The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Senior Services Department recently nominated Community elder Barbara C. Johnson for the 2014 National Indian Council on Aging Caregiver Award. The 2014 NICOA Conference took place September 3-6 at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown.
Johnson, a lifetime member of the Community, raised nine children of her own and is a grandmother and great-grandmother who for the past 10 years has been raising a great-grandchild. She was selected and presented the award at the conference.
“There were other people from different communities who were nominated besides me, so I was very surprised. When I got on stage I looked around and I didn’t know what to say,” Johnson said, laughing. “I was handed the award, and I felt good about it. I just thank the Lord for blessing me all these years, because it’s not easy.”
Johnson explained that being a grandparent isn’t an easy job, especially when the grandchildren are babies.
“There is the joy as well as the frustration when you become the caregiver,” she said. “You are reminded that they are not your children and cannot be raised as your children were raised, but you can still raise them in the best way that you can.”
Johnson began raising her 18-month-old great-grandchild when the grandmother who was the caregiver at the time broke her hip. She gave the baby to Johnson, who took over raising the child.
“I didn’t want her to go anywhere or to be placed with another family, so I took her into my care,” said Johnson. “I know there are a lot of grandparents out there and they can all agree that it isn’t easy, but when you get [children] when they are very little, you can start to show them what is good and what is bad and they will do whatever they see you doing. As long as you start them on the right track, they will keep it in their little minds when things come their way that are negative.”
Johnson has volunteered countless hours to the O’odham Piipaash Language Program and has been responsible for developing and teaching the Onk Akimel Odham Ne’ E dam Translated Choir for Salt River. She has focused on teaching her great-granddaughter the Bible, the Pima language and Pima songs. She is anxious to keep the Pima language alive through her great-granddaughter. She also works with her great-granddaughter in the garden, teaching her about growing flowers, plants and trees.
As a result of Johnson’s loving guidance, her great-granddaughter has earned excellent grades and received awards from Salt River Elementary School for perfect attendance.
Johnson said that her great-granddaughter is “the greatest blessing and the light of my life.”
“Always teach your grandchildren and talk with them about right and wrong and the consequences that come with both,” said Johnson. “Always show that child a lot of love and attention, because they will show that love back to you.”