What does ''live on the Hopi reservation'' mean? Ask 20 Hopis and you will get 20 answers - everything from where you brush your teeth every morning and where your utility bills are sent to where you participate in ceremonies. Everyone thinks the answer is obvious and that theirs is the definitive answer. The more culturally relevant question here, however, is, ''Where is home?'' To that question you will always get the same answer: The Hopi mesas are always ''home'' to every Hopi.
Within the context of Hopi culture and tradition, is a residency requirement a valid measure of a person's qualification for public office?
Some will say that this is none of my business and I shouldn't be mouthing off about sensitive Hopi issues. But I come to you as an observer from close range. I have worked in Hopi tribal government, am connected as an in-law and have a history of supporting issues that are important to the Hopi people.
I am sensitive to the fact that as a non-Hopi, my opinions carry little weight. But, seeing my Hopi friends and in-laws struggling with the controversy surrounding the recent election and the disharmony it has caused, I have trouble keeping my nose out of this one. I am also passionate about the importance, for the benefit of the Hopi people, of having a functional, non-fractured, harmonious tribal council that puts the good of the people before their own personal ambitions.
This is a hot topic that deserves another perspective, if for no other reason than to encourage the debate to clarify the election ordinance and resolve the controversy for future elections.
Most of the Hopis I know that are off-reservation are out here because of the depressed economic conditions at ''home.'' They have had to seek employment elsewhere. Spending time away from ''home'' has not really been a matter of choice. The economy at Hopi will not accommodate the entire population of Hopis.
When off-reservation Hopis talk about going to the villages, whether it is to visit family or to participate in ceremonies, they almost always say they are going ''out home.''
The Hopi villages are their ''home'' and always will be. Being Hopi means being part of a collective cultural entity on Hopiland. This is a culturally unique sense of existence, unity and belonging that I hope continues to be cherished and respected.
Many Hopis are fortunate enough to maintain more than one household; one household in their village and another off-reservation. The off-reservation household is only temporary and makes it possible to have a job which is not available at ''home.'' The household in the village, however, is considered their ''home.''
Being off-reservation is only a temporary condition of necessity, to be suffered until one can come ''home.'' I believe every Hopi comes ''home'' again ... eventually. I have been told that most Hopi individuals passing on want to be sent to the spirit world from ''home'' with the burial being done in the Hopi way.
When Hopis retire from their jobs off-reservation, they often come ''home.''
Respecting the concept that your village is always your ''home'': it is painful for me to think that any Hopi would be excluded from any benefit or privilege of being Hopi just because they had to work away from ''home,'' go to college or serve in the military.
This would include the privilege of serving the Hopi people by holding public office.
A strictly literal interpretation of the residency requirement ignores the cultural value that Hopis place on ''home'' and discriminates against those Hopis that have to either live or spend a great deal of time off-reservation to attend college, hold a job or serve in the military. Hopis value education and Hopi servicemen are fighting for the preservation of our constitutional rights as well as the preservation of the Hopi way of life. Students and veterans should not be disenfranchised or discriminated against when they come ''home.''
If the election ordinance needs to be revised to clarify residency, it can be done by tribal council. There is a legal, codified process for amending ordinances.
As the clarity of the election ordinance with regard to residency is subject to multiple interpretations, it would seem consistent with cultural norms to define residency in the most culturally relevant terms, by customary law, supporting the presumption that the Hopi Reservation is every Hopi's ''home.'' This would make the concept of residence for Hopis seeking public office irrelevant as it is overshadowed by the cultural norm that the Hopi Reservation is ''home.''
This does present the risk of someone seeking public office with virtually no real Hopi cultural experience or understanding of life on the Hopi reservation, which I presume is why there is a residency requirement. So, what will be the test to qualify for public office?
Here's a novel idea: Let the voters decide. That's what elections are for.
Bill Havens served as the executive assistant/chief of staff to former chairman of the Hopi Tribe, Ferrell Secakuku, from 1996 - '97. He has a master's degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and is a contributor to the Hopi Tribe's newspaper, the Tutuveni.