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Story Publication logo November 9, 2022

‘Voters Are Amazed’: Hopi Translation Offered at Hopi Nation Polling Sites for the 1st Time

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Politician speaks with constituents at a public event
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Arizona is an epicenter of election disinformation, and dozens of candidates up and down the ballot...

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A ballot dropbox in Kykotsmovi on the Hopi Nation with translator Maxine Wadsworth (left) and Hopi Elections Registrar Karen Shulpa. Image by Stan Bindell/The Republic. United States, 2022.

HOPI NATION, Arizona—Hopi-speaking voters casting ballots on the Hopi reservation had several options for voting in their tribal language on Tuesday.

They could use earphones to hear voting instructions and choices in Hopi or use a touchscreen to read the same information in Hopi.


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“I am going to vote in person just so I can hear it,” Hopi Elections registrar Karen Shupla said. “It’s exciting that we’re up to time on the machines.”

In addition, this is the first year that Hopi translators were hired to work the polls on the Hopi reservation, Shupla said.

Maxine Wadsworth was hired by Navajo County to ensure that all Hopi language speakers were accommodated at the polls. She said that a Hopi language speaker was available at each polling site on Hopi land to accommodate Hopi language speakers. Coconino County also contributed to the effort.

In the past, the polls only offered informal translation services for voting, Wadsworth said. Wadsworth said it was helpful that PBS did a story that the translation services would be available.

“The voters are amazed, and now they can vote on the propositions that they had trouble understanding,” she said. “For so long, the Hopi voters felt left out of the loop on language issues. It’s exciting that they can vote in a way that any Hopi voter can understand.”

Times have changed, Wadsworth said.

When she was a child, her father, who was a Hopi Code Talker, would make the children eat blue dumplings, a bland food they didn’t like, if they spelled an English word wrong. Now, she said, it’s reversed as more translation services for Hopi are available.

Smooth US election Tuesday

Voting was smooth at the Hopi voting locations. Shupla said the U.S. Department of Justice planned to check up on the polls to see how it was going.

Ivan Sidney, community service administrator at First Mesa Consolidated Villages, whose office is next to the voting location in Polacca, said turnout was strong right after the polls opened at 6 a.m. when he cast his vote. He said it was sporadic after that.

The polling location at Kykotsmovi had an influx of early voters Tuesday because it is across the street from the government complex. The tribal government workers were casting their votes before they went to work.

One confusion for some Hopi voters was that the vote for tribal council delegates in Kykotsmovi was Wednesday, the day after the U.S. midterm. Shupla said there was also some confusion on the Navajo Nation because tribal elections and U.S. elections were on the same day, but there were different ballots for each election.

Shupla said a lot of Hopi voters used the drop boxes to vote because they didn’t want to take time off work. She said turnout for the primary election was low on Hopi.

“That’s what Hopi does,” she said of the meager turnout.

Shupla encouraged Hopis to vote because election outcomes impact issues that are relevant in their daily lives, including Social Security and education.

Wadsworth said Proposition 209, which passed Tuesday and lowers the maximum interest rates on medical debt, is important because so many COVID-19 patients were sent off the reservation for treatment and the aftermath is medical debt. She said voting also impacts roads, which could be improved on Hopi.

Shupla said it seemed more men were coming out to vote this year. Hopi is a traditionally maternal society, and women make many of the decisions, so Hopi women are more likely than men to vote. She said she hopes voter turnout will increase among young Hopis, too.


View a carousel of photos from the 2022 Midterm election in Arizona here.


Desire for constitutional change

Alan Chavez, community service administrator at Walpi Village on Hopi, said he dropped his U.S. election ballot off early, but that he is more concerned about tribal elections.

Chavez said he wants to see all tribal council delegates elected. Right now, some are appointed.

The Hopi Elections Office sent out a survey about whether the 1936 Hopi Constitution should be changed. But after Hopi Tribal Councilman Dale Sinquah sent a letter to the council opposing the survey, the survey was dropped.

Chavez said he would like to see the constitution changed because it was created by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, not the tribe. Chavez said he hoped that the survey would motivate a constitutional change, so all tribal councilors are elected.

“I support the survey because I want to be able to vote for Hopi Tribal Council,” Chavez said. “Any time we can have a voice and not have decisions made for us, then I’m for it.”

Voting in person, by mail or not at all

James Lomakema, who teaches social studies at Hopi Junior-Senior High School, said he cast his vote in person because that is what he normally does.

He talks to his classes about voting, he said, but tells the students it’s their choice.

His job is to have them study the issues and show them what the political parties stand for on those issues, he said.

Juwan Nuvayokva, a physical education teacher, said he mailed his vote in early and didn’t anticipate any problems.

Rick Baker, a cross country coach, said he voted in person, and he will be happy when the “mudslinging” advertisements are done.

Eric Morningstar, a security guard at Hopi High, said he didn’t vote because when Biden ran against Trump in the last election, he didn’t like the choices.

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