Season 4, Episode 5 – You Can Make a Difference in Your Community with Kara Bobroff

 [Opening strum of Theme Music]

[00:00:00] Kara Bobroff: So there was a fragmentation of folks that had never, like myself, lived on the Navajo Nation. How do we make those things connect so that kids are like in a space that they are accepting of who they are, wherever they are, and they have an intentional connection back to their home community? 

So we have so many students through NACA that their identity is like really like theirs to share and theirs to really connect to and it’s not like monolithic. It’s like not all Native Americans are the same. So you’re Native American, that means you’re one thing, right? 

It’s like, no, like, we have some folks who are like four or five different tribes, and they’re French and Irish, which, if I had understood that when I was in sixth grade, I probably would have made half the mistakes I did later on in life, and would have probably made better decisions along the path, too.

[00:00:38] Charlotte (VO): Hi folks, this is Encounter Culture, a podcast from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. I’m Charlotte Jusinski.

Stephanie (VO):  And I’m Stephanie Padilla.

[00:00:47] Charlotte (VO): This season, we’re collaborating with the New Mexico History Museum to bring you the story of Miguel Trujillo and his role in winning voting rights for Native people in New Mexico.

[00:00:56] Stephanie (VO): If you haven’t already, we recommend that you listen to the first four episodes of this season and then join us right back here for this conversation. 

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[00:01:00] Charlotte (VO): To celebrate this season’s collaboration, we’d like to thank you for being part of our listening community at Encounter Culture.

Over the past three seasons of the show, we’ve toured New Mexico’s exceptional state museums and historic sites. But, of course, our favorite way to fully experience everything they have to offer is in person with the New Mexico Culture Pass. Right now, through August 31st, 2023, you can enter to win a package of four Culture Passes and a one year subscription to El Palacio magazine, all valued at $145, by visiting   

Whether you’re a local resident or you’re visiting us on your travels, Culture Pass is your ticket to each of our 15 museums and historic sites. You must be 18 years or older to apply, and there is no purchase necessary. This opportunity is made possible by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.

Once again, visit and enter to win four culture passes and a one year subscription to El Palacio magazine. Giveaway ends August 31st, 2023.

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[00:02:12] Charlotte (VO):  In this episode, we’re speaking with Kara Bobroff, an educator with exceptional career achievements, including being honored as one of the best emerging social entrepreneurs in the country by President Barack Obama.

Stephanie (VO): Kara started out as the assistant principal at a low income middle school in Albuquerque, and then worked in Marin County, where she observed what was necessary to create a supportive and nourishing environment for Native youth.

[00:02:37] Charlotte (VO): This led to the founding of NACA, the Native American Community Academy, in Albuquerque in 2006, where Stephanie was actually part of the first graduating class. 

[00:02:45] Stephanie (VO): NACA is an Albuquerque charter school that allows its primarily Native American student body to receive their education while also remaining grounded in their diverse cultures and communities.

Though she was adopted and raised in a non-Native home, Kara is very connected to and proud of her Navajo and Lakota heritage and reminds us that you cannot separate Indigenous youth from who they are. 

She was my principal while at NACA and continues to be one of my greatest mentors. 

[00:03:13] Charlotte (VO): As we have learned from Miguel Trujillo, education is one of the most powerful tools in creating positive change in our communities.

And Kara agrees. She’s made it her mission to provide Indigenous youth with the power of education, which will allow them to continue the fight for equal rights and equal protection.

[00:03:33] Kara: Let me start with my introduction in my language. Yá’át’ééh k’éhra b’ábráf yí’ní sh’éh áshí’ná sh’lí’ná t’áni b’áshach’ín. So my name is Kara Bobroff. I’m Navajo on my mother’s side and Lakota on my father’s side. I’m currently serving as the executive director of One Generation, but contributing as an advisor to this project on Miguel Trujillo, and really excited to have a conversation about his impact on Native American youth and kind of what we’re hoping for going forward.

[00:03:59] Stephanie: Kara, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you got to where you are today?

[00:04:04] Kara: I was raised in Albuquerque by two lifelong public school educators. My dad was a teacher, principal, became superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools at one point, and then my mom was a middle school art teacher and just really an artist as well.

So that had a lot to do with who I am. So I just want to start and acknowledge, like, my parents in that way and also just where I’m from. 

On my Navajo side, I’m from a community called Ramah, which is right outside of Albuquerque between Albuquerque and like Zuni and Gallup. And then on my biological father’s side is from Pine Ridge, which is up in South Dakota.

