For the talking circle: Celebrating a journey, looking to the future

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Frances Dupris, Senior Enlisted Leader, Cryptologic Services Group
  • U.S. Northern Command

Čhaŋté waštéya nápe ochíyuspapi! [I greet you all with warm heartfelt handshake!] Frances Dupris emáčiyapi ye. [My name is Frances Dupris.]

United States Air Force, akíčhita-itȟáŋčhaŋ wówaši ečhámuŋ. [I work for the USAF as a military leader.] Sičháŋǧu-Oyáŋke náhan Northern Arapaho emátaŋhaŋ! [I come from the Rosebud and Northern Arapaho tribes.]

Greeting audiences in the Indigenous Lakota language is significant to me because it’s an opportunity to celebrate and share the culture of Native American people with those unfamiliar with our customs and languages. In the Department of the Air Force, the Indigenous Nations Equality Team (INET) is working to further that sharing and increase awareness of our cultures and what we bring with us when we become part of the Air Force and Space Force.

According to the 2020 U.S. census, American Indian / Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) made up 1.1% of the total population. This is one of the smallest populations in the U.S.; yet this small population serves in the Armed Forces at the highest rate of any ethnic group or demographic in the country.

On March 3, 2021, the Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group (DAFBAWG) added a new team, the INET, which was chartered to address barriers facing Airmen and Guardians of AI/AN heritage. When I saw an article about this DAFBAWG, my heart filled with joy – the DAF is taking diversity and inclusion to another level – accelerate change or lose! We need to continue to learn about others, tackle the barriers that exist today for different identity groups, and work to ensure our Airmen and Guardians have the tools and opportunities to drive our mission performance and innovation to new heights.

INET is a small but powerful group made up of military members and civilians. This team hit the ground running with lines of efforts to remove barriers to greater operational success, increase outreach and recruitment, and promote retention efforts. Some of the initiatives are focused on changing policy to increase a feeling of belonging for members, which include allowing Indigenous military members to wear regalia while in uniform for special occasions, granting permissive leave to attend cultural ceremonies, accommodating hair length to incorporate cultural norms, and addressing the proper use of the chief master sergeant logo. Additional efforts intended to increase mission performance and outcomes are increasing mentoring for members at all levels of the services, developing opportunities for cross-functional learning, and conducting outreach in STEM communities to build awareness of Department of the Air Force opportunities for talented youth and professionals.

Since the establishment of INET, the team has made significant strides towards our lines of effort. Some highlights of 2021 include:

• Creation of an INET newsletter which is intended to increase and expand cultural awareness of American Indian cultures and people within the services

• Speaking at virtual events about INET efforts to increase interest and drive within American Indian populations to serve in the Department and enhance cultural awareness

• Serving as a sponsor exhibitor at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) National Conference to inform STEM talent of DAF opportunities through one-on-one interactions with Airmen and Guardians, and a story-telling event highlighting personal stories of success

• Conducted a Facebook Live event regarding “Understanding Indigenous Culture” – which garnered so much participation in the conversation that a second session was warranted to further the discussion and answer all the questions that participants had about cultural interplay of military service and native culture

• Held the DAF’s first Native American Heritage Month Celebration at the Pentagon, hosted by the Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, which provided an opportunity to further understanding of the need for senior leader allies in improving inclusion across the Department

• INET members met virtually with the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass to discuss INET’s vision and lines of effort, to further senior leader advocacy for transformational change.

As one of those Indigenous military members who enlisted over 20 years ago, I have consistently taken opportunities to promote the advancement and awareness of underrepresented groups. I am passionate about education, and I enjoy learning about others and how they see the world, so I can gain a different perspective than my own and better myself as a human being. I also enjoy teaching; throughout my career I have shared my personal stories, the history of Lakota people, and collaborated with other Indigenous Airmen and Guardians to share their stories. I am grateful for organizations and leaders that have helped me along the way, and now, as part of the INET, I would like to pay it forward to the next generation and help them build a better Department where even more people, of all identities and cultures, can thrive.

The INET is very proud of the accomplishments it has made so far. That said, there is lots of work that still needs to be done. We have kicked off the new year with adding a quarterly newsletter to increase communication of and advocacy for the team’s efforts. We also collaborated in creating a video to celebrate our first anniversary March 3. We welcome military and civilian personnel interested in joining our efforts to build a better future for all Airmen and Guardians to join our Indigenous Nations Equality Team. If interested, please e-mail the INET Team at SAF.ODI.Workflow@us.af.mil.

Aƞpétu kiƞ lé taƞyáƞ máni ye. Tókša akhé. [Walk well today. Until next time.]

Frances Dupris is a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and a senior intelligence analyst. Last year, she served as Superintendent of Space ISR Delta 7 Intelligence Division. Currently, she is the Senior Enlisted Leader for the Cryptologic Services Group at NORAD and USNORTHCOM, Peterson-Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from American Military University, and a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Argosy University-Denver Colorado.

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