Hopi To Vote On Revised Constitution To Establish A 4th Branch Of Government
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – The Hopi people will go to the polls Jan. 27 to vote on a revised Hopi Constitution which would establish a fourth branch of government and impact villages that are governed by traditional spiritual leaders, or Kikmongwis.
The Secretarial Election, approved by the Hopi Tribal Council in August, is sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A key federal requirement for the election is that all enrolled Hopi tribal members who will be 18 years of age or older by Jan. 27 must register to vote, however, traditional Hopis shun the voting process.
“The Hopi Appellate Court and the BIA's own commissioner acknowledged traditional Hopis do not register or vote,” said Ronald Wadsworth, spokesman for the Hopi Nation Sovereign and Traditional Office at Shungopavi Village. “To register and vote is to force us to accept the dominant culture's methods and system of government.
“BIA has not once consulted with the leaders of our sovereign and independent village. Our village does not participate in the Council form of government. BIA has agreed to an election that infringes on our right to practice our religion and violates our recognized inherent aboriginal sovereignty. BIA is resorting to religious genocide,” he said.
The BIA system requires 30 percent of the people to vote in order to validate an election, according to Wadsworth. “Refusing to vote tells the BIA and Council, ‘No, you do not own the villages or the Hopi people.' For years BIA has attempted to force Hopi traditional people to enroll,” but it has not worked, he said. “So now BIA is saying you must register and vote. This is another method BIA will use to track every Hopi and what they do. It is an invasion of our privacy.”
Former Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa, who previously worked for BIA, disagreed. “People need to register and vote against it. Staying away and not voting is the worst thing people would do,” he said. “Remember, in 1936, people that objected to the new Constitution stayed away and did not vote. The proposed constitution passed anyway because of the number of people voting.”
Wadsworth said Draft 24A of the Hopi Constitution is nothing more than a “power grab” by the Hopi Tribal Council. “The Hopi Appellate Court recently issued an opinion acknowledging Hopi’s 12 villages are independent entities and that each holds aboriginal sovereign governmental powers. The proposed changes to the Hopi Constitution strip the religious protections in the current Constitution and strip all villages of their aboriginal sovereign powers,” he said.
For decades Council has chipped away at village powers, he said. “The Council has long held that they hold the power – not the villages. The Hopi Appellate Court said the Council has limited powers and affirmed aboriginal sovereign powers are held by each village; and the Kikmongwi holds the power in the traditional villages.”
The Kikmongwi role is deleted in the revised Constitution, Nuvamsa said, leaving the village chief out of politics in a “separation of church and state.”
In 1936 the Indian Reorganization Act allowed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to establish a tribal council form of government at Hopi, intended to force the Hopi people to assimilate to the outside cultures, Wadsworth said. In contrast, the Hopi system starts at the grassroots level and is based on consultation, negotiation and consensus.
“The BIA experiment has not worked. BIA assimilation has not worked. The BIA council form of government does not work. Maybe it is time for all Hopi villages to once again join hands and work together as we did before the BIA arrived at Hopi. None of the villages attempted to tell the others what they could or could not do on their land. We consulted with each other; and on issues impacting all of us, we came together. We Hopi have used this system since time immemorial and it works,” he said.
Nuvamsa said the most serious flaw in Draft 24A concerns the proposal to make the Hopi and Tewa villages the fourth branch of government. “Nowhere in the United States do you see a fourth branch of government. The United States Constitution does not bring the 50 states in as a fourth branch of government,” he said, adding that it would relegate the villages to be on par with the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
“The power is supposed to be from the villages and the people. It kind of lowers them down. The villages may even lose those powers. Then the Council would be regulating them.” He said it also brings into question who would lead the 12 villages in the “Village Branch” of government.
The draft also gives the chairman – to be called “president” – broad authority and leaves out citizen participation in their government, Nuvamsa said. “He's going to be like a czar.”
It's been years since the final draft of the Constitution was done, and while information sessions have been held in the villages, “They have not allowed anybody to have input into some recommended changes,” he said. “People are being forced into making uninformed decisions. It's a complete rewrite of the Constitution and I don't think that's what the people want.”
Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy N. Shingoitewa said changes to the current Constitution are the wishes of the Hopi and Tewa people. “For the past 10 years, presentations on the proposed draft Constitution have been made to the Hopi and Tewa people at various times and locations.
“Nowhere in the proposed Constitution does it mention infringing on or stripping the religious rights and practices of the Hopi tradition, religion or culture. The new Constitution gives more power to villages. In both the current and new Constitution, it states, 'Each village shall decide for itself how it shall be organized,' including the selection of its Council representatives,” he said.
Certain villages, including Shungopavi, have chosen not to have representation on the Tribal Council, Shingoitewa said. “The Hopi Tribe respects the wishes of those villages that choose to practice the traditional form of governance and not have anything to do with the tribal government. It is up to the village as a whole, how they wish to operate. This is the time for the Hopi and Tewa people to express their wishes through their vote. It is now up to the people,” he said.
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