Home » Education » Roberta Hunter-Patten Is The First Apache Elected To GUSD School Board

Roberta Hunter-Patten Is The First Apache Elected To GUSD School Board

Roberta Hunter-Patten is bracing herself to serve as the first Apache on the GUSD school board this January after winning last November’s election against Frankie DalMolin and Robert Howard for District 1.

Total, Hunter-Patten has spent 30 years teaching students in kindergarten, elementary and junior high school. Until three or four years ago, she was teaching courses at the community college on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

“I’ve been in education forever,” she says.

Roberta Hunter-Patten. Photo by Jenn Walker
Roberta Hunter-Patten  Photo by Jenn Walker

She previously coached junior high volleyball, and continues to coach seventh grade boys’ basketball. Now she works for the San Carlos Apache Tribe as a career development coordinator for the Wellness Center, and teaches a health program to fifth graders as well as GED classes.

She spent a considerable amount of time in school herself, receiving a BS in education from Northern Arizona University, and an MA in special education from the University of Texas-El Paso.

For someone from modest beginnings, Hunter-Patten has come a long way.

“I was taught to work for everything,” she says.

A full-blooded San Carlos Apache from the clan Ch’ilniiyenanáíyé (Where Black Walnut Tree Stands), Hunter-Patten was born in Chicago. Her family came back to San Carlos by train when she was in second grade, where she grew up during the ‘60s as one of nine children.

Life was hard, she says.

Her family emphasized academics, and her father expected her to get a good education. He was a laborer with an eighth grade education, and Hunter-Patten’s mother only had a fourth grade education.

“She housecleaned for the white people in San Carlos,” Hunter-Patten remembers.

In those days, kids could only go to school up to fourth grade. After that, they were bussed to Globe for school. Hunter-Patten was one of those children.

Times were different then.

“Kids were slapped on the hand for speaking Apache,” she remembers. “Western education was the only way.”

As a student at Globe High, her counselor encouraged her to become a secretary. All Hunter-Patten knew was that she wanted to go to college so she could escape from home and her strict family.

She graduated from Globe High in 1972. After she graduated, she would work as a secretary for forestry during the summer. Her boss encouraged her to keep going to school.

“And, that’s when I decided I didn’t want to be a secretary,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t like making coffee and serving donuts.”

Then she got accepted into Northern Arizona University. Walking by an elementary school one day, she wondered what it would be like to be a teacher. Something clicked in her mind.

“That’s where I was meant to be,” she says.

She decided to major in education and minor in business, receiving her BS in education in 1977. After she graduated, she returned to San Carlos, and that same year, she started teaching second grade.

“I didn’t realize that college didn’t prepare me at all,” she laughs. “That first year of teaching, I didn’t know I had the naughtiest kid in second grade until he held a bat up to me.”

Her four children, she says, taught her more about teaching than anything else.

“As my kids grew, so did my level of teaching,” she says. “I evolved through motherhood. It enabled me to be a wiser and more outspoken person.”

Throughout her 30 years teaching in San Carlos, she learned the importance of addressing different learning styles.

In the early ‘80s, she won an award for teacher of the year. Later, she went back to school, and received her master’s degree in 2003.

In 2004, she moved to Globe.

Meanwhile, she had been contemplating running for the school board. She wanted to represent Apaches, and she wanted to facilitate change.

“As a teacher, I felt many things needed to change,” she recalls. “I felt like I could make a definite change because I’m an educator… As my career progressed, I felt that’s where I needed to be.”

“If I get a chance, I’m going to do it,” she remembers thinking to herself. “If I’m brave enough, I’m going to do it.”

Finally, she convinced herself that she had nothing to lose, and she entered in the 2014 election.

“I never had it to begin with, so if I lose, I’d still never have it,” she reasoned. “The difference is that I tried.”

She wrote her statement and collected 24 signatures for her nomination, but she did not campaign.

“I left it in God’s hands,” she says. “I thought if it was meant to be, it would come to me.”

She was not expecting to win. She was eating dinner with her family at a Globe restaurant when her niece went on her phone and saw that Hunter-Patten was in the lead.

Her daughter stayed with her until midnight, waiting to find out the results. Once she found out she won, Hunter-Patten was in disbelief.

“I was quite surprised,” she says. “I never dreamed I could be here as a board member because of the cultures that exist in Globe. Plus, people don’t know me here.”

“I was so honored I was going to be doing something to help teachers, parents, and students,” she adds. “Everybody was happy. They were happy because a Native was in.” 

The experience has completely changed her perspective on life. She doesn’t let opportunities pass her anymore, she says.

Now, when she talks to her children, or counsels a student, she tries to pass on that same fearlessness.

“Why are you afraid of a challenge?” she will ask them. “Life should be interesting.”

Heading into the new year, she is eager to fill her new role on the school board.

“I look forward to becoming a part of the Globe community,” she says. “My hope for GUSD students is that they receive a well-rounded education… My hope is that I learn, and learn to accommodate diverse learners.”

And, by becoming the first Apache elected to the GUSD school board, Hunter-Patten hopes she has created a new path for the Apache people.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” she says, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson. “I hope I have done this for the Apache people.”

Review Overview

User Rating: 4.43 ( 2 votes)

About Jenn Walker

Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *