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Finding belonging in Google's Aboriginal and Indigenous Network

Photograph of Tara Rush leaning against a pillar with her hands in her pockets. She is looking into the camera and smiling.

In 2013, the Google Earth Outreach team reached out to me with a request. They had been invited to partner on a mapping project in western Canada, and were looking for a Googler who could contribute an Indigenous perspective on cultural protocol. They asked if I would  be interested in helping. “Absolutely!” was my immediate response. I’m  Kanien'kehá ka, (Mohawk) and there have been times in my life and my workplace where it felt like there wasn’t space for me to be Indigenous. This was a great opportunity to lean in. There was also pressure: I could bring my perspective from my community but Indigenous communities are incredibly diverse. I hoped my Indigenous Studies degree would help me.

But the experience was a success and led to more participation in projects in the Indigenous space at Google.  Since 2015, I’ve been one of the five people who lead Google’s Aboriginal and Indigenous Network (GAIN), an employee-run group that gives Indigenous Googlers a safe place to nurture our communities. 

Finding belonging in a workplace with a large, diverse population can be difficult. We often bend and mould ourselves to fit others’ expectations. It’s hard to be authentic. It’s hard to hold to our core values, and what truly makes us who we are. But I found this in GAIN.

GAIN is a place where we can  grow and support one another. But it’s more than that. This group ensures that our communities outside of Google thrive, too. GAIN understands that the individual, family and community are all connected. No one thrives in isolation, and that’s what powers GAIN.

This work was about self-determination, and starting the process of decolonization through community empowerment.

Some work GAIN has done that we're proudest of involves creating and launching initiatives in areas like hiring, recruiting, retention, wellness, cultural events and internet connectivity in Indigenous communities. We work to shed light on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls campaigns , support Indigenous small businesses, and promote racial equity and justice initiatives. GAIN has also helped highlight educational tools such as training with ComIT, online STEM programming and Grow with Google , which worked with elementary school students in their local library and makerspace in Iqaluit.

We’re also working to make space for the Indigenous community internally. We have film screenings of independent Indigenous films, and have invited film makers from Wapikoni to host a discussion. Bob Joseph spoke to Googlers about what we may not know about the Indian Act, and the Cloud Sales team purchased his book for their entire team. More than 80 people in the Canadian offices are attending the University of Alberta’s free course on Indigenous Canada together. 

But it was with that original Google Maps project that I found a true home. The purpose of this work is to identify Indigenous territories on Google Maps, and recognizing Indigenous independent sovereignties in the same way as other governments do on Google Maps. We also encourage Indigenous populations to take ownership of how their bands and cultures are presented online through StreetView, Earth and Maps. 

When the Firelight Group (an Indigenous-owned consulting group) founded the Indigenous Mapping Workshop in 2014, they invited Google Earth Outreach as a partner and I was a member of the inaugural planning committee. We brought together 100 participants from Indigenous communities to teach them the tools needed to map out the locations their families rely on for hunting, gathering, trapping and fishing. In these workshops, we taught them how to put their own stories on their own maps, and encouraged them to take what they learned back to their communities. Maps are incredibly powerful tools in the hands of Indigenous communities, especially when they allow for our Indigenous worldview, and our Indigenous stories to be told.

This work was about self-determination, and starting the process of decolonization through community empowerment. We’ve supported Indigenous Mapping Workshops throughout Canada each year since 2014. Last year, the Indigenous Mapping Workshop went virtual and had more than 400 attendees. We expect more than 500 virtual attendees at this year’s conference, with over 100 training sessions. We’ve supported Indigenous Mapping Workshops in Australia and New Zealand as well. 

This opportunity was amazing. It is an honour to spend time with other First Nations, Elders and community members. Being welcomed into communities and sharing their stories is not a gift I’ll soon forget. I am so humbled to be able to help bring these tools, stories and Indigenous voices together. 

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