Grandmother: Mona Polacca | Hopi/Havasupai/Tewa, Arizona/USA
Grandmother Mona is a member of the Colorado River tribes that live along the river of that name in Parker, Arizona. On her mother’s side she is Havasupai, the people of the azure water, who originated from the Grand Canyon area. Her father is a Hopi-Tewa Indian from the First Mesa in northern Arizona. She also belongs to the Sun Clan and the Tobacco Clan. She was named ‘Polacca’, which means ‘butterfly’ in the Hopi language, by her mother’s father. In Hopi legends, the butterfly is a symbol for spiritual transformation.
Mona learnt the Indian traditions from her paternal grandfather, who lived to be 102 years old. But she never got to knew her maternal grandmother who was Havasupai. She only has a photo of her which hangs over the front door of her house. Although they never met, Mona feels a strong connection to her. Grandmother Mona’s maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were chiefs of the Havasupai nation.
Her own prayers and the prayers of her ancestors have a great significance for Grandmother Mona. The wisdom she exudes wherever she goes comes from her mother. Her work takes her to many places in the world and she follows her mother’s advice to choose her words very carefully and think a lot before she acts. She travels in honor of her mother who never had the opportunity to do so.
For nearly 30 years, Grandmother Mona has worked in the field of drug addiction prevention. During the 1970s, when the first federal aid programs for native Americans living in reservations were introduced, the main part of her work was in the prevention of alcohol and drug dependence among young people. Many tribes were getting advice from outside experts and Mona asked herself if this was really necessary as all the resources needed could be found within the tribes themselves. So she was given the task of devising a concept for anti-addiction programs for teenagers.
Twice a year, in spring and winter, she organized conferences for them where the tribe elders spoke to the young people about the traditions and way of life of the tribes. They listened to the elders singing the traditional songs and played traditional games, both of which gave them a sense of their identity, purpose and direction. A fire was built around which ceremonies and prayers were held.
The young people began to get involved in the running of the conferences. Some cooked the meals and they ate communally because as food nourishes the body and the spirit eating is considered by Indians to be a sacred ritual.
Grandmother Mona’s most precious gift is when severe alcoholics kick their addiction and become productive human beings living a life worth living. She sees that the whole community benefits from this hope especially when the cured person puts his new-found energy into helping others.
Grandmother Mona has done a lot of research into addiction behavior. One study revealed that the main motivation for Indian women to fight their addiction is the fear of having their children taken into care.
Grandmother Mona lives in Arizona. She has a son, two daughters and seven grandchildren. She is currently working on her Ph. D. at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.
Grandmother Mona addressed the members of the Council as ‘the beautiful relatives of the world’ and explained that the Hopi way of greeting a member of another tribe is to hold out an open palm as a sign that one has come in peace.