FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The race to become the next leader of the Hopi Tribe has drawn eight candidates, including the current chairman and vice chairman.
Hopis will narrow down the list Wednesday in the primary election, sending the top two vote-getters on to the general election on Nov. 20. Two of the four candidates for vice chairman also will move on.
Hopis elected Le Roy Shingoitewa, a former elementary school principal, as chairman and Herman Honanie, the tribe's former health director, as vice chairman four years ago. They're now running against each other to lead the 12,000-member tribe in northeastern Arizona that has faced challenges with investments, securing water rights and finding new sources of revenue as coal royalties decline.
Shingoitewa and Honanie took the leadership posts during a rare vacancy in the offices after former Chairman Ben Nuvamsa and former Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma Sr. resigned amid political chaos in the tribal government. Honyaoma is seeking the chairman's job.
The race also features Caleb Johnson, a former vice chairman; Shingoitewa's former chief of staff and anthropologist Micah Loma'omvaya; tribal solid waste director Mike Puhuyesva, grocery store manager Tommy Canyon; and Norman Honie Jr., who heads the tribe's office of mining and mineral resources.
Ronald Honyumptewa, Alfred Lomahquahu Jr., Robert Sumatzkuku and George Mase are vying to become vice chairman.
The chairman oversees meetings of the Tribal Council, which functions much like a city government, but does not vote except to break a tie. Not all of the 12 Hopi villages that sit on three mesas above the surrounding desert send representatives to the Tribal Council.
The candidates' platforms include equal representation of villages on the Tribal Council, improving the tribe's relationship with the federal government, reaching out to Hopis and cultural practitioners for advice and promoting cooperation between villages.
The Hopi Tribe also fought a public battle this year to keep dozens of artifacts from being auctioned off in France but was unsuccessful.
The Hopi Constitution, which reflects a mix of theocracy and democracy in government, doesn't require tribal members to be registered to vote but any Hopi casting a ballot must be 18 years old. Nearly 1,400 voted in the 2009 primary election.
"It's a pretty small turnout," said tribal registrar Karen Shupla. "We really encourage if you don't want that individual to get in, come and vote for who you would like to get in. That's your choice."
Historically, Hopis don't vote when disapproving of something. The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.