Nuvamsa questions Hopi Tribe attorney payments

Below is a letter written by Benjamin H. Nuvamsa to the Hopi Tribal Council. This letter has been submitted to be published in the Hopi Tutuveni. Used with permission.

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November 6, 2013

Letter to the Hopi Tribal Council:

The startling news coming out of the Hopi Tribal Council meeting this week concerns the $22 million that Leroy Shingoitewa and you, Hopi Tribal Council, allowed Robert Lyttle to rack up on 45 of his attorney friends. We understand Shingoitewa and Lyttle advised the tribal council to not worry because they will “pay the tribe back” when they win the lawsuits. And we hear there is another $12 million more in invoices that still remain to be processed.

So why do you authorize the lawsuits, or do you? Is it so that Lyttle and friends can make money betting on the come that they will win the lawsuits? You know there are no guarantees that lawsuits will be won. The only guarantee is that Lyttle and his attorneys will get our money by racking up billable hours. And we lose.

While tribal members were surprised and aghast at the news, I was not surprised. Not at all! For some of us have been writing letters to you ever since Leroy Shingoitewa came into office and brought Robert Lyttle to the scene – around May 2010. We advised you of the excessive billings and all the attorneys that Lyttle brought to the tribe without the benefit of tribal council approval (council resolutions) and without attorney contracts. We know how Robert Lyttle works. We know what he did to several Arizona and California Indian tribes. Maybe you were not getting our letters, or maybe you were simply ignoring our advice, but this matter has now exploded into a very serious situation where there may be federal criminal violations committed. And our financial position is now in serious question. Certainly, the Hopi people are not happy.

We also advised you of the depletion of tribal accounts and the transferring of funds between accounts to pay the invoices because the other accounts ran dry. I advised you of the possible tax implications on the tribe (and Robert Lyttle and the attorneys). To this date, we don’t believe Lyttle has a legal contract with the tribe. Ask the question: is Lyttle and employee or is he a consultant? There is a big difference. Hard working and conscientious employees working in Finance have been summarily fired by Shingoitewa and Elward Edd for questioning the invoices. They were only doing their job. There are memos from Shingoitewa demanding the staff to pay the invoices. Our advice and complaints went into deaf ears.

The Hopi tribal constitution is very clear. It requires that attorney contracts be formally approved by the tribal council, by council resolution. The constitution also says the Tribal Treasurer cannot spend any money from the treasury unless authorized by tribal council resolution. We assume you, as council members, are aware of these provisions in our tribal constitution.

Because of our concerns about excessive payments to tribal attorneys and violation of tribal procurement policies by Shingoitewa, several of us exercised our right afforded us in the tribal constitution and requested to view the Treasurer’s financial records. As expected, we were denied our request so we filed a Writ of Mandamus in tribal court requesting the court to grant us access to the records. This matter is pending in tribal court.

So, now you have a decision to make. Your duty as tribal council members is to watch over our money. This obligation is spelled out in the tribal constitution. You are our fiduciaries. I advise you to hold off making any payments on the attorney invoices until and when you have completed an exhaustive investigation into this matter. In fact, I encourage you to withhold action on this matter until after the tribal election. But the questions remain the same: Are there authorizing tribal council resolutions for each attorney? Does each attorney have a legal contract with the tribe? Does each attorney contract have an identified (and approved) scope of work? Do the invoices contain the required information on what services were performed? Tribal accounts need a good look to see how much has been taken out and what the remaining balances are. I understand a tribal employee asked you the same questions at the October 29, 2013, tribal council meeting. He knows what he’s talking about.

We trust you will carry out your constitutional duties and protect our money; and hold people accountable.

Benjamin H. Nuvamsa

Village of Shungopavi 

Former Hopi Tribal Chairman

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2 Responses to “Nuvamsa questions Hopi Tribe attorney payments”


  1. 1 Alejandro De La Garza November 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    It’s bad enough outside forces often destroy Native American communities, but it’s worse when internal strife occurs.


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© Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the author

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert is enrolled with the Hopi Tribe from the village of Upper Moencopi in northeastern Arizona. He is an associate professor of American Indian Studies & History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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