Hopi group files lawsuit contesting chairman's authority over villages

MISHONGNOVI, Ariz. - A lawsuit has been filed in Hopi Tribal Court that will test the heavily debated section of the Hopi Constitution, Article III, Section 3 that cites, "Each village shall decide for itself how it shall be organized."

The lawsuit, filed by a group in Mishongnovi, will determine how much authority the Hopi Chairman and his council has in influencing local internal village affairs.

Citing Hopi traditional organization and their physical removal from the Mishongnovi village office during a confidential meeting between them and their attorney Robert Fillerup, the group is asserting that their Hopi Constitutional rights were violated by the Chairman, Vice Chairman and Council for "interfering with an internal village matter" and also violating "the right of a Hopi village to be a self-governing village," according to court documents filed by attorneys Erin Byrnes and Robert C. Fillerup of Orem, Utah.

The group and its supporters have filed suit against Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa, Vice Chairman Herman Honanie, members of Hopi Council, chief staffer Curtis Honanie, members of the interim Mishongnovi board, Howard Dennis and Ernest Honyaktewa, Chief Tribal Ranger William Vicente and rangers Bennett Chatter, Leon Beatty, Neva Talayumptewa and Marcus Yowytewa who physically enforced the resolution order on Jan. 13.

The suit alleges that the Hopi Council, along with Chairman Shingoitewa and Vice Chairman Honanie, unlawfully recognized the interim board even though the interim Mishongnovi village leader, Archie Duwahoyeoma, has repeatedly affirmed that their village is a "traditionally organized village." Duwahoyeoma contends their current Cultural Preservation Board should be the recognized governing authority and that his authority as kikmongwi is derived from the current Hopi constitution, Article III, Section 3, which allows him to succeed Vernon Sieweyumptewa, the formerly recognized leader for Mishongnovi who is now deceased.

A letter that was presented to the Hopi Council in November 2010 by Howard Dennis requested that the Hopi Council take the following actions:

• To close the Mishongnovi CSA offices.

• To refuse to recognize the Cultural Preservation Board as the villages governing body.

• To refuse to recognize Leon Koruh or Jerry Sekayumptewa as representatives in any capacity for members of their village.

• To refuse to listen to members of what the interim board referred to as the "Silent Majority."

• To require a complete accounting of all village monies controlled by the Cultural Preservation Board.

Dennis' letter sought intervention because he felt that "monies were being grossly misused."

However, since the original resolution H-135-2000 was brought to the Hopi Council, the Village of Mishongnovi has not controlled its own finances.

Instead, all Mishongnovi village funds have been maintained and administered by the Hopi Tribe's finance department. Duwahoyeoma stated, "If any financial misconduct occurred, then Dennis must look to the Hopi Tribe itself and its finance director for answers."

A new Hopi Council resolution was passed in January 2011, supporting Dennis and the interim board that closed the Mishongnovi office doors and secured all records and equipment that was housed there with the use of physical force.

Files including both paper records and computer hard drives were removed from the office and to date, no one knows what happened to this property or where it was taken.

Relief sought from Duwahoyeoma and his group include a formal recognition from Hopi Tribal courts through the Chairman, Vice Chairman and Council that the village of Mishongnovi is considered to be a traditional Hopi organization according to Article III, Section 3 of the Hopi Constitution; that Archie Duwahoyeoma be recognized as the kikmongwi; and that the Mishongnovi Cultural Preservation Board be recognized as the governing entity for their village.

Duwahoyeoma is also requesting occupancy of their village office, a judgment declaring that the Hopi Tribal Rangers exceeded their scope of authority and should be held personally liable for their actions, and that the Hopi Council and its officers be held personally liable for interfering with an internal village matter as well as personal and attorney fee compensation.

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