Hopi Mission School in Kykotsmovi, Ariz., has a new name and staff, prompting questions about who is operating the Native American ministry with decades of Mennonite history and influence.
The transformation into Hopi Christian Academy was revealed in small advertisements for students and staff that ran in the June 6 and 20 issues of the Hopi Tutuveni reservation newspaper.
The change came as a surprise to Mennonite Education Agency executive director Carlos Romero.
“Apparently some people have gone into the facilities and are trying to run the school and change the name,” he said June 14, a day after he received a message from a local resident sharing concerns about the school, a member of MEA’s Mennonite Schools Council. “We have been trying to actually confirm that, so we have been reaching out through a number of people but we haven’t gotten any response.”
He noted MEA could use legal avenues to gain more information. Mennonite Church USA already filed a lawsuit on behalf of MEA in Navajo County (Ariz.) Superior Court in 2015 asking that the HMS board be evicted from the property so that denominational representatives can review financial documents. A decision is pending.
The school faces several legal matters. Federal indictments naming superintendent Thane Epefanio, principals Rebecca Yoder and Anne Lowry and HMS board treasurer Matthew Schneider allege almost $1 million in fraudulent activity at HMS. The school’s Facebook page has not been updated since Feb. 7, a week after the most recent indictment alleged theft of HMS funds.
Who runs the school?
Local residents confirmed the main sign at the school still says “Hopi Mission School,” and an eighth-grade graduation ceremony took place June 9.
“People have moved onto the grounds. Hopi staff moved onto the grounds,” said Nadenia Myron, a pastor at Sunlight Community Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in nearby Second Mesa. “Epefanio gave keys to those who are loyal.”
Myron and her husband, Elmer, worked among Native American populations in the 1980s under the General Conference Mennonite Church’s Commission on Home Ministries and Mennonite Board of Missions of the Mennonite Church.
“Several of our parents and grandparents who go to our church and the Mennonite church in Kykotsmovi, their kids go to [to HMS] and they want to know what’s going on,” she said, noting residents were planning to have a meeting later in June to discuss concerns. “. . . We’re not in agreement with the First Mesa Assemblies of God church assuming they have ownership of the school.”
Myron said a Hopi woman named Mary Honwytewa had been running the school and wondered whether she had credentials to do so.
Hopi Christian Academy Inc., was registered with the state of Arizona as a nonprofit corporation on May 22, using the HMS address and naming Honwytewa as the registered agent on file. Other principals on record are HMS board members Camille Quotskuyva and Garyth Poocha of Kykotsmovi.
Staff at the Hopi Tutuveni confirmed Honwytewa placed advertisements in the newspaper but did not know any details about the school’s name change or leadership.
The advertisements feature paw prints similar to logos used by the HMS Bruins and seek student enrollments and applicants for teacher, teacher’s aide, maintenance/janitor, office manager, athletic director, cook and librarian positions. The street address is identical to that of HMS.
Calls and emails to the contact information listed in advertisements and at hopichristianacademy.org were not returned.