Cara Romero & Paloma Flores: Recognizing Indigenous Delegations & Native Youth Attendees

This keynote talk was given at the 2019 Bioneers Conference.

Bioneers Indigeneity Program Director Cara Romero recognizes Indigenous Delegations. Paloma Flores, Program Coordinator for the SFUSD Indian Education Program, Title VII, recognizes the Indigenous Youth Delegation.

Visit the Bioneers Indigeneity Program.

Learn more about Cara Romero and her work at the SFUSD Indian Education Program, Title VII website.

Read the full verbatim transcript of this keynote talk below.



It is such an honor to be here with all of you. I’m the director of the Bioneers Indigeneity Program. I’m from the Chemehuevi Valley Indian Reservation in Southern California. I’m also an artist and a mother.

I have the privilege of working alongside Alexis Bunten, she’s Aleut and Yupik. She’s a badass writer, a PhD, and also a mother. Together Alexis and I, and many Native advisors, lead and guide the larger organization in all matters related to our indigenous programming, helping to make sure that all of our work to engage indigenous community locally and globally is native-led, culturally respectful, and elevates indigenous voice as central in our shared mission of protecting Mother Earth.

In my nine years with the organization, I have observed a unique dynamic within our organization, a dynamic that has helped us grow our attendance, engagement, and trust with our indigenous community. Our success is largely due to what Alexis and I call institutional decolonization.

Bioneers created an indigenous-led initiative that has grown from approximately 20 attendees to over 250 indigenous peoples joining us this weekend. [APPLAUSE] There are so many indigenous people here today, natives from North America, Latin America, South America, the Hawaiian Islands, Alaska, Siberia, representing over 99 different nations, that we know of. [APPLAUSE] And there are over 127 native youth, over 250 natives here celebrating this gathering that is Bioneers, celebrating this gathering of humans that care about the Earth and each other.

Kenny and Nina, the founders of Bioneers, did what many organizations that attempt to work with Indigenous Peoples do not – they gave us the power to create an autonomous Native-led program that we envisioned and developed. When you hand over the power, we can create what we need, not what other people think we need. We can also make sure that we practice respect and honor intertribal protocols intrinsic to cross-cultural trust.

Our staff checks in with us on everything related to indigeneity, making sure there’s no cultural appropriation or disrespectful behavior happening on the grounds. Our organization created a first-of-its-kind policy document called Inclusivity Guidelines. And we train everyone on staff on how to be respectful while engaging our indigenous community. It is incredible. [APPLAUSE] Thank you.

The Indigenous Forum and the Native Youth Leadership Program were small when I came on in 2011. We had only about 20 indigenous presenters, and the indigenous youth program only had four kids in attendance. I wanted to increase our indigenous presence in this cross-cultural space, but I knew it would take time. It involved creating trust with our indigenous community and creating an intergenerational outreach effort that includes native youth.

In just about every metropolitan in the US, there is a Native American Student Services Program, sometimes called Indian Education Title 7 programs. These are special programs built on original treaties with Native American tribes. You see, during the forced and rapid loss of our lands and genocide taking place in North America, we attempted to negotiate our land loss in these treaties, largely for education and healthcare. But today these programs are sadly underfunded. These Indian education programs are one of the ways Native American find each other in urban settings, grounding each other and staying close to each other, so our kids can grow together in this globalized world but stay in touch with each other and our cultures.

Today, I would like to honor and acknowledge one very special woman – Paloma Flores from the California Pit River Tribe, and the program coordinator of the Indian Education Title 7 Program in San Francisco Unified School District. [APPLAUSE] With a tremendous sponsorship of our native kids by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Paloma and other tribal youth leaders in the community have helped us over the last seven years grow our Native Youth Leadership Program from that original cohort of four into the program that now hosts over 125 native youth from all over the country. She is a warrior woman fighting for our native youth in the public school systems. Bioneers, please join me in welcoming Paloma Flores. [APPLAUSE]


[Speaker’s language] I am of the Pit River Nation, Madesi band. We are of Medicine Lake on my mother’s side. [speaker’s language] Good-hearted ones. You are meant to be here.

When we invest in the truth, we bring it back to the beginning. If we talk about the future, the future is living now. From four to 127, efforts made collective. To decolonize is truly to indigenize. As we sit, we take it in, but when we stand, we’re rooted. You all are [Speaker’s language] good-hearted ones.

To the youth – [speaker’s language] our people are still here. Our people are still here. [APPLAUSE] So with me, indigenous youth delegation, stand, because we honor you. Stand. [APPLAUSE] Give it up for these young people, Bay Area! [APPLAUSE]

We invest today and we’re able to see tomorrow. When I say Bio, you say warrior. Bio [AUDIENCE RESPONDS “warrior”] Bio [AUDIENCE RESPONDS] [SINGING] When I say Bio, you say warrior, Bio [AUDIENCE RESPONDS] Bio [AUDIENCE RESPONDS] Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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