I’m the youngest of five and I have amazing brothers and sisters who all have contributed to our community in a variety of different ways as well. I think the center of, like, how I was raised is really of being of service to others and also understanding that anything is possible. 

Having grown up in Albuquerque, really had the opportunity to see, like, what that experience would be like both as a student and then later on as a teacher at the school I worked at, and then as an assistant principal of a middle school in Albuquerque area.

And kind of like have a lot more to share just in relation to a school called the Native American Community Academy, which was probably where it centered every aspect of my personal experience, as well as my professional experience, in thinking about how we serve Indigenous communities and how we think about social change within and within the world, I guess, in a way, and have spent the past, oh my goodness, you know, 17 years engaged in thinking about innovation and Indigenous communities, specifically to education, but also social change.

[00:05:33] Stephanie: You’ve done so much, Kara. I’ve known you for so long, but I feel like every time I sit down with you, I learn all these different things that you’ve done, and it’s really, really cool. 

I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I feel like NACA is probably the reason I ended up going to law school, because NACA really sparked that fire of, you can go out and make a difference for your community. You just need the resources and the tools to know how.

So I feel like a lot of other students really walk away with that as well, which makes me very happy. And it’s still going to this day, except it’s grown now. So when I started in seventh grade, it went up every year. And then we graduated obviously after high school, but now it’s also an elementary school.

And – I’m getting chills – I feel like that is so important for kids that young to start having that mindset. 

I don’t remember which year it was, but we did a go out to push the vote kind of thing in the community. Do you remember what year that was?

[00:06:26] Kara: It might have been, was it 2012, 2011? Was it your senior year?

[00:06:33] Stephanie: I was definitely in high school. 

Kara: I think you all were seniors when Obama was elected, right? So I think it was right around that time. We worked with, I think, the Native American Voter Alliance, who did civic engagement work with high school students. 

Also, there was this, this concept or idea that folks wanted to say, like, once you turn 18, you should just be registered to vote. So we wanted to do that. And I think that became part of what you guys experienced as well. So, there was an opportunity for people to do internships and, like, get involved in that way. 

I know, Stephanie, being in your presence also like reminds me of like all the reasons why we need to do things and like also all the successes that you’ve had and being like the first alumni to go to law school, graduate, and go on. And so like, I know a lot of our students and families, like, look up to you in that way. So it’s like something that’s like life, it’s like real and fulfilling. 

And I always like think, okay, I have to show up for Stephanie because I just met Stephanie when she was like coming out of sixth grade and her mom and grandma were amazing and such like pivotal supporters and that’s like what the school’s about, right?

It’s like, it’s your school, like, let’s make it – and also they were like, you guys need to work on this, this and this. Thank you. We are going to do that. 


Now that I’ve been removed from NACA and like other aspects of the work, I literally like was at a like a winter party last year and there was a family there and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, my daughter goes to NACA!”

And I was like, I am not going to tell them that I’m the founder and principal of NACA, but they’re like, “We love it”

I’m like, “Great!” Okay, because I’m always like, Oh, my God, that’s working out. 

Similarly happened this past week too, with a friend and her niece goes to NACA. I’m like, “Well, how do you like it?”

She’s like, “It’s awesome.” 

I’m like, “Great!” 

[00:08:08] Stephanie: I mean, aside from the fact that your parents were educators, can you tell us a bit more about NACA and what made you think of this concept of the Native American Community Academy?

[00:08:18] Kara: When I was in school, in Albuquerque Public Schools, I, you know, had a, I would say, you know, a good education in the sense that, you know, I had good grades, I participated in, you know, civic government opportunities, I was in athletics, and I think that those things that were outside of the classroom were probably the things that motivated me the most to, to get through school.

And I don’t think students and youth should have to, like, get through school or get through anything in their lives. 

There was a pervasive lack of Native American role models, both in, like, the classroom as well as in the school. At that time, a lot of media in Albuquerque and throughout our state only portrayed Native American people on the news in really negative ways, which, for me, reinforced stereotypes about what it meant to be a Native American and I think that was really, really hard. 

And I remember going through high school thinking that that was something I didn’t want to bring to the forefront as much as I have later on in my life because of the negativity that was experienced both in the community in which we were living but also within the school itself, there wasn’t a lot of, like, support for Native American identity. There was absolutely no, like, really robust or rigorous learning about Indigenous people. It was very much from a historical perspective. 

In middle school, the only experience I had, I remember being pulled out of class into the library and there was a director from the Indian Education Department who sat me down and said, “Okay, well, Kara, it looks like your grades are doing, you know, pretty well. You have like A’s and B’s, so that’s great. Do you need any like school supplies or any like clothes?”

