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When the dates for the 2021 KubeCon|CloudNativeCon North America were announced, I immediately noticed the conference would fall during the same week as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And I was immediately struck by the opportunity to use that timing as an educational opportunity to recognize the unique culture of a particular people and place, draw a line from that to our tech industry’s push for better representation, and share a little of my own story relative to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). You see, I am not just a member of the Cloud Native ecosystem, I am also a Native American. My blood is a mix of lines descending from many places around the world, one of which is the Nor Rel Muk band of Wintu tribes of Northern California.

I want to start by stating that my being Native American is by no means a secret, but it isn’t something I talk about frequently, especially at work. I am extremely fortunate to work in a diverse team, employed by a company I believe genuinely cares about diversity issues, and on top of that, in a corner of open source software development which is known for its progressive ideologies around diversity topics and technical ones too. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to so many of the familiar points of friction minorities face. I don’t bring my full self to all places. Or perhaps it’s hard to be fully seen. Or a little of both.

The Problem with Making Assumptions

I’m quite sure most people see me as just another pale-skinned, long-haired dude in tech. But when my ancestry comes up, assumptions immediately change. And it’s been this way my whole life. I’ve been told countless times, “You’re not Native American.” But also “Oh yeah, now that you mention it, I can see it.” And then there’s the “Can I touch your hair?” Or the series of expressions that progressively cross the faces of dudes entering a bathroom as they see me, thinking they’ve walked into the women’s room, and then realizing, nope he’s just gotta have a full head of hair. And of course, all the variations on “oh, that’s how you got into this program”, or the internship, or this job, or that promotion. All of this is tiring. It’s easier a lot of time to just leave people to their assumptions.

Still, these experiences inform who I am. While I might be perceived as just a basic tech bro, I know and experience an inkling of what other more visible underrepresented minorities experience. It makes me work hard to always be above question in my skills. It reminds me to use what privilege I may have to advocate for and sponsor others. And it reminds me to assume less about others, and instead, allow them to bring their full selves forward for me to learn and experience more of this world’s diversity.

The Nation’s Indigenous Population

The diverse Native populations of North America have dwindled from as high as 60 million in 1492 to around 7 million in the US today. Across the country and very much in California, Native populations were decimated by disease and war. Our current pandemic is not the first one seen by Native Americans. Hundreds of men, women and children of my own Wintu were murdered in repeated massacres. Nevertheless, California remains home to the largest Native population in the U.S. Los Angeles County has the highest Native population of U.S. counties. There are over 100 federally recognized tribes and almost as many Native languages in the state. And yet we are only around 2% of the U.S. population and 1% of the U.S. tech workforce. Perhaps we’re easily missed. But we are here. 

For Native Americans though, there are many versions of “here.” You see this in the diversity of tribes and languages across the continent and in how every tribe has a different connection to song and dance associated with their “here.” For anybody who’s been to an actual pow-wow — and I’m not referring to when your coworkers might say this word when they’re talking about a meeting down the hall or on Zoom — you’ve experienced a modern pan-Indian flavor of the “here” that is Indian Country. Feeling the beat of the drum as the sound moves through your body, hearing the singing, seeing the dancing…a pow-wow is a powerful experience. I think of this in the context of the saying that inclusion isn’t “inviting somebody to the dance,” but rather “inviting somebody to dance”. Choosing to actively invite somebody to dance is the ultimate act of inclusion. When “here” is an L.A. tech conference, what could that mean?

CNCF’s Embodiment of Culture and Inclusion

In Los Angeles, sharing a Native cultural experience means sharing the song and dance of the Tongva peoples. For millennia, the Tongva have been the caretakers of Tovaangar, the Los Angeles basin and the Channel Islands. Looking for that local representation for the conference, I connected with Rudy Ortega, Tribal President of the Fernandeńo Tataviam Band of Mission Indians in Southern California. Rudy graciously agreed to bring a cultural presentation and open the conference on an inclusive note, which the CNCF will emphasize at the beginning of the welcoming keynotes on Wednesday, October 13.

In closing, it is my sincere hope that I’ve enlightened you on our nation’s Indigenous Peoples’ background and culture, and this Native welcome to all conference attendees is warmly received. I look forward to meeting many of you over the next few days!

Feature image courtesy of Cloud Native Computing Foundation.