Grassroots organization asks Interior secretary to intervene

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HOPI, Ariz. – The Hopi Organizational Political Initiative has submitted documents asking U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to take action on behalf of the Hopi/Tewa people, who are currently being governed by an illegally-constituted tribal council, without benefit of an executive branch or a judicial system.

The Hopi Constitution mandates that the “Hopi Tribal Council shall consist of a chairman, vice chairman, and representatives from various villages.” Therefore, without the chairman and vice chairman, there can be no constitutionally authorized council to conduct business, expend tribal funds, or accept federal grants and contracts.

Hopi Constitution Article V, Section 2 – mandates vacancies “shall be filled for the rest of the term in the same manner as those officers are ordinarily chosen.” On Dec. 31, 2008, then-Chairman Ben Nuvamsa and Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma resigned and no election has yet been held to replace them as mandated by the Hopi Constitution. Hence, there is no legally-constituted Hopi tribal government and there cannot be one until elections are held in November. Nor can the Hopi Tribal Council convene or act until a new chairman has been elected to preside over its meetings.

In a letter sent Aug. 12, the group petitioned Salazar to conduct a thorough investigation into the Hopi Tribal Council’s actions over the past nine months, to cease all government-to-government relations with the “illegally established interim government,” and to suspend work on the appeal of the Office of Surface Mining’s approval of Peabody’s Life of Mine coal permit for the Black Mesa and Kayenta Mines on Black Mesa.

H.O.P.I. questions the resolution enacted by the tribal council that set up an interim government. The basis for setting up such a government was subsequently changed in 1969 through a majority referendum vote of the Hopi/Tewa people. H.O.P.I. disputes the illegal actions of the interim government and states that, “The rhetoric of the resolution was carefully crafted to create the illusion of a legitimate justification for illegal acts.” No resolution or an ordinance, even if it was enacted by a legally constituted council, can override the provisions of the Constitution.

Hopi bylaws Article I state that, “The chairman shall preside over all meetings of the tribal council.” The group tells Salazar that the Hopi Tribal Council is operating illegally because the council has no authority to select an interim presiding officer to preside over meetings from among its members, which it did. Again the illegal council ignored the tribal referendum that ended the practice and mandated the election, by the people, for a chairman and vice chairman of the tribe. This is a blatant disregard for the people’s civil and voting rights.

There was interference by the illegal council with the Election Board to hold a special election by the Hopi/Tewa people for a new chairman and vice chairman last April. They, in essence, destroyed the independent entity of the Election Board whose duty is to conduct fair and impartial elections.

“Not only has our government been taken from us, but our court system has also been corrupted,” the group said. “Paving the way for the overthrow of our government and occupation of the tribal council by those who do not respect our Constitution and laws, our own Hopi Appellate Court was systematically dismembered. They fired the Appellate Court judges, and Hopi Tribe’s chief prosecutor and, most recently, the deputy prosecutor, depriving the people of the opportunity to take the so-called council to court. They effectively destroyed the checks and balances that had been in place to prevent such abuses of power that has occurred.”

H.O.P.I. is asking that their civil rights, justice and due process guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution, the Indian Civil Rights Act, and the Hopi Constitution, be restored to the Hopi/Tewa people.

H.O.P.I. is appalled that the BIA has so far refused to take any action against the council and is, in fact, abetting the council’s illegal activities by recognizing the interim government. The group states “by recognizing and acknowledging the interim government, even in the face of considerable evidence that it is illegal, the BIA as an agency of the DoI has interfered and taken sides.” Therefore, the “Secretary, DoI, as our primary federal government trustee, must intervene because the upheaval, and BIA’s continued recognition of the ‘interim government,’ blatantly benefits an illegally constituted Hopi Tribal Council.”

The letter accuses the BIA of not fulfilling its trust responsibilities to the Hopi/Tewa people, and threatens legal action against the Interior Department for not fulfilling its responsibilities to the tribe. H.O.P.I. wrote, “Be advised that the Department of Interior’s complicity in these illegal actions will also be challenged in both Hopi Court and federal court.”