2 vie to lead Hopi tribe out of political turmoil

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) 11-09

Two men vying to become the next chairman on the Hopi reservation say untangling the political mess that has characterized tribal government for years is their top priority.

The legitimacy of the Tribal Council without an elected chairman or vice chairman has been thrown into question since the former leaders resigned last December in an attempt to restore peace to the Hopi people.

LeRoy Shingoitewa and Clark Tenakhongva said the current Tribal Council, over which the chairman presides, has failed to uphold the tribe’s constitution and acted against the wishes of constituents, further throwing the government into disarray.

“The name Hopi itself is something even the younger generation doesn’t want to go out and say, ‘I’m Hopi,”’ Tenakhongva said. “It’s not the honorable name it was at this point.”

About 8,000 Hopis live among 12 villages at three mesas that rising thousands of feet above the surrounding northern Arizona desert. Not all villages send representatives to the Tribal Council but maintain their own forms of government, some more progressive than others.

The 52-year-old Tenakhongva, a newcomer to political office who works for the tribe’s Department of Veterans Affairs and is an artist, will face Shingoitewa, a 67-year-old school principal who has twice run for chairman, on Nov. 18 in the general election.

Lomayumtewa C. Ishii, one of about 50 who attended a candidates forum in Flagstaff on Thursday, said it would be naive to think that Hopi government doesn’t struggle politically as any other government does. What hinders Hopi leaders is their inability to manage being a traditional Hopi while also helping modernize the tribe.

“We need a chairman and a vice chairman who can get the house back in order but at the same time hit the ground running,” he said.

Former Chairman Ben Nuvamsa and Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma Sr., who clashed during much of their time in office, resigned a year before their terms were to end in December. The tangle focused mostly on whether Nuvamsa met residency requirements, but allegations of fraud and disrespect for traditional leaders also arose.

Both chairman candidates vowed to uphold the constitution and review any action the council has taken in the past year, including the council’s dismantling of the tribe’s appellate court.

Shingoitewa has been part of a group pushing a revised constitution that would separate the branches of government. If Hopi people had voted on it, he said the political turmoil “would have never occurred.”

Herman Honanie, the director of the tribe’s Office of Health Services, and Leroy Sumatzkuku, a member of the Tribal Council, are contending for the vice chairman’s seat.