Some Hopis discouraged with new leaders
By Cindy Yurth
KEAMS CANYON, Ariz., Feb. 5, 2010
Some Hopis and Tewas who voted for newly elected Chairman LeRoy Ned Shingoitewa and Vice Chairman Herman Honanie say the two are not living up to their campaign promises and the disappointed supporters are circulating a petition urging the men to stand up to what they consider a runaway council.
"With all due respect, many of us who voted for you and Vice Chairman Honanie feel betrayed because so far, we do not see the changes that we were expecting when we elected you as our new chairman and vice chairman," the petition reads.
"We see the same things happening and we are very disappointed that you have not demonstrated the leadership we expected and that you said you had."
A copy of the letter obtained by the Navajo Times did not have any signatures on it. Ousted council Representative Alph Secakuku said he's not sure how many signatures have been collected because there are several copies circulating in the various Hopi villages, but he intends to sign it.
"I don't know who authored it, but it represents the feelings of many Hopis and Tewas I have heard," he said.
Shingoitewa was on travel this week and Honanie did not return a phone call to his office Tuesday.
The letter takes the leaders to task for recognizing non-elected council members, not fighting harder to restore the functions of their offices that were transferred to a yet-to-be-hired executive officer, not rescinding certain ordinances enacted by the council in the absence of a chairman and vice chairman last year, not firing legal counsel Scott Canty and Public Relations Officer Tina May (whom the writers perceive as siding with the council against the chairman), and not working to resurrect the defunct tribal newspaper.
They also allege nepotism, including the fact that the area BIA superintendent is Shingoitewa's brother-in-law (the tribe's chairman has no control over BIA hiring and firing).
"There are many important issues that need attention including the Peabody Coal Company lease re-opener, water rights, village governments, our constitution and our budget," the letter continues. "We could go on and on but we think you see the picture."
The letter does not threaten a recall but does state, "We hope you take our concerns very seriously and start making changes and correct the past wrongs. If you don't, then the election and votes have been wasted because we don't see any changes."
Asked what the chairman could do considering he's not allowed to vote or craft ordinances, Secakuku replied, "He could uphold the constitution. That's what he campaigned on."
Secakuku and fellow elected Sipaulovi representatives George Mase and Cedric Kuwaninvaya, who were voted off the council earlier this month when a man claiming to be Sipaulovi's religious leader failed to certify them, have also written Shingoitewa a separate letter objecting to Shingoitewa's choice of language at a recent meeting with Hopis and Tewas in Phoenix.
The sidelined trio claim Shingoitewa told the urban Hopis the men stepped down voluntarily, which they say was not the case.
"For the record, none of us stepped down voluntarily or involuntarily," the letter reads. "We remain on the tribal council. As chairman of our tribe, we expect you to be forthright with tribal members and speak the truth."
Mase said a lot of the confusion on the council could be alleviated if the Hopi Appellate Court would rule on several pending cases that have to do with the composition of the council.
The three Sipaulovi reps have filed suit claiming to be the rightful council members. Tewa Village has had a similar suit on file for two years stating its residents never consented to be represented, as they are now, by appointees of Third Mesa kikmongwi James Tewayguna. (A kikmongwi is a high priest in the Hopi religion.)
The court has a backlog of nearly two years since the council fired all three appellate judges in February 2008. The court was recently reconstituted, but Secakuku wonders how objective the judges will be.
"They saw what happened to the last batch when they ruled against the tribal council," he noted.
A revision of the Hopi Constitution - another plank in Shingoitewa's platform - might also go far toward addressing the confusion.
The current constitution gives the kikmongwis power to "certify" elected leaders, without which they cannot take office. But it never specifies what is to happen in the event an elected representative is not certified.
"It doesn't say anything about the kikmongwis appointing representatives," said Secakuku, "which is what they're doing these days."
Secakuku also pointed out that his village - Sipaulovi - does not have a kikmongwi, so the confirmation rule should not apply. Yet Bear Clan leader Gerald Numkena has claimed to be the religious emissary of the village and asked the council to remove the Sipaulovi delegation.
Secakuku and Mase both say Numkena is not their religious leader, and according to Secakuku, "everybody in Sipaulovi knows it."
Although Numkena was the heir apparent when the old Bear Clan leader died, he does not have the blessing of the One-Horn Society, which according to village tradition must appoint the successor.
According to the men, the One-Horn Society did not believe Numkena had the character to provide spiritual leadership and instead chose Lorena Charles, who did give the elected reps her blessing.
Secakuku and Mase say Shingoitewa should never have recognized Numkena's appointees as legitimate council members. But Secakuku admits that, with a council stacked against him and constricting his powers at every opportunity, the new chairman has a formidable row to hoe.
"It's been such a mess for so long I don't know what the solution is," he said. "I wish I knew, but I don't."