Unsolved homicides cause unease on Hopi reservation
POLACCA, Ariz. — Hopi lives matter. Native American lives matter.
Hopi Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma emphasizes this when he speaks, but he doesn’t believe the federal government acts like those lives matter on issues ranging from crime to unsafe water on the Hopi Reservation.
Two suspected murders on the usually peaceful Hopi Reservation have left many Hopi officials and residents wondering if the federal government is neglecting the Hopi people. It has also left many residents on Hopi feeling unsafe.
The FBI is investigating both deaths, but declined to release any information while the investigations are ongoing.
A spokesman for the U.S. District Attorney’s office said he was unaware of either case and would not know about them until an arrest is made.
The first suspicious death occurred in late July in the Hopi Jr/Sr High School teaching compound. Kenneth Wartz was director of technology at Hopi Jr/Sr High School.
The second death occurred in March on top of First Mesa when Wilfred Huma, an elderly man, was killed in his home.
During a recent interview, Nuvagyaoma said law enforcement will not release any information to him and he is getting more information from community members than from law enforcement.
“They can’t release anything because they’re building a case,” he said.
While Nuvangyaoma said he understands the situation that law enforcement is in, he said Hopi has been ignored for too long and the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) has a trust responsibility to the reservations. He said those trust responsibilities have gone unattended for years and they are getting worse.
“We need to push for a healthier community. Hopi should not be ignored on health and safety issues,” he said.
Nuvangyaoma said there are grassroots efforts in several villages to take on the problems that meth addiction has brought.
“Together our voice is stronger,” he said. “We need to have stronger laws and enforcement against meth.”
Ivan Sidney, village administrator for First Mesa Consolidated Villages, said Huma’s homicide sent shock waves throughout the community and left many residents scared because it happened in his home. Huma was retired, but worked previously in the maintenance department for FMCV.
“This was a real awakening,” Sidney said. “We’re hoping that law enforcement would release some information. There are a lot of elderly concerned about their safety because they went into Huma’s home.”
Sidney, a former Hopi Police Chief, said while homicide cases are the responsibility of the FBI, the community is under the protection of the BIA police. Sidney said there has been a deterioration of the BIA police on Hopi.
Sidney said it used to be that 95 percent of the BIA police at Hopi were Hopi, so they were involved with the community. Sidney said that is no longer the case.
Aside from the homicides, Sidney said there has been a rise in crime in the villages, especially with burglaries for drug addicts to support their habits.
“You can’t blame the police. This is a village problem that has gone on for years,” he said. “We need to take action in the villages because there will never be enough police. We have to come from prevention, cooperation and well thought out plans.”
Sidney said FMCV is the only village hiring its own security guards.
“The problem is so immense that even hiring our own security guards is not enough,” he said.
FMCV had its first meeting two weeks ago to come up with their own security plan and this remains in the works.
“We have to see how we can help ourselves,” he said.
Sidney said he believes the FBI can do more, but he said the BIA police could also do more. Despite his efforts, Sidney said he has never been able to obtain a one-on-one discussion with the BIA or the Hopi Tribe about these public safety issues.
“They do not communicate,” he said. “We want to know how they can help us because we can be the eyes and ears.”
Sidney said the tribe lacks the revenue that it had in past years, but it is considering taking over the police department even though no plan has been established to do that.
Sidney said because the Hopi jail is closed, adults are sent to Navajo County jail; while youth who are detained are sent to the Hualapai juvenile detention center.
Sidney said the problem isn’t just at First Mesa, as all the villages are facing problems with meth and alcohol, with severe results.
Sidney said the closing of Peabody Coal Co. will make the public safety issues worse because there will be more adults without jobs.
“We need to develop a business plan for the loss of revenue from the Hopi Tribe,” he said. “The victims of this are our students. We have no time. We must take action now.”
Those with public safety concerns can reach reporter Stan Bindell at firstname.lastname@example.org.