And I was like, first of all, they pulled you out of class, right in front of all of your friends. You’re not really sure why. Usually people are only like taken out of class for like negative things. 

And then somebody I didn’t have a relationship with there was no kind of connection to who this person was and then they, like, quickly said, “Okay, seems like you’re doing okay. You’re not, like, failing. Do you need anything, like, you know, outside of that?” 

And that was the only contact I had with anybody from the Indian education, like, department or division in the entire time I was, like, in K-12 education. 

In high school, none of the history classes or civic government, you know, experiences we had were centered on Native American history or education at all. So that was impactful, negatively impactful kind of experience. 

Going on to college, I really struggled in the first year and a half, just trying to find my own grounding again. There wasn’t a lot of support. Came back to UNM and things like, just opened up and changed dramatically. 

I was able to serve as a mental health worker in a residential treatment center in the South Valley. And that was the first time I had worked with youth. They were about six years younger than me at that time. And I realized they had gone through more in their lives than I had ever had to go through or ever would.

So that really opened up my eyes to the fact that I was like, okay, I want to like do something and like be of service to these kids. And education was one pathway to do that.

The other thing that happened is that we were assigned primary students that we’d work with. And one of the youth that I worked with, she was 12 years old, and she was from the northwest part of the state, and she was Navajo, and that was the first time I was able to really connect with somebody from my own culture in a meaningful way.

And we developed a relationship over 18 months where I spent a lot of time with her, really tried to understand, like, her, sadly, a lot of trauma in her life. She had been removed from her home, and was going in and out of foster care, and some of the different aspects of like the children’s services that exist in our state.

But the other thing that kind of was like really important was the centering around how she connected to me and her identity. And in that evidently, according to her counselor, just opened up the conversation and she was a brilliant artist. She started drawing pictures of like her experiences. She was able to like release things through that way.

And that was like a pivotal moment for her. And so that was something that I experienced. I don’t think at that time I was like, I think I’m going to start a Native American charter school. Like, that was like, not the path whatsoever, but that like, had a huge impact on me.

[00:12:20] When I became a teacher at the school I went to, which was great, and then when we moved to the Bay Area, I worked in a community in Marin County that the quality of education there was so outstanding. They had access to trips to like Costa Rica, Washington, D. C. Like the learning was so engaging, the core curriculum was amazing, the principal was a true, like, you know, instructional leader, and I was just like, Oh my God, like, why don’t schools like this, you know, exist everywhere in like Albuquerque, like on the Navajo Nation? 

I just started thinking about that, like, if we had the same staff, if we had the same curriculum, if we, like, had the same opportunities, it wasn’t a question about whether those kids would go to college. It was like, what college are they going to go to as early as like sixth grader, you know, after. A lot of holistic approaches to the children’s well being, you know, a lot of support from different, you know, counselors and outside entities. 

While I was there, back home in Albuquerque, there was this article that would come out based on like this equity council that came together at APS. And there were two advocates, one on health and one on education. And they gave out a bunch of ideas about how to better serve Native American youth because the outcomes were really disproportionate or they were the probably the smallest population with not the greatest results. And that was a big, you know, inequity that was really, really clearly sought after.

So one idea was a Native American magnet or charter school. And so I was like, Oh, that’s cool. Maybe I’ll work there someday when I go back home. 

So when I come home for like break during Christmas or whatever, spring breaks and summer, I would connect with the superintendent and be like, “How’s that idea coming?”

They’re like, “Well, there’s people interested, but nobody’s done anything. We think, you know, we need to do something for our Native American students. You know, we have a school district of 87, 000 kids and we realize like seven to 8,000 self identify.” 

So that was like kind of the first connection to that idea that took place for me while all these other things were happening.

[00:13:54] Stephanie (VO): Meanwhile, in Kara’s private life, something remarkable was about to happen. 

[00:13:59] Kara: On a personal level, I was also trying to reconnect with my biological family. So, I sent a letter to my biological mom at the time. I had no response. 

And oddly, I also reconnected with somebody who went to law school with my older brother. She was living in Brooklyn and I was living in the Bay Area and she was about to move back to New Mexico and had seen a photograph of my Navajo wedding dress. 

Anyway, long story short, we had always tried to reach out with each other. My brother’s like, “You really should talk to Hillary. She’s really cool. She reminds me about you a lot.”

I was like, “Okay, why would I want to talk to your friend from law school, Kip?”

But so finally we connected. We’re on the phone. And she was getting ready to get married and move back to New Mexico. And so we were having this conversation and she’s like, “Who made your dress?”

And I was like, “Well, she’s a local weaver and she’s in Crownpoint. Her name’s Bernice.”

