In 1975, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Roberta “Bobbie” Carlos started working for the Community as a motor pool trainee in the Fleet Department under a grant program called CETA.
“I started under the program CETA—it was so long ago I don’t even remember what it stood for,” said Carlos with a laugh. “Back then, motor pool was a division of Public Works Department, along with the grounds, custodial and landfill; they were all under Public Works when I started working.”
After a year as a trainee, Carlos remembers her boss giving her a permanent position on the spot. She worked with the motor pool, which then became the Transportation Department, for 27 years.
During those 27 years, Carlos worked her way up from a clerk and secretary to systems supervisor, fleet manager and finally transportation director.
“At the time when it was decided that we needed a director, I didn’t apply for that position because I didn’t think I was ready,” said Carlos. “But now when I think about it, I had been doing [that job] all those years, because the boss I had at the time, he had one of those old mindsets where he would have me do all the work and he would just sign it when it was complete. I would think, ‘Why aren’t you writing your own letters or doing the work yourself?’ It forced me to learn. When it came to budget planning, he always had me draft the budgets and he would just say, ‘When you’re done, I will look it over.’ I didn’t know the first thing about creating budgets, but I learned real fast because I had to do it. I may have not agreed with the way he forced me to learn, but I am the one who benefited in the end.”
Finding New Ways to Serve
When the Assistant Community Manager positions opened up, Carlos applied and was chosen as one of the three.
“I applied for that; I had no idea that I would even be selected for that position,” said Carlos. “The five years I was at Administration was another learning experience, which was real beneficial to me. It gives you a different perspective of how the organization runs and how we can develop and deliver service to the Community as a whole. I don’t mean the governmental organization, but the Community, the people who live [in], work [in] and visit our Community on any given day. How we can better protect and serve the Community.”
Later, when an opportunity came up to work at the Cultural Resources Department, Carlos knew that was something she had always wanted to do.
“Working in an area that educates the Community about who we are as O’odham and Piipaash people has always been my heart,” said Carlos. She feels that the Community’s cultural knowledge has been decreasing quickly among the members and youth, and she is happy to be part of an organization dedicated to preserving this cultural knowledge for future generations. “That is how I landed over at Cultural Resources three years ago.”
Carlos thought it was going to be awkward working under Cultural Resources Director Kelly Washington, because she was on the interview panel when he was hired and she was his boss for those five years she worked as an Assistant Community Manager.
“Although she came to my department where we switched roles a little bit, I consider it more of a partnership,” said Washington. “She has found multiple ways to serve her Community; [she is] always finding something she can do and serving as a role model, I think not only for the department and myself, but for all of us employees and members of the tribe.”
Coming from a management position, Carlos was not fully aware of how much the Cultural Resources Department and O’odham and Piipaash Language Program offered the Community.
“When I moved here I was like, ‘How do they find the time and physical strength to deliver all of the stuff they do?’” said Carlos. “When the volunteer separation package was offered, programs were down to the bare minimum [staff] and still required to deliver service.”
A ‘Can-Do’ Attitude
She went on to say it doesn’t matter what your position is; if it needs to be done, then do it. With her “I can help do this” philosophy, it’s not surprising that Carlos found herself teaching people how to make sandals and dresses, believing that information is not for her to keep to herself but to share with others. Even when it comes to cooking for the elders class, rather than catering, Carlos will cook.
“As the years went by, regardless of the speed of change, one of the things that really comes to mind is that desire to hang on to who we are,” explained Carlos. “It’s extremely important for anyone who comes to work here that they understand they are working for a Community.
“That’s something that I’m really grateful for. Where else in the world can you go and say, ‘I live and work for my own Community’? I do the best that I can with whatever knowledge and experience I have. And you’re giving back, that’s the highlight for me,” said Carlos.
Over the years Carlos has both observed change in the Community and was part of that change. She served on a number of boards, such as the Budget Committee; although she originally didn’t want to be on it, her original boss said she needed to go and see what was going on with the departments. “That committee reviewed every department budget prior to it going to Council, and that opportunity gave me insight into what each department provides to the tribe,” said Carlos.
She also served on the General Development Plan and Design Review committees.
Carlos thanks a lot of her colleagues and peers for contributing to her success during the time she has worked for the Community, people who have inspired her or have encouraged her to learn new skills.
“First and foremost was my original boss, Chuck Gabriel. He was the motor pool officer. And of course former Community President Ivan Makil; he threw a lot of information at me at different times and helped me look at things in a different perspective,” said Carlos. “He was really inspiring in the way he worked with different governmental entities and people in general. I really admire how he does things,” said Carlos.
Carlos said she also has been impressed with Health and Human Services Director Violet Mitchell-Enos, who is “always diplomatic”; Community Manager Bryan Meyers, “who is committed to the Community”; and “the leadership because they are in a position where they have to do what they do and do it well.”
Carlos talked about the relationships she has built as a Community employee. “Building these bridges as you go through life and work, these bridges that help you get from one place to another, sometimes you might have to return on that bridge, so you want to make sure that foundation is firm and it’s going to support you. You need to take care of that, and to me these people have done that. That is how I want to be,” said Carlos.
Carlos recognizes and appreciates how much of an opportunity she has had being employed all these years.
“I really appreciate and I am truly blessed with the opportunity to learn, and that’s why I think when you work for an organization for a long time, whatever your title, it’s your responsibility to teach the ones that come in after you. We need to teach them to take our places, and hopefully that’s what I am doing,” said Carlos.
She said she will continue to work for the Community until she runs out of things to offer, but she wouldn’t do what she is doing if she didn’t love it.