Important issues facing the Hopi Tribe

The following post was written and provided by Benjamin H. Nuvamsa….

There are several very important issues currently facing our tribe, but no one from the tribal administration is sharing them with our villages, traditional leaders, and tribal members.  These issues have potentially long lasting and devastating impacts on our tribe.  There are other issues that the current tribal administration is doing, or has done, but tribal members have no knowledge of them.  If you are interested and want to hear about these issues, come to the Hopi Cultural Center on Thursday at 5:00 p.m. for an evening of discussion and dialogue.  We are at a very critical juncture in the history of our tribe that I believe everybody should know what direction the current tribal administration is taking our tribe.  Some of the issues we will discuss include.

1.       Revised Senate Bill 2109 (and House Resolution 4067) “Navajo and Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012”.  Despite the overwhelming rejection of this bill by our villages, leaders and tribal members, Leroy Shingoitewa & certain members of the Water & Energy Team are continuing to negotiate this legislation and the Settlement Agreement.  In fact, they are in Washington, DC this week in meetings with Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Navajo Nation officials.  We recently received a copy of proposed changes to S.2109 that Shingoitewa and his attorneys have been secretly negotiating without our knowledge and approval.  Secretary Salazar and some tribal officials have indicated they want to push this legislation for passage during the lame duck Congress (before the end of this year).  We, past elected tribal leaders, have written to the tribal council to direct Shingoitewa to cease the negotiations and comply with Resolution H-072-2012.  And I sent a letter to Secretary Salazar (with copies to Senator Akaka, Senator Kyl, Senator McCain, Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Washburn) that Shingoitewa and the tribal council do not have authority to negotiate and give away our water rights.

2.       Hopi LCR Water Rights Claim in the Apache County Superior Court.  There was a hearing recently in Phoenix on Hopi’s water rights claim to the Little Colorado River.  If Shingoitewa and his team continue with their negotiations of S.2109, any agreements on S.2109 by Shingoitewa may compromise the claim our tribe filed several years ago in the Apache County Superior Court (Little Colorado River Water Rights Adjudication).  What will be the impacts on our aboriginal rights, Spanish law rights, and Federal reserved rights; and what will we lose, if S.2109 is passed into law?

3.       Mishongnovi Case (Tribal Court No. 2011-CV-0023; Appellate Court No. 2012-AP-0002).  Recently the Hopi Appellate Court sent out invitations to villages and others to file Amicus Briefs in a case that may impact the traditional leadership and governance in our villages.  It is vitally important that village leaders are made aware of this issue and that they consider filing their respective Amicus Briefs on behalf of their villages.  You remember the Hopi Appellate Court issued its ruling on the Bacavi Certified Question  in February 2010.  This was an important and historic ruling for our Hopi and Tewa villages.  The Mishongnovi case could have even more significant impacts on our traditional villages.  It is really important that all villages, traditional leaders and others file their briefs to the appellate court before the deadline expires.

4.       RICO Lawsuit Settlement.  In June 1999 the Hopi tribe joined in the Navajo Nation’s lawsuit against Peabody Energy, Southern Cal Edison and Salt River Project for price fixing scheme against the tribes on coal royalties, and breach of coal leases under a law called Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.   Navajo Nation demanded a 20% royalty for its coal but ended up only with a 12.5% rate.  Under RICO, Navajo could potentially claim treble damages (three times) of up to $1.8 billion.  But in August 2011, the Navajo Nation agreed to a settlement for much less than its claim ($600.0 million claim originally filed).  Shingoitewa and Lyttle agreed to a settlement without the knowledge and approval of the Hopi tribal council and the Hopi people.  Questions remain as to: What happened to the settlement funds? What did Hopi give up by accepting the money? What were Robert Lyttle’s fees? Did Shingoitewa agree to certain waivers and release of claims against the Defendants (e.g. release of claims for over-pumping of the N-aquifer)?  The Shingoitewa administration have, so far, refused to answer these and other questions raised by Council Representative Becky Masayesva.

5.       Robert Lyttle.  The tribal council recently voted, by a secret ballot, to hire Robert Lyttle as In-House Counsel to the Hopi Tribal Council.  In doing so, they purposely overlooked a highly qualified Hopi tribal member who, along with others, applied for the job opening.  Robert Lyttle did not apply for the job but was selected by Shingoitewa’s supporters on tribal council in a secret ballot vote.  Back in May 2010, Robert Lyttle entered into a contract with Shingoitewa at a time when he was not admitted to the Arizona State Bar; and at a time when there was no “Law Firm of Robert Lyttle” (in fact, there is no Robert Lyttle Law Firm), and despite the requirement for a “law firm” in the contract he signed, and the Council Resolution the tribal council passed.  Since then, millions of the tribe’s money have gone to Robert Lyttle and his purported “law firm”.  The other attorneys who purportedly are partners or members of his “law firm” are members of other law firms.  How much money has been paid to Robert Lyttle?  What work did they perform?  Are there legal contracts between the Hopi Tribe (approved by tribal council) and all of Lyttle’s attorney friends who purportedly work in his “law firm”?  What funds were used to pay Lyttle?  We all have a right to have these, and other questions, answered by the Shingoitewa (and the Treasurer).

6.       Tribal Fiscal Year 2009 Audit.  The tribal council recently approved a Fiscal Year 2009 audit performed by Walker & Armstrong.   The audit firm has worked for the tribe for a long time and may have violated several auditing standards (rules).  They may have violated conflicts of interest rules by acting both as auditors and consultants.  In the audit report, the firm evaluated tribal investments, investment risks, investment quality, past and future investment performance.  This goes well beyond and outside the scope of the audit.  So the question is, did Walker & Armstrong violate Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, Generally Accepted Auditing Standards, and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)?  Walker & Armstrong was deeply involved in the former Treasurer Russell Mockta matter and tribal investments; and may have certain vested interests to continue working for (auditing) the tribe.

7.       Miscellaneous. There are several other issues, such as the APS Right-of-Way, Law & Order Code, Snow Bowl, Grand Canyon Escalade Project, Shingoitewa’s new effort to revise the Hopi Constitution, etc., that will be briefly addressed.

These are only a few issues that face our tribe.  We just want to share them with you for your information since this administration is not keeping us informed.   What you (we) do about them is entirely up to tribal members.  Thank you.

“Navajo Truth – STOP SB 2109” A group worth following on Facebook

This morning I want to direct your attention to a Facebook group called “Navajo Truth – STOP SB 2109.” It’s a group that I regularly follow (even though I’m not officially on FB) to get updated information on the proposed legislation. If you have a minute, head over to their page and join the conversation. It’s a great resource for anyone interested in this topic. Here’s  the description about the group from their page: “Working to ensure accountability and transparency for the Navajo Nation. Calling our people and friends to ACTION.”