And she said, “Bernice?”

And being kind of the silly person I am, I was like, “Yeah, why? Is that your mom’s name too?” Cause she was adopted. And I only had the first name of my biological mother. 

And she’s like, “Well, yeah, actually it is.”

I was like, “What?” 

And so we both paused for a second and started to have like other conversations about it. So she’s like, “Well, what do you know about your biological mom?”

I was like, “Well, I know she’s, you know, I was born in Denver.” 

And she’s like, “Oh, my mom was in Denver. She went there for like social work and to pursue her like masters.”

Charlotte: I’m getting chills already. This is really cool. 

Kara: I was like, “What else do you know?”  I’m like, “Well, I know my grandma was leader in our community.”

And then Hillary told me, “Well, I know that my biological grandmother helped start one of the first self determined schools in Ramah, called the Ramah Day School.”

I was like, “Oh?” 

She’s like, “What else do you know?” 

I’m like, “I know my grandfather is a farmer.” 

She’s like, “Oh, I know that my grandfather’s clan is the farming clan.”

And so we just had this conversation. She’s like, “What else do you know?” 

I’m like, “Well, I know I have two older sisters.” 

And she’s like, “I know I have two younger sisters.”

And if you heard our voice, it sounds almost exactly the same. So she’s on the phone, I’m on the phone. I’m like sitting literally in my flat in San Francisco, just like, what is happening right now?  (laughter)

So we continued on. She had already reconnected and met some of our family. So we both kind of decided that, okay, we need to figure this out.

We hung the phone up. I asked the social worker, I’m like, “I need to tell you this story. ‘Cause like, I just talked to this, you know, person who went to law school with my brother. He said she reminds me of each other. We talked, we sound on a lot of like. There’s these different things and points that we had through this like hour and a half conversation that came up.”

And she’s like, “Well, I can only like, you know, try to like send a letter to your biological family and it’s dependent on them to respond.”

And then I gave the phone number to my sister and my sister called her and then I think it was probably a week after that the social worker called me back. 

 She’s like, “I’m not supposed to do this and you’re the first person I’ve been working with and I’m adopted too.” She’s like, “But that’s your sister.” 

I was like, “Oh my God.”

[00:16:37] Charlotte: Wow! That’s incredible!

Kara: Yeah. 

And I just remember I called my brother and he wasn’t home, but his wife was and I was like, “Michelle, Hillary’s my sister.”

She’s like, “Oh my God. I just thought I kept that every tall, like, Navajo person was your sister.” She’s like, “That’s so great!” 

But it was interesting ‘cause she was in law school with him while my nephew was born. All these different things. 

And I’m like, things like that just don’t happen, right? And so that was like a huge eye opener too.

And I was just like, what is going on? 

[00:17:04] So we end up meeting that like two months later, she came to Albuquerque, met her in person for the first time and started to learn more about my clan and found out that I was the Salt clan. So she had these bits and pieces that helped plug things together. 

And, you know, we’re best friends to this day, and I think that that really also shifted kind of how I started to think about, like, the future of what was pulling.

And I think from that, there’s something that’s inside of us, I think, all of us probably, but also, like, I think about Native American youth, is that you can’t separate them from who they are. And I think schools have historically set out to do that. And like the damaging effects of that over a period of time show up in stories like I just shared, but also show up and how we internalize those things.

I knew I was like, how do I create some place that students can feel that connection and like have that purpose and meaning in their lives based on kind of something similar like that?

[Flute music]

[00:17:57] Charlotte (VO): Kara knew that the key to empowering Native youth enough to believe they could create lasting change lies in secure and respectful learning environments, where they are free to be themselves.

[00:18:07] Stephanie (VO): She also knew that this was not the reality, but that somehow she wanted to make it into one. As she explored this idea, she accepted a role as assistant principal at a middle school. 

[00:18:18] Kara: The families were awesome and sadly the district was really disconnected from not all of the folks in the district, but folks that had a lot of influence and power around the importance of Native American education and language and culture, history, all those things.

And so much that at that point there was some dialogue around, well, if you learn your language, it’s going to inhibit your ability to read. And so, I had one of… our student body president came up to me one day and he’s like, “Ms. Bobroff, like, is it true Native Americans suck at reading?”

I’m like, “Well, first of all, don’t say ‘suck.’ And second of all, no.”

But my experience in that district was that some folks thought that by teaching your language and culture and history and those things would like detract from the ability to achieve. 

And there was also a pervasive perception that Native American students didn’t need to go to college, which was the polar opposite of what I experienced in Marin and also what I experienced personally. So a lot of bias, a lot of like, institutionalized racism were present. 

