During National Native American Heritage Month, the Department of Commerce honors the sacrifices, contributions, and achievements of Native Americans and honors their cultural heritage. In recognition this month, the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) celebrates Tracy Boze and James Daugomah, two outstanding employees who, among other significant contributions, serve as co-chairs of the Indigenous Employee Resource Group of the NOAA American Indian Alaska (ERG). The ERG is an essential resource for raising Indigenous voices within the agency and fostering education on Indigenous issues and culture. Tracy works for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and James works for NOAA’s National Ocean Service.
Below is a brief description of each employee and some questions and answers that outline their Native American heritage and how it relates to their work at NOAA, what inspires them, and why they chose to serve as leaders in the American Indian Alaskan Native Employee Resource. Group (ERG).
James Daugomah grew up in Yukon, OK, and is registered as a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma and is also half Navajo. James currently works as an Environmental Scientist with NOAA’s National Ocean Service, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science in Charleston, SC. There, he conducts research that includes the study of the effects of land use on marine organisms and ecotoxicology.
Tracy Boze is a Tlingit from the Raven Moiety, Kaach.ádi (frog) clan in Southeast Alaska, granddaughter of a chief and proud Alaskan native. Tracy works as an Investigation Support Technician with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, WA. There she is an environmental steward providing support in a variety of law enforcement activities, programs and contact with partners and the public.
Personal thoughts on your journey to NOAA:
James: Prior to getting my undergraduate degree from Oklahoma State University, I had never been east of Oklahoma; so I took a job on the east coast to see places I had never been. The first research project I was hired for was a research partnership between the University of South Carolina and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). I was lucky that the project manager who initially hired me saw my potential, which ultimately resulted in a permanent position at NMFS.
While at NMFS, I had the opportunity to further my education by earning a Masters in Environmental Studies.
Tracy: I wanted to work for the federal government when I learned that my grandparents had also worked as civil servants. Growing up, they didn’t talk much about their work, but I know it wasn’t easy for them. Their generation was not one to complain and they were lucky to have their jobs, especially at a time when young people were traditionally placed in boarding schools, away from their families. So when it came time to look for a new job, I was referred to a state and county contractor position with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Enforcement (OLE) ( NMFS) working on the new Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program come out. I had held this position for a little over 6 years. After a short hiatus with county and state government, I returned to OLE just over 2 years later and was hired as a full-time employee.
Are there values from your heritage or culture that contribute to your work?
James: My upbringing in Kiowa/Navajo traditions and ceremonies has definitely influenced my work as a scientist. I was taught from an early age that everything has a place in our world. One lesson I remember is around age 6, tossing around a bunch of ants and receiving a stern beating from my grandfather that ants have a purpose and we need to respect that purpose. I have also been taught at ceremonial events that there is always a protocol to follow and respect the process. This way of thinking is important in conducting laboratory experiments and other methodologies, such as field protocols when collecting field data such as sediment, water, or tissue samples.
Tracy: Something wonderful about the Alaska Native culture that I bring is the love of storytelling. My grandfather was a storyteller, and I always loved listening to him talk and sharing his stories. We all have a story to tell, and being part of NOAA’s American Indian Alaska Native Employee Resource Group (ERG) gives us a voice, a platform, and a community that we can all lean on, learn from, and encourage.
Why are you co-president of the AIAN ERG?
James: I think my role as co-chair of the AIAN ERG is to encourage the team to be creative and participate in the various Native American heritage programs of the Department of Commerce. I try to remember that our group brings a unique perspective that can show all business agencies things they may not have considered, such as life and work experiences.
When NOAA began assembling the American Indian Alaska Native Employee Resource Group (ERG), I attended the first meeting and initially played a low-key “bird on the fence” role. I liked the team and felt comfortable with the group. In less than a year, I had the opportunity to become co-chair, and I felt compelled to step up. I made several excuses to myself at first, but I knew that was it, and I don’t regret my decision.
Tracy: Looking back, I remember it was at the end of the 2019 calendar year when NOAA staff received an email looking for volunteers to help the Office of Inclusion and Rights (OICR) in the education and awareness of Native Americans. There I found a place I was proud to be a part of and jumped at the chance to be a leader, hoping to bring creativity, passion and encouragement to the team. As Co-Chair, the past few years have been incredibly fulfilling, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to put my name forward for another term.
What do you enjoy most about working at NOAA?
James: I had many opportunities in my career and learned from many people. The part of my job that I enjoy the most is teaching young scientists and students. I mainly conduct field research that requires attention while working. I also enjoy having the opportunity to work with NOAA personnel from different regions and various line offices.
Tracy: The best part of my job is knowing that we are all making a difference, and my work at the Office of Enforcement has a significant impact on the sustainability of the fishery for future generations.
What inspires you?
James: I’m inspired by people who keep doing their best even when it seems like there’s no solution. I am inspired by the optimism I see in younger scientific staff; it can be easy to forget that they didn’t have the experiences that I had, and I like to pass those experiences on to them.
I am also inspired and proud of my family’s tradition of public service.
Tracy: Earlier this year, during my son’s senior year of high school, he made the decision to join the US Army and is currently training to become a US Marine. When he listed the reasons he wanted to serve, at the top he said there are a lot of superheroes that go beyond the comics and the movies. He said there are everyday heroes who serve the community and the nation. He looked at my husband and me and said we were each heroes in our jobs. Nodding, he said NOAA serves to protect our nation’s waters, then turned to his father and said he was a hero for protecting people’s well-being and covering needs. in his role as a clinical appeals representative. It brought us to tears to think that even our professions had an impact on his journey. He then said that he too wanted to be a hero like us. “Gasp!”.
Hearing his words with the same mindset I had with my grandparents about wanting to serve our community is profound and so rewarding.