Hopis reject political establishment in vote for top leaders

This photo provided by the Hopi Tribe shows Tim Nuvangyaoma, who was just elected as chairman. 

Karen Shupla

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A small northern Arizona tribe has chosen new leadership as it faces the loss of coal royalties that make up a huge chunk of its budget.

Tim Nuvangyaoma won the Hopi chairman's post with 969 votes, beating out David Norton Talayumptewa by more than 325 votes, according to unofficial results. Nuvangyaoma's uncle by clan and former colleague at the Hopi radio station, Clark Tenakhongva, will join him in the administration as vice chairman.

The two will lead amid economic uncertainty, with the expected closure of a coal mine in 2019 that feeds a power plant near Page on the neighboring Navajo Nation. Royalties from coal extracted at the Kayenta Mine make up 85 percent of the Hopi budget, and the reservation's isolation makes economic development difficult.

Nuvangyaoma said Friday that he will seek input from Hopis on potential solutions.

"It's going to be a lot of work, but I'm prepared for the challenge," he said. "I'm open to building relationships with the council, and I definitely want to start building relationships with the departments and really look at the whole picture."

The current tribal chairman and vice chairman had sought the top elected post but didn't advance beyond the primaries. Talayumptewa and Tenakhongva's challenger, Lamar Keevama, will remain on the Tribal Council.

Tenakhongva, a singer and recording artist who worked with veterans after serving in the U.S. Army, ran unsuccessfully for tribal chairman in 2009. He has said he would work on education issues and developing renewable resources. He did not immediately return a message left Friday by The Associated Press.

The chairman and vice chairman get much of their authority from the Tribal Council, which functions like a city government. The chairman presides over meetings but doesn't vote except to break a tie.

Turnout for the election was low, with 1,622 votes cast among more than 11,000 eligible voters.

Reached Friday by phone, Talayumptewa declined to comment.

Nuvangyoama had positioned himself as the candidate closest to the community. He has worked in finance, as a wildland firefighter and a volunteer for the Hopi radio station doing cultural and traditional programming.

He focused his campaign on ensuring that Hopis who need help with drug or alcohol addiction get it. The 46-year-old credits a citation for driving while intoxicated more than a decade ago for turning his life around. He said he wants to ensure Hopis aren't judged for their struggles.

He monitored election results Thursday night as his football team, the Arizona Cardinals, took on the Seattle Seahawks.

"We got one out of two, the big one, a victory in moving the right direction," he said. "But my Cardinals, unfortunately, lost against our rival."

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