And it was really the first three months into that experience was like, I need to do something about that. 

When I had became a principal, the superintendent was like, “Why don’t you become the principal of middle school?” So I did. 

We implemented a lot of things across like the curriculum, as far as like more access to Navajo language, more access to Native American literature, a focus on like discussions around college, like surveying parents around like what it is you want to see if you’re a child going, you know, down the road. 

And then there was some of the tough work around, like, if you’re not here for the students and you’re not here to understand that you’re teaching on the Navajo Nation and 98% of these kids are Navajo, like, we have to have a conversation about that with some of our teachers.

Bringing more Native American teachers in the school and opening the school up to the community because in that experience, it was very clear that, like, the school should be of service to the community and the community shouldn’t have to conform to the school. 

[00:20:00] Charlotte (VO): After that, Kara took a break from education.

[00:20:03] Kara: And then I decided to volunteer to get out the vote. And I started to work with Moving America Forward and literally just like as a quiet volunteer. I’m like, I don’t want to like do anything but just register voters. 

There was maybe only five of us that were working on all of this for New Mexico, for Native American communities.

And I quickly saw, like, firsthand how Native American folks that we were trying to register to vote, like, were experiencing the political system. I quickly found, like, amazing people and strengths out there, started to see how politics and civic engagement showed up in Native American communities. And then also, how Native Americans could come together to think about themselves as, like, contributing to that overall process.

A lot of those conversations also opened up, like, a perspective, other than being in the school, being outside the school, of, like, what people really wanted to see going forward, whether that was, like, conversations with, like, tribal leadership, or conversations with nonprofit leadership or folks that were working in government or not working in government.

And then folks who are impacted, they’re like, “We’re skeptical. Like, why should we contribute to like a system that hasn’t really respected our communities and actually is still not delivering on like what those promises were made when we entered into like treaties. We were promised like health care, we were promised education, we were promised all these different things. And like, that’s not the experience I’m having in my daily life.” 

[00:21:25] Stephanie: Do you think it made a difference, though, that you were Native? Coming forward with these ideas, do you think that that made a difference with people that you were talking to?

[00:21:32] Kara: Definitely. I think they were much more open. We had the ability to develop a rapport with people that we were talking with.

I don’t think that some of the counterparts that were doing like general voter registration, if they would probably not even like enter into a conversation with them. 

And then just like an equal understanding. And I’m like, yeah, I see that. And a lot of different like experiences that I had as well. And so being able to relate and also like always trying to be like respectful of their decision. 

You know, I would say probably nine out of ten people would register to vote and then they have to self-select like what party they’re going to choose. And so we weren’t allowed to say, like, “You should be this or that.” 

And so they would ask me, “Well, what do you think? Or what are you?” 

So that was always kind of like being like a teacher, “I’m not here to tell you what to decide. Like I can put the information in front of you.”

And so I feel like that was always like a thing, but that’s also when I learned about Miguel Trujillo and we shared that information with not only the folks that we’re talking to individually about registering to vote, but also we did some voter education outreach sessions with SIPI in Albuquerque or Crownpoint out on Navajo Technical University.

And so that was part of my role too, you know, can you like share that story? And I was like, “Yeah, absolutely.” 

And so people didn’t know, they’re like, “We had no idea like that was actually, you know, it had taken place in our community.” And so that also inspired folks to be like more engaged. 

There was a second phase of that process. Once folks were registered to vote, it was like actually getting people to engage in voting. And there was one incident where I was out in Crownpoint, and there was a group of students there that wanted to vote. 

So we took a van out. We like loaded them up in the van, and so we all went into the voting precinct, which was about 45 minutes away from where they were, which was kind of interesting, like, here’s a higher education agency. Why is this all the way over here by the highway? But did that. 

And then one of the people we were with like had registered, but the registration didn’t process right. So they didn’t have like that that person was actually eligible to vote and she’s like, “No, I did register.” 

And so we had to like talk about, okay, what do you do in that situation you have to ask for you know, an exception to that. You fill this document out. You process that document. You go ahead and submit that and then after that everybody’s really fired up. They were like,  “Man, they were about to like violate her civil rights and, like, what can we do about that?”

And I was like, “Well, it’s like knowing that process.”

And also just seeing like when people have that information, they’re more informed and they’re more able to speak up and say like, this is what I know to be true. Where that young woman, I don’t know what she’s doing now, but I imagine that was probably a pivotal moment for her to be able to know like, yeah, I have like the right information. I did do this. I’m not going to second guess myself. And I have all these people here to, you know, help me like move this forward. 

