Testimony of Colonel Caleb H. Johnson, Hopi Tribal Council member, before the Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, Concerning Tribal Sovereign Immunity, presented on April 7, 1998, Seattle, Washington.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am Caleb H. Johnson, a member of the Hopi Indian Tribe in the State of Arizona. I am now serving my third (two year) term on the Hopi Tribal Council as a representative from the village of Kykotsmovi. I was a certified candidate for Chairman of the Tribe in its election of late 1997.
I am a graduate of UCLA, and also have a Master’s Degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. I have served in the U.S. Army for 28 years, on active duty and in the reserves, and retired as a full Colonel in 1989 at Fort Huachuca, Arizona with full military honors.
Before I make my comments, let me make it absolutely clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the Hopi Tribal Council. Instead, I am here as an individual citizen of the United States, whose rights of “due process” have been violated by the Hopi Tribal Court.
I am here to testify to the fact that I have filed a Complaint against the Hopi Election Board in the U.S. District Court of Arizona for the violation of my rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1968. My Complaint against the Hopi Election Board results from their conduct of the previously mentioned Tribal Commission Election. Severe Irregularities occurred in the conduct of the election ; so severe that I went from being the leading vote-getter to not even making it in the run-off election. A copy of my Complaint is attached to my testimony and I request that it be included in the hearing record.
In discussing my Complaint with my legal counsel, Mr. Richard M. Grimsrud, I have been advised that it will most likely be dismissed due to the policy of sovereign immunity claimed by the Hopi Tribal Government. The fact of the matter is, that if that should occur, than I will have no legal remedy. Despite the fact that the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”
When I was in Vietnam from June 1968 to June 1969, with the 17th Combat Aviation Group in I Corp, some 400 to 500 military personnel were dying each month defending the U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights. It is rather ironic when I consider my situation today, that the Indian Civil Rights Act was enacted into law in that same year, but that I am here today being denied my civil rights some 30 years later. What this situation tells me is that “something” is absolutely wrong and that “something” needs to be corrected expeditiously.
I have no knowledge of how Tribal Courts operate in other Indian tribes, but I do know how it operates in the Hopi Tribe. My Complaint makes it very clear that the Tribal Court deliberately delayed stamping my Complaint “filed” until thirty days had passed so that the court would dismiss it as not being filed on a “timely” basis. I am also very confident the Legal Counsel for the Election Board will argue before the Federal District Court that my Complaint be dismissed because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity of the Hopi Tribe, leaving me again without any legal remedy for the violation of my rights of “due process” under the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.
It is for these reasons that I am here today to support section 7 of Senator Gorton’s legislation, which would waive tribal sovereign immunity so that actions may be brought in federal court under the Indian Civil Rights Act.
In addition, I would like to make two recommendations for your consideration. First, I recommend that the word “original” be inserted before the “jurisdiction” on page 10, line 14 of the bill. Second, I recommend that this section be enacted into law by the Congress and the President of the United States. who is my Commander in Chief.
In conclusion, I am deeply grateful to Senator Gorton who made it possible for me to bring this matter to your attention.
Thank you and God bless the United States.