For our “Leading the Field” Q&A series, we’re speaking with leaders in the civic/gov tech space who are driving important change to make government work by the people, for the people, in the digital age. For Women’s History Month, we’re lifting up the voices of women who are working to ensure the government can serve everyone equitably, with dignity and respect. This week, we spoke with Victoria Vasques, owner and chairwoman of Tribal Tech. Tribal Tech is a management and technical services company that collaborates with federal agencies, state and local governments, and tribal nations to improve services in the fields of health, security, education, energy, and the environment.
What first brought you to the field of government technical services? How did you realize this was a space where you could make an impact?
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher. However, after only four years of teaching, I received an opportunity to work for the Reagan Administration (as my daughter would say, “back in the day”). This began my many years of public service, working both at the Department of Education and the Department of Energy. I came to Washington, DC to work for the government with the intention of staying for only one year and ended up serving for almost 25 years! I guess I got infected with that so-called “Potomac fever,” and here I am some 35+ years later, running my own small business.
Coming from the federal government, founding Tribal Tech was a natural progression where I saw significant opportunities to continue to serve the federal agencies with the work they do throughout Indian Country, especially in the area of health and wellness. One example of the impact our staff has made, and one that shows the passion they have serving in our American Indian and Alaska Native communities, is our work providing culturally relevant training and technical assistance in helping to prevent substance abuse, suicide, and opioids misuse, and promoting mental health. Yes, difficult work—but we work hard to honor tribal culture and ways of life, as well as respecting the government-to-government relationship.
What values stand at the core of your work with Tribal Tech and the communities you serve?
Both in my personal and professional life, I find it is most important to be kind, respectful and forgiving. It is also important to have patience, which I continue to work on and practice every day. Additionally, I advocate and follow the guiding principles of Tribal Tech: “People, Performance and Partnership.” We are reliant on these principles in everything that we do—this is our Tribal Tech roadmap! It’s the people—who we are, hardworking and passionate. It’s the performance—who we serve, and excellent service that exceeds expectations. It’s the partnerships—who we work with, personally and professionally. I have also learned over the years that it is important to stay focused on the right things and not get ahead of myself. Don’t count those wins until they are won!
How has the GovTech field changed since you first entered it? How would you like to see it continue to evolve?
I must admit, I was never a big fan of telework. However, when the COVID pandemic hit, being able to pivot so easily to a telework format was not only critical to what we do, but helped us realize we needed to find new ways to do business, while highlighting and promoting innovation, particularly within teleconferencing and telehealth. For example, serving the Native communities in person was no longer an option and presented many challenges. The work needed to continue, but travel came to a complete stop. Our communities have varying levels of internet connection and technological capacity, and the broadband access was limited or in many cases not there. During these past 12 months, we had to adapt to working in a virtual and physically distanced environment, trying to create and develop online resources, creating curricula using multimedia online platforms (Digital Storytelling, Online Talking Circles). If anything was learned from this pandemic, it was the need for better technology in our rural communities, especially throughout Indian Country.
You’re the daughter of a tribal chairman of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians. How has that upbringing informed your work? What does it mean to bring your full self to work in this field?
It was my father who instilled in me the value and importance of an education. He started the first education program on the reservation, long before casinos were even thought of. I am a first-generation graduate of college, which is where I found my passion and began my journey to work for our Native communities. Now, as a small business owner, I am proud to continue advocating and supporting educational initiatives and health and wellness for all people, especially for our Native youth. My father also taught me the importance of giving back and investing in our communities. Just over four years ago, I founded the Ronald Maese Peralta (RMP) Foundation in memory of my father and the great work that he did serving our Native people. The foundation provides educational and health opportunities and grants supporting our local communities, as well as our Native communities.
What does “designing equitable government” mean to you?
Now more than ever, especially with the COVID pandemic, racism, civil unrest, and the uncertainty of the economy, it is important to provide a place of belonging. And not just “designing equitable government”, but “designing equitable businesses” too. Building a culture of trust and equity, where all of us feel safe, seen, heard, and most importantly, respected! And speaking of “equitable,” I can’t forget to mention Deb Haaland, our first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, who was sworn in this month as the new Secretary of Interior. What a great way to celebrate Women’s History Month with Code for America!