ICT Article on Hopi Constitutional Reform and Village Sovereignty

From ICT (via Pechanga):

Voting on a proposed revision to the Hopi Constitution could violate village sovereignty and the results might create an ill-conceived fourth branch of government, according to a former Hopi Tribal Court chief judge.

“The Hopi Constitution was a historical agreement between the villages and Hopi central government,” Gary LaRance said.

In Hopi there are two separate governments – the central government, termed “the Hopi Tribe,” and the Hopi villages with their own inherent sovereignty. Each village is to determine for itself its own organization, he said.

About 75 years ago, at the time of the Indian Reorganization Act, Hopi and Tewa villages in northeastern Arizona decided that they wanted the Hopi central government to be their voice to the outside world but that they wanted to remain apart from it internally, he said.

LaRance is among those calling for a halt to a vote requested by the tribal council and scheduled by the BIA for Jan. 27, 2011. A delay is sought to provide more time to consider what amendments should be made to the IRA-era constitution that over the years has posed problems in the villages’ relationship to the central government.

“It’s up to the villages to decide what kind of government they’re going to have. If villages are to be the fourth branch, it’s up to each village to decide that.”

– Gary LaRance, former Hopi Tribal Court chief judge

LeRoy N. Shingoitewa, Hopi tribal chairman, said in a public statement that the proposed new constitution would give more power to villages, which would retain the decision over how they would be organized, including the selection of their tribal council representatives if they chose to have such

But critics assert that the villages have always had those authorities and they charge that the chairman and tribal council are attempting to exert greater power over them.

At present, four of the 12 villages practice traditional, pre-IRA governance by Kik’momgnwit, traditional religious and clan leaders, although even in those communities there may be disagreement over who is a Kik’mongwi and who has “not been ordained in the Hopi way,” LaRance said. Those villages do not send representatives to the central tribal council.

Other villages have a constitution, or by-laws, or may govern in a way that has traditional features but that still allows for representation on the tribal council, he said, stressing the villages’ inherent aboriginal sovereignty.

“Now the purpose is to make all the villages into a fourth arm of government,” he said of the proposed constitutional revisions. The villages would become part of the central government, just as if the U.S. Constitution called for all 50 states to be part of the federal government, he said.

“It’s up to the villages to decide what kind of government they’re going to have. If villages are to be the fourth branch, it’s up to each village to decide that.”

As proposed, each village would be voting for all villages: “I’m voting for all villages where I’m not even a member. I’m infringing on someone else’s right,” he said.

In an earlier ruling that relates to the current election issue, the Hopi Court of Appeals said “The entire structure of the Hopi Constitution indicates that the authority of the central government of the Hopi Tribe rests on the bedrock of the aboriginal sovereignty of the Hopi and Tewa villages (which) delegated limited power to the central Hopi government.”

That ruling affirmed the power of the villages to seat or remove their tribal council representatives, countering efforts by the tribal council, which at that time maintained it had the exclusive power to remove them. The court said the decision “constitutes a reaffirmation of preexisting sovereign power, not a delegation of new authority to the villages.”

Unlike other tribal governments formed under the 1934 IRA, all members of the tribal council constitute representatives from the villages and only the tribal chairman and vice chairman are elected at large, the court found.

Until a given village decides to change its organization, the community is considered as being under a traditional Hopi organization, with the Kik’mongwi recognized as its leader, the current constitution states.

The Kik’momgnwit were part of an earlier conflict over their increased role in the secular, rather than sacred sphere, a development that some observers said could weaken their protection from the distractions and conflicts of the political arena.

The proposed constitutional revision would clarify the roles and authorities of the separate branches of the central tribal government, but, “As proposed, it would destroy the individual sovereignty of the villages although it would strengthen the central government,” he said.

Meanwhile, the opposition will be conducting an educational campaign before the scheduled vote. The Hopi Court of Appeals has been asked to issue a ruling that the proposed constitution violates the existing constitution, and a lawsuit may be filed in the lower tribal court seeking an injunction to halt the election.