Tuesday, 28 April 2015


                                                            Monika Ponton Arrington

From left to right, Tai Pellicier (Taino), Damon Corrie (Lokono), Monika Ponton Arrington (Taino) in the United Nations General Assembly Room on the opening day of the UNPFII

Monika next to Terry Sloan (Navajo Nation) at the UNPFII, with Tai Pellicier in the background at left.

                                                Monika presenting at a UNDP side event


I only 'knew' Monika as a fellow indigenous FaceBook friend previous to meeting her in person in New York City in April 2015. We were united by the vitally important Tribal Link Project Access United Nations training for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Monika was now entering it for the first time as a student, and I was returning to it as an Alumni to mentor the 1st & 2nd year students.

I soon got to know the Monika behind the name and FB photo, and I was very surprised at what I learned. What follows is a very brief and privileged glimpse into her life.....

When Monika was a little girl, her grandparents frequently took her to the Sea, her granny taught her that: "We were created in water in the womb, and we entered the world with water...water is the blood of mother Earth". So naturally Monika connected to the healing force of water from her earliest childhood. When she was 4 years old she already knew how to swim, and was taken to the beach at Bayonda in the Florida keys, somehow when her grandparents were distracted...Monika slipped away....her grandparents found her soon thereafter in the sea near the shore surrounded by Dolphins.

Grandad used to catch fish, and granny used to sit in the water at the shoreline and clean them, if a fish was discovered to be full of eggs and still alive - it was released back into the sea, but if it was already dead, granny put the eggs back into the sea to feed the other life forms - not wanting anything to go to waste in the circle of life.  The cleaned fish would then be smoked right there on the beach and consumed together as a family....and these stand out in Monika's heart and mind still - as one of her happiest memories.

In Ponce Puerto Rico (Boriken) in the mountains, there is a school and medical centre named after her grandad Ponton, but Monika was raised in the USA, in Florida first, where her childhood was a happy one, then she moved to the town of Blue-Ridge in the state of Georgia....a VERY racist predominantly 'country-white' town....and her adolescence was completely the opposite.
It was 1973, Monika was just 13; she was the only 'Indian' in the school...tall for her age, and with the long black hair that is a feature of most of our peoples.
From her very first day at school wearing a flowered dress and sandals - and for just about every other day for the years she had to be there, she was verbally insulted and teased by racist white children who predominantly wore blue jeans, flannel T-shirts, with sneakers or boots (both males & females) - who frequently referred to her as a 'prairie nigger' and a 'squaw'....her grades dropped from A's + B's in Florida where she was a happy cheerleader in school...to D's & E's in Georgia (where she tried out for the Cheerleading team but was only racially insulted more instead).....bullying is real folks, and it has a severe impact on it's innocent victims!
Having 3 generations in one home - which is the traditional way - gave her a place of refuge from the misery of her school days, it was Monika, her 4 younger siblings, their mom & dad, and grandma - in their home.
Sadly, in the year 2006 her Granny died at the age of 89, and it was tragically compounded when her dad - who was a very quiet but strong man, and a former 'All American' star athlete and decorated Military veteran - also died at the age of 70 in the same year.

Monika married a Cherokee native American man at the age of 17, and has 4 children from this marriage: Alex, Daniel, Gary & Hope, this first marriage lasted 24 years, but her husband was lost to his own indigenous identity and never related to her gregarious Taino indigenous ways, she remarried to another Cherokee man (Wolf Clan) who is completely the opposite, and they have now been together for 14 happy years
In 2008 Monika joined the United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP) where she is the regional representative, and she works with indigenous peoples in 8 states in the South East of the USA (Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia). The UCTP is an organization that promotes the self-determination of Caribbean Indigenous Peoples, and the recognition and protection of their human rights, culture, traditions, and sacred lands; as well as serves as a forum for educational advocacy (including human rights and cultural education) and policy development.    

I asked Monika these 3 questions about her Project Access Training, her answers are included as well below each question:
Question 1 - How did you personally benefit from the Tribal Link Project Access Training
Answer - First it gave me a chance to meet and understand a group of dynamic, and passionate people who wish to help and understand the indigenous people as much as myself, second, I learned that we all have the same goal, connection, solidarity, and yes it taught me you can get your message across and it can be heard when you utilize the rights of the of the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, and what not to use, together from different countries and race but with a common goal.

Question 2 - How will you share/disseminate the information/knowledge you gained in the Project Access Training? 
Answer - I will share the information I received through speaking engagements that I have already been booked to speak, through the internet, several grass roots organizations that I belong to, as well as my blog, along with future interviews that I have been booked for. And all opportunities that become available.

Question 3 - What are the major water issues facing your people today?
Answer - Several...miles away they are fracking for oil and in turn it has caused the streams and wells to become polluted. Gasses and dirty smells have replaced the crisp mountain streams and wells, also our island is small... we are facing rising sea levels and in turn our wells and holding tanks of fresh water are becoming contaminated. Drinking water supplies are also becoming less and less due to changing weather patterns.

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