So I think in that way, it is something that’s really important around just like self-advocacy and our own agency. 

And so whether that’s like a single act of like registering to vote, actual voting for like what it is you believe in, and or if it’s like a collective movement to say we’re actually going to like make sure our people are being treated the way that they should be and like the system’s actually working for everybody.

[Vocal music]

[00:24:40] Kara:All of this was like influencing how I started to think about the next step which really led into to NACA. There was one funny story. I was at a Feast Day in Taos. And I had my clipboard, and I’m like, on it, and I’m like, trying to be the overachiever self I am sometimes, and I’m like, going out, going out, so I went over to the food area, and everybody was like, “Oh, hey, come on over, sit down, like, can we get you anything?”

And I was like, why is everybody being so nice to me? I was like, “Um, I’m okay, like, I guess I’ll, you know, get some water or something.” I’m like, “We’re here trying to, like, get folks to register to vote.” 

And they’re like, “Oh, we thought you were from the health department.”


Anyway, it was just funny. I was like, “No, I’m not in the health department.”

But like, they’re like, “Okay, cool. You can still stay.” 

Our communities are really open and friendly places. And I think that we shouldn’t be hesitant to have these conversations, even though sometimes we don’t want to get to the political conversations, but civic engagement’s a good place to start. 

[00:25:29] Charlotte: So how did this experience impact the creation of NACA?

[00:25:32] Kara: That kind of came together with like, how are we going to engage our community now around this idea of the school? 

And so, definitely was collaborative with the school district and started to just have individual conversations similar to that around like, you know, what is it like to register to vote and being involved, but like, how can we come together as a community around the idea of serving Native American youth?

And we engaged over 200 different people at that time. This was in 2004, around some centering questions. One, like, what do we feel like we want to see have happen? What’s worked, what hasn’t worked, and why? And if we could pick one thing to focus on, what would that one thing be? 

And through those conversations, we heard people’s experiences around, like, what was it like to be in educational spaces? Like, what worked, what didn’t? Everything from, like, blatant, like, you know, my kid can’t even talk in school because they don’t feel like they’re respected because of their practices and their ceremonies. 

Or their hair’s too long and my son ended up cutting his hair because he was getting teased so much at school to people who were like, when I was in high school, like everybody else was going into this college track and this counselor kept telling me that I should register to become like, you know, an assistant secretary of some sort and go to the secretarial school. 

And I’m like, “What year were you at that high school?”

And she’s like, “I was there..” 

And you know, she said the year and I was like, “I was there that year.” And like, we had two different experiences. And probably the same counselor, who knows? 

And then also just like, how do we feel when we walk into an educational space or any institution? Are we treated like, with respect?

[00:26:58] And then everything from like, missing in the curriculum, to missing like, role models, to folks who had like, stopped out, who then self-selected to go back to school, even though they had not had a good experience during school. 

So we knew we didn’t want to like, replicate those things, but we wanted to understand them.

And some deep-seated like, work around self-love and identity. 

There was a lot of folks who were like, “Well, I thought since I grew up in an urban setting, like I wasn’t really going to be, you know, accepted out in my home community.” 

And folks in the home community are like, “Well, because we’re in the home community, we didn’t know how to like, connect with folks in an urban setting.”

And so there was a fragmentation of folks that had grown up here and had never, like myself, hadn’t been lived on the Navajo Nation until I was like, you know, later on in my twenties. I think those are things that were… evident and then we were like, how do we make those things connect so that kids are like in a space that they are accepting of who they are, wherever they are, and they have an intentional connection back to their home community?

So the three things that we saw that rose to the top were that there would be a focus on college because so many folks at that time are like, “Hey, I was like one of four people who actually got past the first semester in my college career, or I didn’t even know I could apply to go to college, right?” So there’s that.

The second was that students would have a secure identity and that really spoke to both like their interests and passions and also like their connection to their identity, whether they were, you know, Navajo, if they’re Pueblo, if they’re African American, if they’re Mexican, if they’re, you know, Irish or German.

And we have so many students through NACA that their identity is really like theirs to share and theirs to really connect to. And it’s, and it’s not like monolithic.

It’s like not all Native Americans are the same. So you’re Native American. That means you’re one thing, right? It’s like, no, like, we have some folks who are like four or five different tribes and they’re French and Irish and like, you know, so it’s just really like understanding that which if I hadn’t understood that when I was in sixth grade, I probably wouldn’t have made half the mistakes I did later on in life and would have probably made better decisions along the path too.

