Hopi Chairman who fought against Peabody expansion, and for true sovereignty, resigns
By Bill Havens,
By Bill Havens,
Public Information Officer, Office of the Chairman
Photo: Chairman Ben Nuvamsa in a Hopi and Navajo delegaton at Peabody protest in Denver/Photo Mano Cockrum
Kykotsmovi, Arizona – December 22, 2008 – Chairman Benjamin H. Nuvamsa Submits Resignation. After nearly two years of turmoil, conflict, in-fighting, and dysfunctional tribal government, the elected Chairman of the Hopi Tribe, Benjamin H. Nuvamsa, following a regular session of the Hopi Tribal Council, submitted his resignation to be effective December 31, 2008.
Stunned tribal members were in tears.
In the memorandum announcing his resignation, Chairman Nuvamsa cited among the reasons the affect the turmoil of the last two years has had on every member of the Tribe and the impact it has had on his family. He also expressed concern that it has “affected the very meaning of what ‘Hopi’ stands for.”
Collectively the Hopi people have just entered Soyal Muya, a time for a new beginning and the rejuvenation of life, in the annual Hopi ceremonial cycle. “Let us look at this decision as a new beginning,” said Chairman Nuvamsa, “and an opportunity where we can all begin a reconciliation process – a healing process – and work together for a new and healthy year and a brighter future.”
Continued Chairman Nuvamsa, “It was necessary to take this step for the sake of the people – to hopefully end the vicious series of events that have been consuming the Tribe and interfering in the work we are supposed to be doing for the people. They, Todd Honyaoma, Sr., Ivan Sidney and their supporters, would have never stopped until the end of my term. Their entire agenda has revolved around blocking everything I have tried to accomplish and, ultimately, getting me out of office.”
“Our government has been broken for nearly two years,” said Chairman Nuvamsa. “We have been prohibited from making any positive progress with regard to economic development or government reform and we are losing the fight to protect our natural resources. We have not been allowed to do anything for our people for two years. We have not been allowed to work on important issues like the Black Mesa Project Environmental Impact Study, water rights, land issues, increasing revenue, and important social and health issues.”
“Over the last two years we have seen a systematic dismantling of our government,” said Chairman Nuvamsa. “They have destroyed the Hopi Court system by ‘suspending’ the Appellate Court Justices to protect themselves from rulings unfavorable to their agenda. They have defied the Hopi Constitution and have interfered in the peoples’ right to have their votes count, and they have transferred the authorities of the Chairman over to the Office of the Vice Chairman.”
“In spite of their obstructionist tactics,” said Nuvamsa, “we have made some accomplishments. We were able to secure funding for an elderly facility and helped with the funding for Moencopi Development Corporation’s projects. We were also able to restructure our investments so we were making money instead of losing it.”
“We also stood up for the preservation of the Hopi and Tewa people’s right to control the exploitation of our natural resources,” said Chairman Nuvamsa. “By fighting against the Office of Surface Mining’s last minute efforts to push through the Peabody life-of-mine permit before the end of the Bush administration, even though it appears on the surface that we lost, we fought for the sovereignty of the Hopi Nation and for the principle of the right of all sovereign Indian nations to control their own resources and to determine how and when they are sold. We will continue this fight even after we leave office.”
Chairman Nuvamsa continued, “Since my election in the special election that followed the removal of Chairman Ivan Sidney after his widely publicized intoxication incident in Winslow, I have been the target of a small majority of the Tribal Council who have been determined to make my removal the only item on their agenda. Most recently I have been accused of disrespecting our traditional leaders. Nothing can be farther from the truth.”
“In fact,” continued Nuvamsa, “the real disrespect for our traditional religious leaders comes from dragging them into the political arena. Our religious practitioners walk a thin line. It is said they walk on a razor’s edge and they must maintain their focus on their religious duties or they will fall. Bringing them into the political battles is a serious distraction from their spiritual responsibilities that threatens the balance and harmony they are responsible for maintaining for the good of all mankind.”
The spearhead of the attacks on Chairman Nuvamsa has been Todd Honyaoma, Sr., the Vice Chairman that publicly “stepped down” from office in February 2008 but has since refused to vacate his office. Faced with rulings by the Hopi Appellate Court that those opposed to Chairman Nuvamsa’s leadership didn’t like, Honyaoma recently “suspended” the entire panel of Appellate Court Justices. Honyaoma recently promised the people that he would resign, also effective December 31, 2008.
Said Chairman Nuvamsa in his resignation memorandum, “I now challenge Todd Honyaoma, Sr., to do the honorable thing and honor his word and promise he made to the people on two separate occasions to ‘step down’ on December 31, 2008…To the members of the tribal council and other key officials of the tribe, I also challenge you to look within yourselves and ask yourselves why you sit on the tribal council and why you work for the Hopi Tribe. As leaders, we must honor our word to our people and be accountable…because it is the people we serve. We are their servants.”
“We will see if he keeps his promise,” said Chairman Nuvamsa about Honyaoma’s promise to resign.”
“Without an appellate court,” said Nuvamsa, “there is no justice. There is no right to appeal. Corruption goes unquestioned. What results is a dictatorship.”
Chairman Nuvamsa has also been under almost constant attack from the current “acting” Chief Prosecutor, Jeffrey Porturica, who has been maliciously issuing arrest warrants, seemingly as fast as he can prepare them, based on questionable charges in an apparent attempt to harass Chairman Nuvamsa and to keep him from presiding over Tribal Council meetings. Porturica assumed the position of “acting” Chief Prosecutor when the real Chief Prosecutor, Dorma Sahneyah, was fired from her position allegedly for sharing confidential information with the press. Porturica does not have a law degree. Sahneyah, a licensed attorney, had prepared a simple statement for the press in a high-profile case that Sahneyah says did not reveal any privileged or confidential information. It is common practice for prosecutors’ offices to prepare such statements when they anticipate a high volume of calls from the press on a particular case.
If Honyaoma follows through on his promise to resign, there will be no Chairman and no Vice Chairman. Though the Hopi Constitution mandates an election when vacancies occur in these offices, the same individuals that have been targeting Chairman Nuvamsa for removal are preparing to place the Tribe’s Secretary, Mary Felter, in the top position. Felter is very unpopular among many Hopi and Tewa people and is seen by many as a behind-the-scenes manipulative force with aspirations for power.
More recently emerging forces in the efforts to remove Chairman Nuvamsa are First Mesa Representative Dale Sinquah and Ivan Sidney, the former Chairman who’s removal prompted the special election that put Chairman Nuvamsa into office. Sidney was hired by Honyaoma a few months ago as his top staff member.
“It appears that their main goal is to get rid of me. The result has been a collapse of our government, the destruction of our court system and, thus, the violation of our citizens’ civil rights, and the tearing apart of our community and families. By taking myself out of the equation,” said Nuvamsa, “I’m hoping that we can begin the long healing process and the stabilization of our government.”
Concluded Chairman Nuvamsa, “I pray that the people will understand that this appears to be the only way to stop the pain and tears that our people have been experiencing for the last two years. I want to thank you, the people, for your faith in me. Now I must have faith in you to take back your government and rebuild it as a government that truly works for you, the Hopi and Tewa people, a truly representative form of government.”