The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council has sparked controversy across social media in recent weeks, following the council’s decision to initiate proceedings to remove its top elected official, Chairman Joe Davis.

Joe Davis | Image via Hoopa Valley Tribe

During last week’s regular meeting, the tribal council approved a motion to suspend Davis from his duties as chairman, citing allegations of gross negligence, neglect of duty and abuse of power. In the days following its decision, the tribal council has enacted measures to restrict Davis’ access to tribal buildings, allowing entrance only by police escort. The council has also prohibited the Two Rivers Tribune, the tribally-owned newspaper, from printing or posting messages from the embattled chairman.

So far, the tribal council has not been particularly forthcoming about the allegations against Davis. It issued a list of five charges against Davis earlier this month, including failure to supervise tribal staff and departments of the Tribe, repeated failure to follow tribal council directives and policies, failure to maintain the Tribe’s website, and repeated failure to disclose potential conflicts of interest despite advice from legal counsel — but the council has not gone into detail about the alleged actions that sparked the suspension.

“The Tribal Council has not taken this decision lightly,” the council stated in a recent news release. “We have hired independent investigators to assess some concerns we have had with Chairman Davis and have conducted a review of his performance as Chairman of the Tribe. Unfortunately, we believe that he has neglected his duty to the Tribe and committed gross negligence as Chairman. We can’t in good conscience let him continue to abuse his power and authority to the detriment of the Tribe.”

Davis has disputed any claims of wrongdoing. Reached for additional comment on the matter, Davis said the whole ordeal stemmed from a conflict of interest allegation from May 2023 when he and his wife were seeking a business loan from the Hoopa Development Fund. 

“This all started [because] the council accused me of not disclosing a loan that I never accepted,” Davis told the Outpost in a phone interview this week. “I had reached out to the Tribe’s legal counsel [Tom Schlossner] to make sure that I was doing everything right and that I wasn’t in violation of any laws. He simply told me that if I were to accept a loan, I would just need to recuse myself from oversight of that department. However, I never did move forward with accepting the loan, so I didn’t feel it necessary to recuse myself at that time.”

Davis maintained that the tribal council used the incident as an excuse to build a case against him. 

“Since then, the council has been looking for other things to try to add to the [conflict of interest claim] because they knew that I never accepted the loan and they really didn’t have much,” he said. “Some of the other folks [Vice-Chair Colegrove and Councilmember Jill Sherman-Warne] that ran against me in the last election, they were looking for things that they could add on to try to get rid of me.”

The tribal council issued a press release on Feb. 20 accusing Davis of attempting “a hostile take-over” of the Feb. 16 meeting after he took his usual seat on the dais and attempted to lead the meeting after the council voted to suspend him from his duties.

“Not only did the Chairman incite hostility and harassment of Tribal Council members at the meeting, but he is encouraging his supporters to privately threaten and harass Tribal Council members,” according to the news release. “Chairman Davis continues to be suspended from all duties as Chairman of the Tribe and is unauthorized to act on behalf of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.”

Davis emphatically denied the alleged attempt “to usurp power” at the meeting. He maintains that he was seated in the audience during the tribal council’s discussion on his suspension and said he “peacefully” took his seat on the dais after the vote.

“There was no hostility on my part,” Davis said. “I had a large crowd of supporters [in the audience] but … there wasn’t anyone that was hostile, other than one tribal member – a family member of another councilmember – who stood up and began yelling about a personal issue that she had. A lot of people just can’t believe that the council would go this far. … It is defamation of my character to say that I attempted a hostile takeover, because that isn’t true.”

The tribal council took further action against Davis at the beginning of this week, voting to restrict his access to all tribal facilities. Davis claims he was unaware of the action until after he showed up to work on Tuesday morning and received a letter from Vice-Chair Colegrove informing him of the suspension notice.

“[T]he Tribal Council has voted to restrict your access to all Tribal Buildings, effective immediately,” the letter states. “You are not to enter a building of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, or any of its entities, or linger outside a Tribal Building, unless you are pre-authorized by the Vice-Chairman to enter. Pre-authorization may be granted for access for personal services or benefits, including health benefits. Pre-authorization will not be granted for any activities related to duties as Chairman of the Tribe. Upon entering any Tribal Building, you will be escorted by Tribal Police to ensure your safety and the safety of our Tribal employees and members.” 

The letter also prohibits Davis from contacting tribal employees. “If you are in need of any personal services or benefits, please reach out to me and I will assist in coordinating such services or benefits,” the letter states.

Along with the letter, Davis received copies of two polling sheets, which serve as a preliminary voting method to facilitate immediate action on pending matters. One polling sheet informed Davis of his restricted access to tribal buildings. The other prohibited the Two Rivers Tribune “from posting or printing any messages from Chairman Joe Davis while he is suspended from office.”

Eventually, Davis said, the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police and a Humboldt County sheriff’s deputy showed up to escort him off the premises. “They told me that if I agreed to leave on my own they would leave,” he said. “They were basically there to remove me.”

The tribal council’s action against Davis has drawn criticism from members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, some of whom took to the Hoopa Community Facebook group to voice their support for Davis. 

“How many signatures are needed in order to place our chairman back to his seat so he can finish his term and run again[?]” one commenter asked.

“I want to know what the accusations are against the chairman,” another commenter wrote. “It’s my right as a citizen of this Tribe to know what my council is spending their time doing. If a press release can be made that gives some heavy-handed assertions, then the offenses should also be stated.”

​​The tribal council will hold a public meeting in tribal council chambers at 10 a.m. on Feb. 29 to discuss the allegations against Davis and formally consider his removal from the council. Davis will have an opportunity to respond to the charges levied against him during the meeting. 

“I just ask that the council respect the wishes of the tribal membership who elected me and that they go into hearing with an open mind,” Davis said. “I hope they don’t already have their minds made up. … What they’ve done has been a disservice to the membership.”

Vice-Chair Colegrove and Senior Tribal Attorney Kristen Boyert did not respond to the Outpost’s request for comment ahead of publication. We’ll update this post if we hear back.