Ruben A. Romero, the current governor of Taos Pueblo is a living treasure, replete with experience in connectivity to his community, his land and his vocation.
As governor, Romero is heavily involved with ongoing traditions at Taos Pueblo, but also realizes the economic needs of pueblo residents and constantly endeavors to create a balance between these two sometimes conflicting responsibilities through his administrative roles. It is a far cry from the vocational training he received in Ohio – right out of high school – to become a barber.
Currently, Romero is serving his fourth term as Taos Pueblo’s governor, but his service to the tribe began in 1978, which is when he was appointed lieutenant war chief.
“I was much younger than many of the the men serving under me,” said Romero, whose lifetime membership as a tribal councilman began that year due to his title. “But we had a great group that year and I really learned a lot about the work tribal government carries out on a daily basis.”
The yearlong stint caused Romero to go on hiatus from his job at the time as a conservation aide – a job Romero was selected to perform in response to the reacquisition of the tribe’s sacred Blue Lake in 1970.
“As soon as we got our Blue Lake back, the governor’s office asked me and 11 others to attend forestry training,” said Romero. “We learned about methods in trail building, natural resource preservation and how to maintain a healthy forest.”
His training in conservation and his initial tenure in the war chief’s office inspired him to do more for the tribe’s ecological well-being.
In his younger days, Romero served as a wildland firefighter with the esteemed Taos Pueblo “Snowball” crew. The Snowballs earned their nickname in 1950 on their way to a forest fire in Southern New Mexico and ultimately gained fame as the crew that discovered the orphaned cub that came to be known as “Smokey Bear.” As a wildland fire manager, Romero trained several Snowball crews until his retirement in 2001.
Romero was tapped to serve as lieutenant governor in 1982, head fiscale (San Geronimo church caretaker) in 1988 and war chief in 1992. His first of four terms as Taos Pueblo governor came in 1998.
“As far as I can remember, only one other tribal member has served as governor for four terms,” said Romero, who also served twice as war chief.
For Romero, self-governance, economic opportunities, education and access to quality health care for Taos Pueblo residents are key issues. Each time Romero had a chance at leadership, he tried to invigorate his staff to “take stalled projects off the shelf, shake away the dust and try to show progress on past ideas.” As governor in 2005 and 2009, he again pressed for positive economic changes.
“Gov. Romero wants to serve all ages here at Taos Pueblo,” said Floyd D. Gomez, current tribal secretary, while gesturing to the newly created veterans memorial park erected near the main entrance to the historic village. “This is what makes myself and others want to help further his agenda.”
The new park is a multiagency project that has been in the works for many years and represents just one of the many programs “taken down from the shelf” by this Taos Pueblo administration. The park is scheduled to officially open with a public ceremony on Veterans Day (Nov. 11).
Gomez shared the credit for progress to this point with other tribal entities, however, alluding to the collaborative efforts the governor’s office, war chief’s office, tribal programs and other tribes during this tenure.
On the cultural side, Romero is heavily involved in the annual dances that take place at Taos Pueblo. Romero helps train, coordinate and lead dancers in both the Deer Dance and the Matachines Dance, which are scheduled during the Christmas season.
Romero learned about the colorful Matachines Dance – thought to have originated from the Moors in North Africa, adopted by the Spanish and brought to the Americas to influence the natives inhabiting the continent – from his father, who used to lead the dances in the 1970s.
This, too, requires collaboration and tact. His leadership style proves he understands this.
“Working with all the many programs takes an enormous amount of time and energy,” said Romero, who deferred much of the credit to his legacy to the people he has been surrounded by in his lifetime. “But we need to think about the state of affairs for Taos Pueblo people five and 10 years from now.”