POLACCA, Ariz. – Nikishna Polequaptewa, keynote speaker for the Youth Convening session at Hopi Jr./Sr. High School, told students about growing up mostly without parents and living in poverty before finding success through education.
Dozens of students participated in the day long session Aug. 26 dealing with mentoring, service learning and cultural well-being. The Hopi Foundation, school officials and community members came together to identify ways to help students.
Born in Torrence, California, Polequaptewa recounted that his mom left when he was 1-year-old and his father went to prison when he was 3 years old. He was placed in the foster care system where he would stay in 15 foster homes in the next six months. He became used to packing his bag in one hour.
In these foster homes, Polequaptewa suffered neglect, abuse and was often told that he was “eating too much” because the foster parents were more interested in the paycheck then in him.
Polequaptewa, a Hopi Corps VISTA volunteer, finally stayed in one home for about two and a half years where he found “a little bit of love and that somebody cared for me.”
Polequaptewa lived with his dad after he was released from prison, even though they were poor. Sometimes they would have bread with ketchup on it for dinner. He would get broken G.I. Joe toys for Christmas. His brother took custody of him after he turned 21, but they lived in an area of Los Angeles where prostitutes and drug dealers were common.
He eventually moved out to Hopi to live with his auntie and went to Prescott for counseling – starting his way to success through education. He graduated from Sherman Indian High School before attending the University of California at Irvine and Central Washington University. Now he is majoring in earth science and environmental sustainability at Northern Arizona University.
“Sometimes the resources don’t exist and you have to create them,” he said. “If you put forth the effort then anything is possible. You can’t be crying around. You need to stand up.”