[00:28:42] So that was one aspect, and the last was that folks would be holistically well. We had a three day kind of like centering conversation about how do we start to think of a strengths-based approach to education and there wass folks that were there from 20 years old to about 60 and it really centered around identity and holistic wellness. 

And so our wellness philosophy came out of that that we would focus on students’ intellectual wellbeing, their physical wellbeing, social-emotional, being in their connection to their community and relationships. And there was a conversation about the difference between spirituality and religiosity and like it’s not religiosity, but it’s overall wellbeing. Indigenous communities really relate to that. 

[00:29:16] So, NACA’s mission was to engage the community to create a school that would serve students from adolescence to adulthood in all aspects of who they are, so they’re academically prepared, secure in their identity, and healthy. 

We wrote a charter, got the charter approved. It got, like, an A+ from the district, which was pretty cool. 

Charlotte: Yeah

Stephanie: Yay!

[00:29:39] Kara: And I was like, oh, right on. A lot of that community, like, vision went into that, and then our job was to try to make that come to life for our students, and our first year was in 2006 and ‘07 with our first class of 6th and 7th graders who were in our inaugural class.

I was putting like 15 hours a day in, where it was just like, this is so incredible. And also, I talked with my family and others, and I’m like, it can’t just be myself, it has to be a lot of other people too, right? So it’s like, how do we bring folks together? 

And I saw, like, probably in the first, like, three months, there was about 15 volunteers that put just as much time, they were working full time jobs, and then some of those became our first, like, staff. All these different people who contributed to the process, and really I saw, like, myself being that person who, like, brought folks together, provided the right, like, I guess, structures and open endedness, but also tried to bring that all into an educational model that became the school, became NACA. 

[00:30:32] Stephanie (VO): And then the first day of school was here.

[00:30:35] Kara:  It was cloudy, and oh my God, there were so many stories leading up to like that first day that I could tell, but I won’t tell them now.

But, our students showed up, their families showed up, we had a morning circle and opened up like just in a different way. Just didn’t want it to be like your typical, you know, experience, like the bell rings, go to class, right? We had two gentlemen, [?] and [?]  both opened up with two different songs.

People had an opportunity to like kind of express like what they were thinking. And that kind of kicked off the school. 

And so that is the same today. Students will still have like every week that, you know, opportunity to come together. 

[00:31:06] But just things that were different, our curriculum was like, predominantly from Indigenous perspectives. Nobody had really done that, like, to that, you know, I guess, degree, and really making it come alive for folks. 

And so our teachers were amazing in trying to develop that curriculum. We had a lot of, like, successes and a lot of things that didn’t work, but students were great about telling us, like, what works, what didn’t. And it was their school. 

Like, for me, it was like, you know, based on all those experiences, like, we’re not here to tell you what you have to do necessarily, like, but we’re here to be responsive to what it is you all need. And I would say, like, that was the most rewarding thing I have ever had the opportunity to, like, be part of.

Six years later, we had our first graduating class in 2012, and they were amazing. But yeah, but they really were the folks who, like, laid the foundation for what NACA is. 

Charlotte: About how many students are at NACA? 

[00:31:51] Kara: Right now, roughly 450, and it’s K-12, I think at one point, 62 different tribes in 13 or 14 different ethnicities are represented in the student body. 

And there are two campuses now where the younger students are in the last building of the old Albuquerque Indian School, and I would say the positive aspects of that is that there’s the historical context of like what boarding schools had been and could be.

And then also the Indian Public Cultural Center is there and they have a lot of archives. And I think that my greatest wish is that our teachers will really partner so that our students are getting to have access to that information. 

And even like controversial things like where there was aspects of where children had been buried and like, so we always like, take care of the building every year, two or three or four times, having someone come in to do a cleanse or  prayer over it and for the kids and for the staff and for the families and also recognizing like that’s like a reality of like the history of education in our communities too.

[00:32:43] And then we co-located and built a new building at Central New Mexico Community College because part of the mission was to have at least two dual enrollment courses. Prior to graduation, everybody has to apply to at least 10 schools. And then… 

Charlotte: That’s a lot. 

Kara: Yeah, yeah, it’s like, and I think everyone’s like, well, what about five?

I was like, well, five is like, limits us to just like, thinking right, what’s right in front of us. But like, why not 10 just to get an idea of like, what’s out there? 

And then like, students can choose to go or not go. 

[00:33:11] Stephanie: What can we learn from Kara Bobroff? About pushing our younger generation forward in terms of getting them involved with, you know, voting, their civic duties, and possibly even politics in the future.

[00:33:29] Kara: I think role models like Deb Haaland, right, who’s like, you know, our Secretary of Interior and also, you know, Congresswoman help.. And she’s just like one example, right? There’s others for sure in all different levels of office.

