Hopi Tribal Council’s new structure irks some critics


KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. – Following recent elections, the Hopi Tribal Council’s official position is one of can-do optimism, fueled by a reorganization that elevates the status of a tribal council-controlled manager and diminishes the clout of the tribal chairman.

“We need to look at the organizational culture and make a change more toward service delivery,” said council member Davis F. Pecusa, head of a reorganization effort. “We can’t get there if we continue to fight over power.”

Some observers, however, regard the restructuring as just that – continuing the fight over power.

Under the new plan, “The executive director will answer directly to the Tribal Council,” states a Hopi Tribe press release, which also says the chairman, “no longer will be chief executive officer” and may issue executive orders but not “to further his own politics.”

The latter accusation had been leveled earlier at Ben Nuvamsa, former tribal chairman, who attempted to thwart an interim tribal government by issuing an executive order before he resigned last year. The EO declared a constitutional crisis in the wake of the tribal appellate court’s suspension and sought measures that included a freeze on a controversial mining permit pending a special election to fill the chair and vice chair positions.

“The reorganization is not a reorganization,” Nuvamsa said, but a way to “usurp the powers and authorities of the tribal chairman” based on an old study that does not reflect the tribe’s current situation.

Neither Leroy Shingoitewa, the new chairman, nor Herman Honanie, the new vice-chairman, responded to requests for comment, but Nuvamsa seems to have assumed the mantle of opposition leader, and others have also spoken out – one of whom claims direct descent from Hopi Chief Lololma.

“What you are doing is disrespectful to the Hopi senim (people) and the fact that you are not acknowledging the new chairman and vice chairman sitting right here requesting to speak,” said Shannon Francis (Tawangounim), addressing what she calls an “illegal tribal council” in a special Sunday meeting Nov. 22.

“This is also disrespectful. You do not represent my ancestors nor do you represent my descendents; you also do not represent me,” she said, before she was removed from the meeting by officers she believes were Hopi Rangers.

The reorganization she questioned was approved in the Sunday meeting that was “not a public hearing” and where no questions or intrusions were allowed, said Tina May, the council’s public information officer, who described Francis’ interruption as “brief” and one in which she said “something about her ancestors” before she was escorted out.

A change in the Hopi Tribe Economic Development Corporation also was approved at the special meeting, which preceded the seating of the chair and vice chair Dec. 1. The tribal council voted to install council members as the board of the HTEDC after members questioned whether it had been effective.

“No outside company with the financial wherewithal will now take a chance of investing in Hopi because of the concerns about tribal sovereign immunity protection issues,” said Nuvamsa, referring to tribal safeguards against civil lawsuits brought by outside entities. “By one fell swoop, they have killed the Hopi Tribe’s economic development program. This is just another part of the ‘power grab.’”

The charges of a power grab extend to the Hopi Tutuveni, the official tribal publication, which the council declined to fund for the coming year because it is “ineffective,” council member Dale Sinquah said in a press release. “I don’t feel the paper is fulfilling its purpose. I think we should not fund it anymore.”

The Native American Journalists Association issued a statement noting that a primary reason for NAJA is to support Native journalists and Native newspapers, and Tutuveni’s possible demise defeats that purpose.

“A fully functioning government needs a voice that can disseminate updated news and information regarding the factual status of that government at any given time,” said Ronnie Washines, NAJA president.

The decision not to fund the Hopi Tutuveni was only one part of the budget process that produced a “balanced spending plan that minimized cuts to services, programs and villages; reduced duplicative services; cut unnecessary costs; and identified unspent budget line items,” according to a tribal press release.

The 2010 operating budget of $21.8 million is up slightly from the current $20.9 million, and projected mining revenues of $12.8 million compare to the present $11 million, according to the public information officer.

Within the total budget, 2010 projections compared to current spending levels include, for example, increases for the tribal council from $783,424 to $830,916; for the public defender from $136,005 to $285,927; and for judicial services from $473,197 to $608,680. Planned decreases include spending of $495,156 proposed for tribal chairman/vice chairman offices combined, down from $563,257; general counsel $580,716, down from $676,844; and villages approximately $3.3 million, down from $3.5 million.

Other planned expenditures include $471,113 for the new executive director office, about $1.6 million for outside attorneys’ fees, and $6 million for the tribal energy team, part of which reportedly will be used to fight a lawsuit filed by tribal members and others against the Office of Surface Mining in connection with an expanded permit for Black Mesa Complex. No cost of living increases or salary increments are planned for employees.

“The council voted that all villages have an audit of their financial records, at their cost, and that all villages shall be responsible for their tax liability arising from the IRS 2009 audit of past tribal and village payroll withholding compliance,” according to a tribal press release.

Nuvamsa charged that the budget was developed “in a vacuum and behind closed doors,” contending that village governments and program directors were excluded from the budget development process in violation of tribal fiscal policies. He also said the budget does not reflect bonuses from Peabody Western Coal Co.