a result, these absentee ballots had to be tossed out, without being counted.
By 7:20 p.m. Thursday night, 71 percent of the total votes had already been verified by phone from each of the 12 village or community precincts with a count by then of 188 yes and 410 no votes.
Ben Nuvamsa, one of the most vocal and adamant opposers of the draft, was extremely pleased with the outcome of the election
"Let this be a lesson that we must choose our leaders wisely. We are Hopi. Our elected leaders must understand and respect our Hopi traditional ways. Our 1936 Constitution reflects who we are as Hopi and Tewa Sinom. It respects our village inherent powers. It's a living document that is meant to preserve and protect our sovereignty," said Nuvamsa. "I am glad our Hopi and Tewa people spoke up against this atrocity. This was a dangerous non-Hopi proposal created by a non-Hopi attorney that would have created irreparable harm to our people. Now let us work together in the spirit of cooperation and make sensible, inclusive and positive changes to our old constitution."
Larry Hamana, tribal advocate and one of three principal organizers against Draft 24A, joined with Nuvamsa in their joint lawsuit to stop the election. Hamana said he was happy with the no vote win.
"Voters of the Hopi Tribe have risen to the occasion to beat Draft 24A. The Hopi Tribal Council, Hopi Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa, attorney Robert Lyttle and their supporters, attempted in every way to sway our Hopi and Tewa people to vote on this 'copy cat' ill-conceived draft," said Hamana. "The votes of the grassroots community against it, epitomize a dauntless landmark victory of our villages and people. Now that Draft 24A has been eradicated, we can start anew by revisiting the 1936 Constitution to improve and strengthen its content where needed."
"Our next task is to rid ourselves of Lyttle and Hopi Tribal Protem Judge Albert Flores, who directly imposed social injustice onto our people by supporting Chairman Shingoitewa against protecting the villages' 'inherent aboriginal sovereign and self-governing powers,'" Hamana said. "This removal can be accomplished by exercising Article VI, Section 1(e) of our existing Constitution, which reads verbatim, 'to provide an ordinance for removal or exclusion from the jurisdiction of any non-members whose presence may be harmful to members of the tribe.'"