Hopi Tribal Constitution Election drawing near

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - On Dec. 28, the registration for the Hopi Constitution ended. Many people await the outcome of the historic election. There have been skeptics of the Constitution, but according to a public document that was distributed by the Hopi Tribe for review of Draft 24A, there are benefits to the Hopi people. The current Constitution adopted in 1936 is in need of a restructuring since some of recent events in the Tribal Council may have been exacerbated by a Constitution without any checks and balance.

"For so many years we are trying to govern ourselves as a tribe. Hopis' lives have changed in 76 years. We are no longer where we were then, changes happen. When something is no longer working it needs to be updated, much like the annual renewal of prayer feathers in our homes. The instrument used to govern ourselves needs to go through the same process. In 76 years, the 1936 Constitution has only been updated a few times in its lifetime. Because of changes in the Hopi lifestyle it needs to be updated completely," said Marlene Sekaquaptewa, Bacavi village representative.

Sekaquaptewa also serves on the Constitutional Task Team.

Some of the changes include adding the villages as a fourth branch of the government, which will expand the villages' powers. Some of the reserved powers would be to appoint guardians; regulate family disputes; govern all village lands as opposed to just farming lands; and the ability to decide village membership while continuing to be able to establish their own governments.

According to Draft 24A, in the current Constitution, setting up a village government involves BIA involvement throughout the process. In the new Constitution, everything is decided by the people of the village through an election. Currently villages' powers are limited to "farming lands" only. Draft 24A will expand that to all village lands.

"We have the BIA overlooking everything and we have to go to someone to get permission. Why do we have to do that? We know what is best about for our land," said Sekaquaptewa. "By having an equal number of council reps, no one community can make decisions for all Hopi villages by having more reps from their community."

Council members will be limited to two per village and will no longer involve the kikmongwi or traditional village leader in the selection process. This eliminates the kikmongwi from the political process and restores his traditional role in the village. This has been a source of dispute in villages regarding certification of council members in the past.

"The representatives from the traditional systems of governments requested to leave the kikmongwi out of the Constitution in order to preserve the religious practices and restore their traditional roles," said Sekaquaptewa.

The new constitution establishes a Bill of Rights that is currently not included in the old Constitution. Currently civil rights are limited to "equal opportunities to share economic resources and activities" and "freedom to worship in their own way, speak, and write their own opinion." The current Constitution establishes a Bill of Rights much like the United States Bill of Rights, according to Draft 24A.

Other key points are that the new constitution gives "jurisdiction on all Hopi lands" as opposed to only village lands. BIA and state government are listed 50 times in the old Constitution. The new Constitution references to BIA and state are deleted. The ultimate source of power is the tribe, not the BIA, while in the old Constitution the tribe has powers "delegated by the BIA."

Some of the changes in the new Constitution include eliminating "executive sessions" in the tribal council. The two council members per village provide equal representation in the government. Villages will still decide if they will elect a council member.

One major overhaul in the legislative process is that legislative proposals are introduced as written bills, much like a traditional government. Currently council has "the power to adopt resolutions providing the way in which the Tribal Council itself shall do its business" with no legislative process. According to Draft 24A, the new Constitution is designed like a government with Legislative Sessions, Committee Hearings, Speaker of the Council and a President. There is also an opportunity for the public to discuss proposed laws and budgets with their village representatives.

Villages will also settle disputes through a neutral third party without involvement from the BIA or Tribal Council with appeals that can be taken to the Court of Appeals.

According to Draft 24A, the 1936 Constitution "has no separation of branches of government." The courts and all of the judges may be established and appointed by the Council, not the Constitution. The 1936 Constitution does not establish or create a court system. The new Constitution will establish criteria for selecting judges in which the villages will have the ability to participate in. One person will be selected by each village to sit on a Judicial Nominating Panel with power to nominate judges.

Villages will also settle disputes through a neutral third party without involvement from the BIA or Tribal Council with appeals that can be taken to the Court of Appeals.

According to Draft 24A, the 1936 Constitution "has no separation of branches of government." The courts and all of the judges may be established and appointed by the Council, not the Constitution. The 1936 Constitution does not establish or create a court system. The new Constitution will establish criteria for selecting judges in which the villages will have the ability to participate in. One person will be selected by each village to sit on a Judicial Nominating Panel with power to nominate judges. In the new Constitution there will now be a judicial branch equal to the other branches of government.

"The main focus was separation of powers so no one entity can overpower another branch. It makes for a better government system; every branch has their own responsibilities," said Sekaquaptewa.

First Mesa Consolidated village, which is now one entity, will be recognized as three separate villages with its own representatives.

"First Mesa villages wanted their own representatives with the new Constitution they get their own autonomy," said Sekaquaptewa.

Opponents of the Draft 24A are concerned with the "aboriginal sovereignty" of the villages; however, with a ruling by the Hopi Appellate Court last year, the court upheld the villages' "aboriginal sovereignty."

"The village powers will be expanded and nothing has changed in the way villages can decide how to govern themselves in the new Constitution. Everything is still the same," said Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa.

"The aboriginal sovereignty decision was made by the highest court in Hopi and can only be taken away if the people decide. The ruling reaffirmed the self-governing aboriginal autonomy of the village of Bacavi. The decision was handed down by the court system. Even non-Hopis on the court understood this sovereignty," said Sekaquaptewa. "The new Constitution is to protect the culture, tradition and language of the Hopi people and was meant to protect the Hopi people's culture."

The election will be held Jan. 27. Approximately 1,400 Hopi citizens are registered to vote.

For more information or a Draft 24A document, call (928) 734-3161 or e-mail alkewenvoyouma@hopi.nsn.us.

Comments

Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.