Honoring our Indigenous community – past, present and future
For more than 30 years, November has been celebrated as Native American Heritage Month (formerly National American Indian Heritage Month) in the United States. It’s a time to recognize the long, rich history of the country’s many Indigenous peoples – and to acknowledge the unique challenges they have faced and continue to face.
Educating and raising awareness of Native American heritage is just one of the many driving motivations behind the newest Boston Scientific employee resource group (ERG): FIRE, which stands for Fostering Indigenous Resources and Empowerment.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month and the one-year anniversary of the launch of FIRE, we’re looking back at the group’s creation and what it hopes to achieve both as part of Boston Scientific and for Indigenous communities beyond the company’s walls.
How FIRE got started
The initial spark for the FIRE ERG came several years ago when a new employee with Cherokee heritage started at the Boston Scientific site in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Conversations with her onboarding mentor led to the realization that Boston Scientific didn’t have an ERG for Indigenous employees.
“We often hear from other multicultural employees that when they started at Boston Scientific, they instantly felt comfortable in an ERG they closely identified with,” says Emily Gutierrez, a project manager at Boston Scientific and current global co-lead of FIRE. “Our colleagues realized, ‘Without an ERG for Indigenous employees, there’s a gap here.’”
Ultimately, the Minnesota employee and her mentor, together with Gutierrez and a like-minded colleague in Massachusetts, started working on putting an application to form an ERG at Boston Scientific. To do so, groups must meet certain requirements, including identifying leadership and having a minimum of three chapters.
After a year and a half of gathering employee support, FIRE was officially launched as an ERG in October 2022, with three chapters: one in Massachusetts, where Boston Scientific has its world headquarters; one in Minnesota; and a global virtual chapter that’s open to all employees who aren’t based at one of the other two sites.
Sharing hidden Native American histories and important truths
Today, FIRE has more than 350 members and has already sponsored a wealth of activities for employees. “One of our first was working with a non-profit organization in Minnesota that provides healthy Indigenous foods to urban Native Americans,” says Markie Vicenti, an IT analyst at Boston Scientific and FIRE global co-lead. Members also volunteered at a traditional wacipi, or pow-wow, and hosted a virtual beadwork session led by Indigenous artists in Massachusetts.
Through book clubs, a podcast series and on-site events, the ERG has shed light on difficult truths about the treatment of Indigenous peoples throughout the history of North America, including the legacy of Native American boarding schools and Canadian residential schools, perspectives on federal holidays such as Columbus Day, and the current crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.
FIRE is also actively working to increase representation of Indigenous people and students in STEM careers. The ERG has partnered with AISES, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and plans to participate in an AISES mentoring program for young people. They’ve also obtained a grant for a local non-profit working to empower Native youth in the Twin Cities.
And in recognition of the fact that Boston Scientific facilities are located on ancestral homelands of Indigenous peoples, FIRE has developed land acknowledgement statements and is installing plaques at Minnesota and Massachusetts sites during ceremonies attended by local and executive leaders this month, with other sites across the U.S. and Canada to follow. “These will be a great way for our allies to show their support of FIRE and acknowledge the deep history of the land that we work and live on today,” says Gutierrez.
Ensuring Indigenous people have a voice at Boston Scientific
Looking forward, the members of FIRE aim to do much more than educate employees and engage with local Indigenous groups, though both remain top priorities.
“We really want to ensure Indigenous people have a seat at the table when it comes to being represented and heard by our executive leaders,” says Gutierrez. “And we want to make Boston Scientific an employer of choice for Indigenous peoples, not just in the U.S. and Canada, but globally.”
Most of all, FIRE hopes to provide a sense of home and belonging for Indigenous employees.
“For me, being Indigenous, having that support system and people who understand my experiences was important,” says Vicenti.
Just as important, she says, is having the support of allies at the company who don’t have an Indigenous background.
“We’ve gotten so many comments from employees of all backgrounds saying that they’re so excited about the land acknowledgement statements and the ERG, that it’s about time this is happening,” says Vicenti. “Having that kind of community in the workplace makes a world of difference and makes Boston Scientific an even more beautiful place to be.”
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