Hopis reject new constitution

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, Jan. 28, 2011

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Hopi voters solidly rejected a controversial new constitution Thursday, leaving intact the dual governmental system - secular and religious - that has precipitated a series of court battles in recent years.

The vote was 656 against the new constitution, and 410 opposed, with 71 percent of the electorate voting.

The new constitution's opponents, including former Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa and former Hopi Tribal Court Judge Gary LaRance, had staged a well-organized campaign against the new law, arguing that it would usurp the authority of Hopi's autonomous villages by lumping them into one branch of the government.

Present Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa, who prior to taking office had sat on the task force to propose constitutional revisions, had maintained the document would actually strengthen the authority of the villages while eliminating conflicts between the central and village governments.

The constitution also would have created other sweeping changes, switching from a two-branch form of government (tribal council and judiciary) to four branches (executive, legislative, judiciary and villages).

"Let this be a lesson to our tribal leaders that they can't simply pass legislation that will change the very fabric of our society - our culture - without our approval," Nuvamsa texted from his cell phone after the election results came in.

Shingoitewa said Friday morning he was "disappointed" with the election results, but ready to move forward.

"There seemed to be a sentiment among the opposition that this was the chairman's document," Shingoitewa said. "This was not the chairman's document. This was the people's document. I appreciate all the hard work of the people who sat on the task force."

Shingoitewa said he would not send the committee back to the drawing board.

"When Chairman (Wayne) Taylor created the task force in 1997, our assignment was to work on a constitution and get it to the point where people could vote on it," he said. "We've accomplished that task. The people have made their statement."

While he still believes the 1936 constitution written for the tribe by the BIA is in desperate need of revision, Shingoitewa said he won't tackle it again any time soon.

"We've got a lot of other things we have to deal with," he said. "What we will now do is abide by the present constitution and move forward."

The vote was against the new constitution in every precinct except the ethnically distinct village of Tewa, where the vote was 22 in favor of the changes and 20 against.

Opposition to the new supreme law was strongest in the traditional villages and lightest in the more progressive ones like Upper Moencopi, where the vote was almost evenly split 30-31.

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