Hopi Election Process Challenged
KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz.—On the eve of voting on a revised Hopi Tribe Constitution, a former tribal chairman critical of proposed changes has asked the Department of the Interior to suspend the vote, contending that it violates federal law governing Secretarial elections.
A Secretarial election is not a tribal election, but takes place when the Secretary of the Interior is asked to schedule polling to revise a tribal constitution. It is a federal election, governed by federal statute and overseen by the BIA.
Ben Nuvamsa, of the Village of Shungopavi in northern Arizona, charges irregularities in the BIA process and asks Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs, to intervene immediately to suspend polling. Litigation seeking to halt the Jan. 27 election has been denied, but appeals are pending in tribal and federal courts, he said.
Nuvamsa resigned as tribal chairman in 2009 after two years of internal tribal strife that focused in part on expanded coal mining which, in turn, triggered cultural, environmental and economic concerns and lingering political controversy.
Nuvamsa contends the BIA has permitted the current tribal administration to have direct control over the election and he questions the integrity of the election process related to the secrecy of votes, the composition of the Secretarial Election Board, and voter notification and registration procedures.
Proponents of the new constitution and by-laws believe the changes they support would clarify the roles and authorities of the separate branches of the central tribal government, while opponents assert the revisions would diminish the individual sovereignty of Hopi/Tewa villages, which would become a fourth branch of government.
Telephone requests for comment were not immediately returned from regional or local BIA offices or the BIA’s national Public Affairs office, and the officer-in-charge of the Election Board was on travel and was not available to discuss the issues raised by Nuvamsa.