Our Co-founders

Gregory Gomez, Itsa Lichii Gomez, Dr. Cathy Guierrez-Gomez, and Dahahzi Gomez.

The Indigenous Institute of the Americas was founded in the 1980s through the inspiration of Gregory G. Gomez, MSSW-Apache, Eddie Sandoval-Apache, and Cathy Gutierrez-Gomez, Ph.D.-Huastec, who at the time lived in Dallas – Ft Worth, Texas.

Gregory G. Bear Heart Gomez is a Mescalero and Lipan Apache. A Marine Vietnam Veteran with a long history working with and for the Native American Indian communities within Texas and Nationally through his employment with the Federal government as a Child Welfare Specialist at the Administration of Children and Families for the US Department of Health and Human Services. He has held many leadership positions, which created opportunities to provide cultural guidance and consultation to Universities, Corporations, Religious Institutions, State Governments, and Keynotes at National conferences. Gregory has spoken on such diverse topics as culture, multicultural education, stress and burnout, team building, human resources, child abuse and neglect, and much more. Mr. Gomez currently serves as President of the IIA-Indigenous Institute of the Americas.

Gregory Gomez at Gourd Dance to honor the Navajo Code Talker from WWII.
Gregory Gomez at Gourd Dance in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to honor the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.

Eddie Sandoval, -Chiricahua Apache, grew up in west Texas. He was known for his athleticism in all sports in his early years. He received a scholarship for college in track & field. Many people know Mr. Sandoval in the academic world as a Retired Professor and Counselor at Tarrant County Junior College. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in industrial technology and a master’s degree in educational counseling from the Sul Ross University of Texas. Mr. Sandoval is now retired as the Head of Counseling at Tarrent County Jr. College after teaching for almost 40 years.

Another thing people do not know about our cofounder, 

Mr.Sandoval is an avid horseman. He spends most of his time with his horses and actively supports the Ft. Worth Stockyards. He is on the Board of the FRIENDS OF THE FORT WORTH HERD, and his most recent accomplishment was the dedication of a star on the Texas Trail of Fame for Geronimo. In 2018, an endowment from Margie Reynolds of Granbury created The Eddie Sandoval Industrial Technology Excellence Fund at Sul Ross. The Fund will provide financial assistance for students and continue developing Sul Ross’ industrial technology program.

Eddie Sandoval with IIA Volunteer and TCU Alumni, Tabitha Tan

Mr. Sandoval is the IIA Spiritual advisor and is commonly called upon for various ceremonial needs in the community, such as the rematriation and re-internment of remains. Mr. Sandoval also worked extensively with the US Department of Justice to ensure Indian men had access to a sweat lodge and sacred amulets for spiritual ceremonies. We are so happy to have Mr. Sandoval providing his wisdom and advice on daily spiritual concerns our organization and volunteers face in this challenging world. 

Mr. Gomez and Mr. Sandoval are Sun Dancers and Pipe Carriers. They worked together for many years to maintain a sweat lodge in Burleson, TX. During the 1990s and many years after, both received traditional knowledge teachings from a well-known healer from the Rosebud reservation. Marcellus Bearheart Williams was influential in helping many Native people in Texas find their spiritual path in what we refer to as a “good” way. We feel very fortunate to have Mr. Gomez and Mr. Sandoval – Sundancers, Pipe Carriers, and Gourd Dancers, among the elders in our organization.

Gregory Gomez at Gourd Dance in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to honor the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.

Picture from Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

Cathy Gutierrez-Gomez, PH.D., and Gregory Gomez met in 1980. Cathy grew up with the message shared to many young women: finish High School, get married, have children, become a Secretary, or at most, a beautician. We are grateful that Cathy listened to her family’s message but incorporated her passion into education to fulfill her personal goals. She is married to the love of her life and has two exceptional children and two grandchildren. But that is where that story began, not ended.

Dr. Cathy Gutierrez-Gomez works with children who are interested in Native culture.

Presentation of a thank-you recognition at an IIA gathering.

Cathy is a fantastic role model for our organization’s young women leaders working on higher education. But she is also an amazing advisor and consultant for our mature women trying to balance life’s many roles in the broader culture. 

In the 1980s, Cathy’s hard work led to her completing her BA degree, which then launched several decades of professional work in Early Childhood Education. She achieved her master’s degree and then finished her Doctorate in December of 1996 from the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas. 

Cathy has always fought for equality-based education and is committed to Indigenous children and their families. As a mother, she recognized that our children do not have the advantage of written and video material that reflects accurate stories of our many cultures. She is one of the few professionals nationally who focused on the needs of indigenous infants and toddlers cared for in daycares, Head Start, and other early childhood education programs. Her strong work ethic is an inspiration. She has helped guide several generations of teachers from Pueblos and Tribes who attended the University of New Mexico. These teachers wished to return to their Native communities as certified teachers and bring back the educational values of our cultures.

On a personal level, Cathy and Gregory raised their children in the traditional Apache way. While living in Texas, they experienced a tumultuous time for their son, Itsa-Lichii. As with many American Indian families, Itsa-Lichii wore a long braid that had never been cut. In 1991, Itsa-Lichii attended Mesquite ISD in Kindergarten, where he was kicked out of school for his long hair and his family’s unwillingness to permit cutting his hair. This experience of racism led Cathy to push even harder to get her Doctorate so that she could impact educational systems in the future. The Gomez family eventually had to make the hard decision to leave Texas. The trauma of the school experience, possible intensive lawsuits, and an unbending educational system reflected a true example of institutional trauma. The Gomez family moved to New Mexico, where Dr. Gomez became an Associate Professor in the Department of Individual, Family, & Community Education at the University of New Mexico. It was a significant loss for Texas, but the move to New Mexico opened doors for Dr. Gomez’s work and helped the Gomez family find schools that respected American Indian cultural values.

Itsa Lichii is now grown up, working in the Film and TV industry while supporting his father and mother’s efforts at IIA on our Circle of Youth.

Cathy worked from January 1998 to her most recent retirement at the University of New Mexico. She is a Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico Family and Child Studies Program. Her talent is course development on teaching reading and writing, curriculum development and implementation, and multicultural education. Her research interests include children’s language and literacy development, diversity and multicultural early childhood curriculum, and American Indian early childhood curriculum development. 

Dr. Gutierrez-Gomez has published articles and chapters and given national and international presentations on topics related to her research interests.

Educators Healing Racism

Picture from Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

Dr. Cathy Gutierrez-Gomez works with children who are interested in Native culture.

Presentation of a thank-you recognition at an IIA gathering.

Itsa Lichii is now grown up and supporting his father and mother’s efforts at IIA.