Photo by Niba DelCastillo.
Bioneer since 2011
Cara Romero (Chemehuevi) was the Executive Director at the Chemehuevi Cultural Center, deep in the heart of the Mojave desert, California when she received a call from a Bioneers colleague asking, “Can you send us some of your traditional singers and dancers up here to the Indigenous Forum for some exhibition dancing and cultural demonstrations?” Intrigued by the request, she found out more about the educational outlet and cultural bridge called the Bioneers Indigenous Forum, and then she helped coordinate 10 Chemehuevi tribal members and culture bearers to head north to San Rafael for the first time. This would be the serendipitous beginning of what would become a deeply moving relationship between Bioneers and Cara Romero who is now the Director of Bioneers Indigenous Knowledge Program. Cara’s background and passion in indigenous cultural studies, art and documentary, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) workshops, protection of indigenous intellectual property, conservation of indigenous cultural resources, fundraising, grantwriting and marketing became the fabric that was woven into the formalization of the Bioneers Indigenous Knowledge Program.
Cara’s higher education path lasting from 1997-2006 includes degrees in Cultural Anthropology (University of Houston), Fine Art Photography (Institute of American Indian Arts) and Photography Technology (Oklahoma State University). She moved back to her reservation post college to raise her son when she accepted the position as the first Executive Director of the Chemehuevi Cultural Center. Soon after, she was also elected to the Chemehuevi Tribal Council (lasting 3 years), became the Chairman of the Chemehuevi Education Board and Chemeuevi Headstart Policy Council. Cara’s work at the Chemehuevi Cultural Center encompassed Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) programming, tribal historic preservation, cultural resource management, grant writing, museum exhibits, archive management and cultural events throughout the traditional Chemehuevi calendar year. Simultaneously, Cara served on tribal council, learning the complicated intricacies of Tribal vs. Federal vs. California state laws and jurisdictions. Her passion in tribal law and passing resolutions was primarily focused on the preservation of cultural resources and undeveloped cultural landscapes, sacred sites, water, endangered species and ethnobotany in the face of destruction by a rampant surge of both off-road vehicles scarring the landscape and large solar development in the Mojave.
In December of 2008, Cara’s first son was diagnosed with autism. With the Native American reservations being underserved in state services, medical services, educational services and virtual food deserts– Cara was forced to move her family to a metropolitan area in order to begin a long healing process for her son. This was a multi-disciplined approach including occupation/physical/speech/play therapy as well as bio-medical with healthy foods and supplements. None of these services were readily available to a Native American living on the rural reservation. The inequality of these circumstances remains a passion for Cara to fight for indigenous peoples’ civil rights through cross cultural education and media. It was moving back to a metropolitan area that led Cara to the Bioneers office in Santa Fe, NM.
Cara now works as the Program Director of the Bioneers Indigenous Knowledge Program, alongside longtime partners, allies and advisors Melissa K. Nelson (Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe), Executive Director of The Cultural Conservancy, and Tom Gooldtooth (Dakota/Dine), Executive Director of The Indigenous Environmental Network to co-produce the Indigenous Forum and Bioneers indigenous media. Throughout the year, Cara is writing grants and raising funds for the sustainability of the program and native youth scholarships, as well as, increasing critically needed visibility for program partners and funders. The program has grown into a go-to source for native studies educators to access accurate and contemporary depictions of Native Americans from diverse backgrounds working to positively impact the most pressing environmental and social justice issues in Indian Country. For more information see www.bioneers.org/pages/indigeneity-program/.