Hopi Governance Workshop addresses power of villages under Constitution

Hopi constitution preserves traditional life while providing a way to organize and deal with modern problems

Former Hopi Chairman and CEO of Kiva Institute Ben Nuvamsa (left) along with attorney and former Hopi Tribal Chief Judge Gary LaRance conduct a workshop Oct. 12 in Tewa Village on the basics of Hopi government and an in-depth look at the Hopi Constitution. Photo Rosanda Suetopka Thayer

Former Hopi Chairman and CEO of Kiva Institute Ben Nuvamsa (left) along with attorney and former Hopi Tribal Chief Judge Gary LaRance conduct a workshop Oct. 12 in Tewa Village on the basics of Hopi government and an in-depth look at the Hopi Constitution. Photo Rosanda Suetopka Thayer

TEWA VILLAGE, Ariz. - Ben Nuvamsa, CEO of Kiva Institute and former Hopi Tribal Chairman, and Gary LaRance, attorney and former Hopi Tribal Chief Judge, conducted a workshop Oct. 12 in Tewa Village focused on the power of individual villages under the Hopi Constitution.

Nuvamsa and LaRance offer all Hopi villages and communities the unique opportunity to learn and fully understand how "powerful" their individual villages are and what authorities each village has "only delegated" to the Hopi tribal central government and the tribal chairman. These powers are very limited according to the Hopi tribal constitution, which has been in full effect since 1936.

The first Hopi presentation was held at Tewa Village two weeks ago and on Oct. 12 a second workshop was held at Hotevilla Youth and Elderly building from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. A full question and answer period helped to clarify authority issues specific to each individual village.

The Nuvamsa-LaRance public workshops are for all Hopi community members and not reserved only for each village. Organizers encourage everyone to attend and learn about their Hopi governmental policies, particularly Hopi students. The workshop itself is like "Hopi Civics 101" and is extremely important and necessary to understand how and why the Hopi central government works the way it does.

The workshops focus on the Hopi Constitution, its origins, its relationship to the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA-Wheeler Howard Act), the history of the Hopi constitution and its formation and passage and what the constitution means to the Hopi villages.

The workshops feature in-depth analysis of Hopi village traditional powers, village rights and powers, village roles, functions and responsibilities in relationship to Village Boards of Directors, and a special section on the 2010 Hopi Appellate Court's Final Answer to Bacavi Villages' Certified Question about village authority in the removal of their tribal council representatives.

Hopi constitutional principles show that the current Hopi constitution is very unique from any other tribal constitution.

It "preserves the traditional way of life" (the way we govern ourselves) but it is not always consistent with modern constitutional principles.

The original drafters of the Hopi constitution were very careful to "protect the traditional village authority and governance" but they also drafted it to contain some of the most basic United States constitutional principles.

The Hopi constitution shows that "all powers come from the villages themselves and not from the Hopi council or chairman," these are what are called "reserved powers."

The Hopi villages since the adoption of the Hopi constitution have "only delegated limited powers" to the Hopi council. The original draft of their constitution was intentionally "vague" to allow for current interpretation when specific situations arise.

The constitution prescribes rules for Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches. The Hopi Tribal court interprets laws.

Tribal members have the right to make amendments to their constitution.

Currently the Hopi Tribe has what Nuvamsa and LaRance described as an "IRA tribal government." The current Hopi central government is founded on the principle of providing the tribe the right to organize for its common welfare and adopt a constitution and by-laws, which will become effective when ratified by a majority vote of the adult members of the tribe. Any new amendments to the constitution and by-laws may be ratified and approved by the Secretary of the Interior in the same manner as the original constitution and bylaws.

Hopis voted to adopt the original constitution on Oct. 24 with a vote of 651 in favor and 105 against.

After discussing the history and approval passage of the Hopi constitution, Nuvamsa and LaRance discussed the various "articles" contained within the constitution including Jurisdiction, Membership, Organization, Village Reserved Powers, Village Organization, Tribal Council, "Powers of the Council," Vacancies and Removal from Offices, Land, Disputes Between Villages, Bill of Rights, and Taxation.

The daylong workshop also addresses the duties and qualifications of officers specific to public records. According to the Hopi Constitution, "all records of the office of the Treasurer are to be open to public inspection." This means that any tribal member can and should be able to request and receive financial records of the Hopi people without delay or discrimination. This open information also applies to the Hopi Tribal Secretary's office.

The final portion of the workshop focuses on the February 2010 Hopi Appellate Court's final answer to Bacavi Certified Question on village authority. The final court document states, "This Court unanimously finds that, under both the Constitution and Hopi custom and tradition, the Hopi and Tewa villages, regardless of their form of government, have authority to remove, recall or decertify their duly certified Tribal Council Representatives during their term of office by whatever process the Village selects and that Article IV, section 4 of the Constitution governs both selection and removal, recall, or decertification of Tribal Council Representatives."

This final answer is based on the Hopi Appellate Court determination that "Villages constitute the constitutional sovereign bedrock on which the powers of the Tribe rest."

Hopi villages "constitute the functional equivalent of tribal courts within their sphere of reserved constitutional authority."

There is also the clarification that "Prior to the adoption of the Hopi tribal constitution, there was no central Hopi government, thus each Hopi and Tewa village unquestionably possessed "inherent aboriginal powers of self-government."

These powers include the power to select, remove, recall or decertify spokespersons to negotiate or otherwise deal with other villages and outside world and that no express delegation was required to "reaffirm village's sovereignty since they already possessed it."

Finally, any specific powers that were not "specifically" delegated to the tribal council or chairman will always remain with the villages themselves.

To request a free presentation of this "Hopi Village Governance" workshop for your village or community, contact Nuvamsa at (928) 380-6677.

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