How this Googler lifts up Indigenous communities
Maria Running Fisher Jones first learned about balancing checking accounts and filing taxes at age 7 — thanks to her primary school teacher. Though finance didn’t end up being her calling in life, education has been a consistent theme throughout her career. She first studied education, even earning her master’s degree, but ended up finding a home in law.
Now as senior corporate counsel in Google Cloud, Maria also takes time to partner with Googlers and people in her community to raise awareness of issues that are impacting Indigenous communities in the United States, like the one she grew up in, and expand opportunities for Indigenous-owned businesses. I chatted with Maria over Google Meet to hear her story and learn about how education has always been a cornerstone in her life.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was raised by a single mother on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Northwestern Montana, a community struggling with a 69% unemployment rate. The estimated poverty rate of Native Americans living on reservations is nearly double the national average and the highest in the country.
My family saw education as a way to lift ourselves and our community — a way to learn and gain access to connections to give back. My mother ingrained the value of education in me deeply: I vividly remember a time when she wouldn’t allow me to participate in a basketball game because my grades had slipped. Even worse, my mother made me tell my coach and teammates the reason I was to miss the game. It’s those life lessons that have brought me to where I am today.
The more I learned about the tech industry, the more I discovered how much it could be used for good.
How did you get into law?
I didn’t initially anticipate practicing law as a career. Entering college, I was set on a degree in education with a plan to teach high-school English, thanks to the influence of my primary school teachers.
While studying for my master’s in education, I became particularly interested in educational disparities, like why are some children afforded a better education and more resources than others? I began researching laws to educate myself and started to realize that a law degree could help me affect positive change. In some sense, I really fell into a law degree by virtue of following my passions and natural curiosity.
What shaped your interest in tech?
Technology, its importance and impact in the world, wasn’t something I spent much time thinking about while in Montana. Instead of video conferences and emails, I was picking up the phone to connect through a landline or showing up to have a cup of coffee.
But the more I learned about the tech industry, the more I discovered how much it could be used for good. I saw how this was the future and how it could connect my family and community to opportunities in a more equitable way. It’s why I participated in a Wi-Fi connectivity project with GAIN, Google’s Aboriginal and Indigenous Employee Resource Group. It’s how I found the ability to connect my education degrees to tech law. At Google, I’ve been able to do both.
How do you connect your work at Google to the causes you care about?
Giving back and engaging in community is critical in my life. Leaving the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana is still something that pains me to this day. Leaving family has always been a challenge for me, but sharing my culture and raising awareness on issues facing Indigenous people has filled the void of missing home. Since joining Google, I’ve had the opportunity to provide awareness through various channels, including a Talks at Google interview with activist Kimberly Loring HeavyRunner and a Careers on Air virtual event celebrating Google’s Aboriginal and Indigenous communities.
Native Forward, the U.S.’s largest scholarship program for Native students with more than 16,000 recipients from over 500 Tribes, provided the funding to support my law school education. Recently, I was part of a group of Googlers who reviewed its scholarship applications, and I donate monthly via our internal platform that allows for company matching.
In addition to the work I do at Google, I also started a company, TPMOCS, in 2014, specializing in handcrafting children’s moccasins. We employ Native American artisans in rural communities and give a portion of profits to organizations on reservations supporting children in need.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
During a trip back home to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, I spent time with family and elders, and had a traditional naming ceremony for my children. I also had time to reflect on my life choices. Some, if given the chance, I would do over, but one that I’ve never second guessed is joining Google. As I speak at events, I’d like Indigeous youth and young professionals to know that you too can pursue a career in tech and still remain true to yourself. Representation matters and working at Google provides me with a platform to highlight interests and issues close to my heart. Google welcomes our voices.