FORT MEADE, Md. - The National Security Agency (NSA) is proud to celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month this November. “Expanding the Circle” is an interview series spotlighting members of the Agency’s American Indian Alaska Native Employee Resource Group (AIAN ERG) sharing their heritage, their work on behalf of the Intelligence Community and the Nation, and how diversity benefits us all. This feature shares the story of Vanoy Welch, a senior ally of the AIAN ERG and an NSA subject matter expert for network technologies and devices.
Where are you originally from? What would like to share about your upbringing?
I was born in a small town north of Seattle but was adopted and didn’t spend any time there. I spent a few years in Utah, then moved with my family to New Mexico. My adoptive dad was more than half Cherokee, but grew up in northern New Mexico and, as such, spoke Navajo and had many Navajo friends.
While I was growing up, my dad exposed me to not only Cherokee culture, but Navajo, and to some degree, many other Indian pueblos and reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. All of this was interesting, but back then I identified as a young white male. In my late 30s, I learned of my birth parents and their heritage. To my surprise, my birth father, Robert Anderson, was a tribal citizen of the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe from northwest Washington State.
What brought you to NSA, and what part of your job do you love the most? What advice would you give to other Agency employees?
I was hired as a co-op student from New Mexico State University in 1983. I'm still here! The mission is what keeps me here. Solving a problem or creating or mentoring a team who then solves a problem for mission success is what I enjoy most.
As far as the advice I would give, the first thing that comes to mind is to find several mentors. I say several because different people have different perspectives and give different advice. With several mentors, you can take what works and discard what doesn’t for your situation. I’ve been here a long time, and I could retire any day, but I’m having too much fun to leave.
How has your ethnic heritage shaped the person you are today?
As I mentioned before, I grew up identifying as a white male. It was only later in life that I learned of my heritage. At that point, I started reading and learning. Over the pandemic, I had time to devote to more reading, genealogy research, online presentations, and more. With learning and finding a number of cousins in the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, I began identifying more and more as a descendant of the tribe. The notion of inclusion is high in that community.
On another note, reading the books "The Earth is Weeping" by Peter Cozzens and "Unworthy Republic" by Claudio Saunt was emotionally jarring, I recommend reading both, as my perspective was changed by these books.
How did you become involved in the AIAN ERG?
A number of years ago, AIAN officers and members were presenting information as part of Heritage month to the workforce. Through those conversations, I signed up as a member. Before joining the AIAN ERG, I didn’t think I'd fit in since I'm not an enrolled citizen of my tribe, but a descendant. I’ve since learned that it does not matter.
Among the different indigenous cultures I’ve been exposed to, the feeling of inclusion is very strong, and the ERG has been the same way. I’m now a senior ally of the ERG and believe that all of us, whether we have any native blood or not, can learn interesting things and potentially valuable lessons by engaging with the diverse cultures represented in the AIAN ERG.
What's something you've learned since being a member/ally of the AIAN ERG?
I've learned about the diversity of culture within the indigenous American community. I grew up in New Mexico and learned about the Indians and Pueblos in that area. After learning of my S'Klallam roots, I found the Coast Salish ways to be quite different but in some ways similar to the cultures in New Mexico.
All views and opinions expressed in the interview do not necessarily represent the views of the National Security Agency, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
To start a career journey at NSA like Vanoy’s, visit visit NSA.gov/careers or intelligencecareers.gov/NSA for more information on employment opportunities.