Another barrier to tribal unity appears in northern Arizona

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KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. – Tensions are high at Hopi headquarters here, where Hopi Tribal Police and others fearing a possible riot erected roadblocks before the start of a tribal council meeting Nov. 24.

The roadblocks reportedly prevented some Hopi tribal members from attending a meeting where the tribal council was asked to begin the process of removing Ben Nuvamsa as tribal chairman, according to a press release issued by Bill Havens, his special assistant.

The request for Nuvamsa’s removal for alleged neglect of duty is the latest skirmish in a struggle for control between himself and Todd Honyaoma, tribal vice-chairman, and their supporters and detractors.

“This roadblock to intimidate and keep the people out seems to be the new system of justice on the Hopi reservation, one that says, ‘The people have no business here.’ They are afraid of the people knowing the truth about what they are doing,” Nuvamsa said.

Honyaoma has not responded to requests for comment.

“Are you here for the riot?” Hopi Police were quoted as saying when cars approached the blockade. Also present were members of an alleged ad hoc police force.

Nuvamsa met recently with Western Regional BIA Director Alan Anspach to inform him that a new police force had been formed with no civil authority to act, according to the release, which quotes Nuvamsa as saying, “People are having badges and uniforms made up for a fictitious law enforcement organization and are making criminal arrests.”

In addition to witnessing factional strife on the council, tribal members have “seen their justice system systematically dismantled,” Nuvamsa said, referring to the firing of the chief prosecutor and appellate court justices. “With no prosecutor and no appellate court, there can by no justice, no civil right to due process, no right to appeal.”

The tribal council voted Nov. 12 to suspend the Hopi appeals court in what Nuvamsa called an “illegal takeover of the government.” The appellate court had ruled favorably for Nuvamsa in his past struggles with Honyaoma.

Nuvamsa in the appeals court successfully quashed tribal arrest warrants alleging he had violated a tribal resolution suspending his authority in connection with an earlier swearing-in of Hopi community representatives that Honyaoma said were not certified by traditional leaders, an issue that arose again Nov. 24 in connection with alleged dereliction of duty.

The disputes among Hopi lawmakers and tribal leaders have stalled official action on the Black Mesa Project environmental approval process for an expanded coalmining permit by Peabody Western Coal Co. in northern Arizona. The permit could go forward if a record of decision is issued through the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.