Google Employee Tara Rush Helps Indigenous Communities Map Their Lands

Tara Rush, an administrative business partner at Google Canada, teaches indigenous communities how to map and monitor their lands. The purpose of the mapping workshops—led by Rush and a Canadian-based Aboriginal research organization called The Firelight Group—are to help indigenous communities “visualize their land, water, and cultural resources so we can make better-informed decisions about community development,” Rush told Native Business Magazine.

She provides instruction on Google web tools including Google Earth and Google Maps that help tribal stakeholders identify critical geographical areas, such as hunting grounds or fishing zones, and to tell the stories of those places and their indigenous homelands with images, video and more. 

From Google’s Kitchener, Ontario, Canada office, Rush answered a few questions for Native Business Magazine.

Can you tell us about your cultural background?

My maternal great-grandmother was from Akwesasne, she was Kanien’kehá:ka. She was adopted off the reserve at a young age, and she married a non-Indigenous man. While I was not brought up within my culture, I sought it out. I have an amazing network of Indigenous kwe and friends in my community and across Canada. In 2017, I graduated from Laurentian University with a B.A  with a concentration in Indigenous Studies. This helped me to not only understand my own culture, traditions and language, but those of other Indigenous Nations, many of whom I am honoured to work with. I am currently taking post-grad studies at University of Waterloo, where I am slowly learning to speak Kanien’kehá – it’s so hard!

What influenced your career path?

My dad taught me to love learning. I followed him constantly – watching him building, fixing things around the house, doing a jigsaw puzzles, doing math problems. He showed me every situation has an opportunity to learn something new. This lead me to the understanding within a job, or a career, to never stop looking for ways to grow, to never be complacent, and to recognize your skill set. When I started my career, I worked in a mutual fund dealership, and it was really stressful with  really long hours. I knew that I had good organizational skills, and a natural ability to want to help people. This parlayed itself into a career as an executive assistant where these skills were well-suited and I was much happier.

How did you land at Google?

I spent 15 years at a financial institution, many of them as an executive assistant, and felt eventually I needed a new challenge. I went to RIM (now Blackberry) where learning a new industry was really a great change. Some organizational changes at RIM left me without anyone to support, and I knew I needed to leave on my own volition before any more changes within the company potentially left me without a job. I interviewed at Google, and almost 7 years later, here I am.

Why is it critical that indigenous communities know how to take advantage of Google web tools, such as Google Earth and Google Maps?

Maps are incredibly powerful tools in the hands of Indigenous communities.  Maps can be used within communities to visualize an Indigenous way of seeing the land and explain ties to the land and water in  dynamic and interactive ways. The Indigenous worldview is very different, and maps can help us tell our stories.

In addition to cultural preservation, how can these tools prove vital for indigenous entrepreneurship and business?

Indigenous communities can use Google mapping tools to visualize their land, water, and cultural resources so we can make better-informed decisions about community development.

How was your experience facilitating coding and mapping workshops with Māori youth and other members of Indigenous communities in New Zealand? What was their response?

The experience in New Zealand was amazing — it’s likely among the best experiences of my career.  These young students impressed me  with their earnestness, their attention and their respect. The youth behaved as if coming and learning from us was a responsibility to their community, rather than a  privilege. The Wellington school group thanked us after the coding session  with a song in  Māori and in English, where they promised to carry the knowledge back to their community.  These young people are well suited to be the “tumu herenga waka” needed  to assert Māori cultural and civic rights, in the future. Their response to seeing us, was excitement, as is generally the case when people encounter Google. I think there was a bit of added fascination to see an Indigenous female face in the Google t-shirt. It makes me proud to represent, and to show them it’s possible.

What advice would you offer indigenous youth interested in a career in coding, or at a major corporation like Google?

I would tell them that their Indigeneity is not a hindrance, it’s always something to be proud of. Don’t treat any major corporation any differently than any other company, don’t be dissuaded by the name of a company. Regardless of where you apply to work, you are still you, and you are amazing. Go in, show them your best self! Always stand proud.



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