Flagstaff, AZ – Stretched across the Hopi reservation in far northeast Arizona are 12 villages perched high atop steep, sandstone mesas. These are ancient places, considered to be among the longest continually inhabited villages in North America. For centuries they've largely governed themselves, many still led by religious leaders known as kikmongwes. But some Hopi, including former tribal chairman Ben Nuvamsa, fear that a new constitution could change that.
"It gives a lot of power to the president, a lot of power to the council, and it dilutes the power of villages. So we don't have balance of powers, that's really compromised."
Nuvamsa says that under the current constitution, villages have supremacy over the tribal Council. He believes the new document would make villages essentially the 4th branch of the central government. Current Hopi Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa argues it doesn't change what's in the existing constitution he says it just clarifies the roles of each level of government.
"It clearly, clearly shows the roles of the TC, the exec office, our judicial system, and then also the villages as to their roles within the government."
Fewer than 15 hundred Hopi are registered to vote in the election, out of a total population of over 10 thousand. Critics say a lot of other people want to vote, but weren't given enough time to register. 30 percent of registered voters must cast a ballot for the election to be valid. That means a new Hopi constitution could pass with just over 200 votes.