For decades, Victoria Vasques has fought to give American Indians a voice in government. Now, as founder and CEO of Tribal Tech (#508 on the Inc. 5000), a $3 million government contractor based in Alexandria, Virginia, she is working to improve life in Indian communities across the country.
My father was tribal chairman of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians. He raised us in Orange County, California, and we would go with him when he commuted to the reservation for meetings. Not until late high school did I realize I was going to a reservation. My father thought we would be better off not knowing because he had faced a lot of prejudice in the Army. He didn't instill our culture in us until much later in life. I think he regretted that. But all my adult life I have been very proud of who I am.
At Cal State in the early '70s I belonged to an Indian organization that brought in people like Dennis Banks, Russell Means, and Vernon Bellecourt to speak to students. I was definitely an activist back then. People who know how conservative I am today would be mortified.
I taught high school and elementary school. Then in the Reagan administration I joined the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education. I also worked at the Department of Energy and on the commissions on small business and AIDS. The entities I was assigned to had representation for African Americans and Hispanics and Asians: never for American Indians. So I became their advocate. Whenever I've testified on the Hill or spoken to Congress, the first thing I say is who I am and where I'm from.
After almost 25 years I ended my career in government and ran for a House of Delegates seat in Alexandria, Virginia, where my family lives. When I didn't win, I decided to start my own business, as a government contractor. In 2010, I applied for 8a certification and was approved in 30 days, which is unheard of. My company offers management consulting, program management, IT and communications services.
My first contract was from the Administration of Native Americans, and we have continued to win work from them. Among other things, we provide program management and other services related to areas like substance abuse, suicide prevention and bullying, which are serious problems for our people across the nation. We also do government and corporate work not related to Indian affairs.
Half my workforce is Native American. Three of my big contracts want that. Recruiting is hard: I can find great, educated American Indian people but they don't have experience in substance abuse or grants management. We use national American Indian organizations as well as Craigslist and word of mouth to find them.
My father taught us first and foremost to always give back and serve your people. I am so happy to be back working with Indian people for Indian people.
As told to Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan.