Grandmother Mona Polacca
"[Generations of grandparents] prayed for the great-great-great-great-great grandchildren they would never see, but knew were coming. They prayed for us to be praying people, to continue the prayer, and to recognize through a prayer when you are blessed. The way I have been taught in walking this road is to always take time to acknowledge our ancestors, those who were here before us and were the ones who made the prayers that made it possible for to be here. In order for me to be able to stand or kneel on Mother Earth, to make a prayer, it's because of them."
Grandmother Mona Polacca believes that her origins are as important as her name, Polacca, which means butterfly in the Hopi language. On her father's side, she a Hopi-Tewa from the Sun and the Tobacco Clans. It was her paternal grandfather who named her. In Hopi lore, the Butterfly symbolizes man's spiritual transformation.
Grandmother Mona learned her Indian ways from her paternal grandmother who lived to be 102. She often prayed and talked to Mona about being a good person. "'Be kind. Be nice to one another. Love your brothers and sisters; they are all you have.' She'd say, 'In Indian way, this is the way to be, this is the way to do things.'"
On her mother's side, Grandmother Mona is Havasupai, the people of the Blue Green water, from the Grand Canyon area in Arizona. Grandmother Mona's maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were the last chiefs of the Havasupai Nation. She believe their prayers helped make a way for her in this world.
Although her maternal grandmother passed away before she was born, Grandmother Mona keeps her photo by the door. "I tell her I am going to be away from here for awhile, look after things home for me. When I come back into my home, I receive the welcome of my grandmother looking at me. Though I've never met her, I have this connection with her."
Grandmother Mona lives her life according to her mother's teachings and takes great care with her speech and actions. "You are not here just for yourself," Grandmother Mona's mother taught her. "Wherever you go, you are a representative of our family ... our tribe, our people." Today, when Mona travels, she always returns with a small gift for her mom -- a shell, stone, or something simple.
For almost 30 years, Grandmother Mona Polacca has worked in the field of alcoholism and substance abuse. In the 1970s, she was given the job to develop substance-abuse programs for tribal youth. She organized inside her culture with youth programs led by elders who shared traditions and life stories. Kids learned traditional songs and games which gave them a greater sense of identity, purpose, and direction.
One evening, a Mohave elder stood up and offered his prayer beside the sacred fire. "You know, there is something really special about this. Nonnatives so often build a huge bonfire, so big that everyone has to stand back. Natives build a small fire, so that everyone has to come close." Grandmother Mona says this is the way Indian people work -- close around the fire so people hear each other and share the warmth.
Soon the young people became involved in running the conferences. "The youth learn these ways are accessible, not meant to be just seen under glass in a museum where you can only stand and look," Grandmother Mona says. "Their hands can hold the traditional ways. It's not just our history, but an essential part of our life today."
Grandmother Mona has
helped with several important
studies about addictive behavior. One study reveals that the most important way for
Native women to overcome substance abuse is the threat of taking
away their children. Another study proves that Native youth respond
positively to programs with cultural components like sweat lodges,
singing, and drumming. Even those living far from their reservations can
maintain sobriety through a close connection with the ceremonies.
Today Grandmother Mona lives in Arizona and has a son, two daughters, and seven grandchildren. She is now working on her Ph.D at the Interdisciplinary Justice Studies Department of Arizona State University. When Grandmother Mona first addressed the Grandmothers Council, she embraced them as "beautiful relatives of the world." She then explained that the Hopi way of greeting those from other nations is to reach out an open hand to show one has come in peace. She also paid honor to Grandfather, represented by the fire lit from the original flame of peace.
"There was once a time as indigenous people when we didn't have any maps or road signs, yet we were able to make our way. We were able to journey," Grandmother Mona explained. "We had the sacred fire so that when there was a moment when we felt we lost our sense of direction, when we were lost and disoriented, not knowing which direction to go, we would sit down before this Grandpa Fire. In poor health physically, mentally, spiritually, we would sit down before Grandpa Fire and say our prayers. In that way we would be shown the direction we needed to go, the things we needed to do. We would be given the signs through Grandfather Fire. Our hearts would be filled with warmth love, and compassion. That's the way this Grandfather Fire is. Always respect it, always look to it, let it be there to help you."
Navajo Early Morning Blessing
Hopi Havasupai Reservation Maps
Interview with Grandmother Mona
by Future Primitive, January 24, 2007
Supawlavi Village, Hopi Nation
Age Through Ethnic Lenses: Caring
Elderly in a Multicultural Society
and Seminole Stories
dverse Childhood Exposures and
Alcohol Dependence Among Seven Native American Tribes
Havasupai Water Fall Relaxation
Hopi Water Wisdom
The Hopi Calendar
Rainmakers from the
Gods: Hopi Katsinam
The Sacred Land Film Project
Turtle Island Project
Hopi Snake Dance
Hopi Katcina Songs and Six Songs by Hopi
Thomas Banyacya Hopi Traditional Elder
Un Poh: Recovery in Native America
The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers Native Village Home Page