And also public service doesn’t have to, you don’t necessarily have to be an elected official. You can do that in a lot of different ways. Being a political appointee, giving your time in that way. 

Part of it is like getting involved in voting and being part of that process. 

I think that this generation is going to be faced with larger challenges than anybody has in the history of like, our lifetime. I think about like, issues around water, issues around, you know, climate, environment, thinking about like, education is going to change and already has and just like the impact of technology and what does that mean for making decisions about biomedical science fields, economic development?

So I feel like there’s a lot of things that are going to need people who are thinking about ways to develop new systems and also changing existing systems.

I would say for Native American youth and Indigenous communities, like creating those systems that are grounded in our values. And also utilizing this moment in time to not accept like what’s in place that’s not working. And so if we don’t stop what’s not working, and we’re not honest about that, that we can’t create something that’s actually going to work better for our community.

So I feel like that takes place by taking those risks. And if you have an idea, like go out and make it happen. 

Don’t, you know, think you have to necessarily do something just because, like, that’s the way it’s always been done. 

Ask really good questions. Get informed on things that you care about. You know, speak out where you need to, but then also follow that up with, like, really good knowledge and action and be informed about things.

When I think about, like, kids that are in elementary school right now, Their kids, and them, maybe, may have this like question in front of them like, do I want to extend my life through like, you know, biomedical sciences? Like, that’s not something that I’m going to have to make a decision about. What are the implications for things like that?

[00:35:26] There’s some really positive things about like health and wellness that we’re going to see have happen through different technologies. And there’s going to be some things that are going to be like ethically, you know, controversial, and we’re going to need our youth to be able to make those decisions.

And then this like shift from where Native American populations are now predominantly in urban settings, we need to continue to build out really strong community minded, you know, nonprofits, businesses, opportunities for us to have our values be shared in the communities in which we’re living. In our home communities, as well.

So I would say one, like definitely getting involved. Two, running for office and all different levels. Three, like volunteering for public service and like being engaged in a variety of different ways. 

Taking advantage of learning from your peers and mentors and family members as well.. And then not being afraid to try something that you think will work better than what’s already in place and being really honest about what is it that we’re going to need.

So it makes me excited. And I look forward to supporting Native youth for the rest of my life in anything that they’re trying to accomplish and achieve. 

 [Music swells]

Stephanie (VO): Next time on Encounter Culture…

[00:36:33] Laura Harris: There are some people who feel that the best way to oppose the policies of the United States is to oppose the United States.

I’m not one of those people. 

I believe, you know, that Native Americans have triple citizenship. We learn in political science that Americans have dual citizenship. We’re a citizen of our state and a citizen of the federal government. 

Well, Native Americans are citizens of their tribal government – for me, that’s Comanche Nation – and the State of New Mexico, and the United States.

[Season Outro. Theme music fades in.]

Charlotte (VO): Encounter Culture is a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. This season was produced in collaboration with the New Mexico History Museum with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Stephanie (VO): We are especially grateful to the family of Miguel and Ruchanda Trujillo, and to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Charlotte (VO): Our show’s producer is Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios. 

Stephanie (VO): Season 4 is produced and edited by Alex Riegler, Monica Braine, and Andrea Klunder. 

Charlotte (VO): Our recording engineer is Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe. 

Stephanie (VO): Post-production audio by Edwin R. Ruiz. 

Charlotte (VO): Show notes by Lisa Widder and social media design by Caitlin Sunderland.

Stephanie (VO): Our executive producer is Daniel Zillmann. 

Charlotte (VO): Thank you to New Mexico artists El Brujo, D’Santi Nava for our theme music. And to Clark Tenakhongva, Gary Stroutsos, and Matthew Nelson for the incredible Hopi music featured throughout all six episodes of this season. Their new album is set to release in August 2023, and will be available for purchase on Bandcamp and at We’ve included the links for you in the show notes.

Stephanie (VO): For a full transcript and show notes, visit or click the link in the episode description in your listening app. 

Charlotte (VO): I’m your host, Charlotte Jusinski. 

Stephanie (VO): And I’m your co-host, Stephanie Padilla.

Charlotte (VO): The Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs is your hub for the state’s exceptional museums, historic sites, and cultural institutions. 

Stephanie (VO): From Native treasures to space exploration, world class folk art to awesome dinosaurs, we celebrate the essence of New Mexico every day. 

Charlotte (VO): Remember to head to to enter to win four culture passes and a subscription to El Palacio. Enter before August 31st, 2023. Thanks for listening.

[Theme music fades out.]