By Tammy Gray-Searles —
Hopi government will continue in its current form following the Jan. 27 defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have established separate branches of government.
The existing constitution clearly states that villages are self-governing, and reserves certain powers for villages. Under the proposal, villages would have become one of four branches of the Hopi government. The other proposed branches included legislative, executive and judicial.
Written in 1936, the Hopi constitution combines religious beliefs with an elected tribal council. Much of the governance is left to the villages, and the constitution notes that the tribe is “a union of self-governing villages.”
Under the proposal, villages would be just one of the four branches of government, with each branch having its own specified authority and powers.
The number of representatives from each village serving on the tribal council is determined by the population of the village under the existing constitution. The proposal would have changed the number to two from each village, regardless of size.
Proponents of the proposal argued that it better outlined the system of government, and provided a system of checks and balances.
Opponents argued that it would take control away from individual villages and would essentially allow voters in one village to have a voice in matters of another village.
Former Hopi Chairman Ben Nuvamsa, whose term was filled with conflict over whether certain tribal council members were seated according to the existing constitution, spoke out fervently against the change. He equated the proposal to make villages a branch of the government to making the states a branch of the U.S. federal government.
“All states enjoy a certain amount of sovereignty and autonomy, and are free to create and enforce their own governing laws so long as the laws are not inconsistent with the Constitution. States enjoy certain privileges such as taxation, leasing and benefit from economic development ventures,” Nuvamsa wrote in a letter urging voters to reject the proposed constitutional amendment. “We recognize our villages as having similar sovereign powers; powers that our villages possessed since time immemorial.”
Nuvamsa noted that he supported some portions of the amendment, such as removing religious leaders from political roles, but felt that the final document did not reflect the will of the Hopi people.
According to numbers provided by the Hopi Tribe, the final tally was 656 votes against amending the constitution and 410 votes for amending it. The total represents approximately a 72 percent turnout of registered voters within the tribe. According to Hopi Secretarial Election Board member Alice Kewevoyouma, the tribe has 1,496 registered voters. A turnout of at least 30 percent was required in order for election results to be valid.