BIA regional director responds to Hopi crisis

Mary Kim Titla, Today correspondent
1/23/09

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. – Despite charges the Hopi Tribal Council is defunct and is conducting meetings illegally, the regional director for the western agency of the BIA said he’s not aware of any court decision that has declared it illegal.

“The tribe (tribal council) has designated a presiding officer. It’s not our role to rule on whom the tribal government is made up of. There is a quorum of duly elected tribal officials in place,” said Allen Anspach during a phone interview.

The news comes after a heated tribal council meeting earlier this week resulting in the physical removal and arrest of Alph Secakuku, an elected tribal council representative. According to a press release issued by H.O.P.I., a grassroots organization that stands for Hopi Organizational Political Initiative, BIA officers forcefully removed Secakuku after he attempted to be seated on the council. Another man trying to assist Secakuku was also arrested. Secakuku was sworn in last month but has not been recognized as a council representative at recent meetings.

The group called on the BIA to step in and take control of a “run-away” tribal council. “It stands to be seen when or if the secretary of the interior, through its Bureau of Indian Affairs, will recognize the Hopi government has been taken over illegally by a corrupt minority and that this take-over has resulted in an unstable government, incapable of managing its own affairs and trampling over the civil rights of the tribal members” the press release states.

More than 13,000 Hopi tribal members with a land base of 1.5 million acres in northeastern Arizona have endured nearly two-years of political wrangling.

The tribe has been without a chairman and vice chairman since Jan. 1. Former Chairman Ben Nuvamsa and Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma Sr. resigned following a series of clashes. Both continue to face criminal complaints. In addition, there have been allegations of illegal tribal council meetings and unconstitutional actions, council representatives have been de-certified and re-seated, and the tribe’s chief prosecutor and Appellate Court justices were let go.

Acting as presiding officer over tribal council meetings is Phillip Quochytewa, a council representative from the Village of Kykotsmovi. Members of H.O.P.I. argue the tribe’s constitution does not allow for the tribal council to appoint a presiding officer.

Anspach said he’s receiving updates and is aware of what happened to Secakuku. Still he feels there is no need for the BIA to step in. “We recognize there is no chairman and vice chairman and we’re anxious for them to get through that by having a procedure by whatever process they choose (internal process) to tell us who is their chairman and vice chairman and to become whole again.”

His statements did not sit well with Nuvamsa. “I’ve been with the Bureau (of Indian Affairs) over 30 years and this is absolutely wrong. I’ve been at all levels of the BIA. We developed Indian policies. He’s in left field. I’m very upset, obviously,” he said. “They have a statutory responsibility and a moral obligation (to step in). They cannot recognize the existing illegal tribal council. They have to study what’s happened. They (tribal council members) got on illegally. I think that’s unfortunate that he does not understand constitutional law. There cannot be a legal council without a chair and vice chair.”

Nuvamsa said he couldn’t accept Anspach’s response and hopes he’ll take another look at what’s happened on the Hopi reservation.

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