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How this Employee uplifts his Cherokee Community

Spotlighting Native American voices at Nutanix

By Life At Nutanix

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Jeff Keas, Strategic Capture Manager and Chief Technical Advisor at Nutanix, embraces his Native American heritage and works to give back to the Cherokee Nation.

This Native American Heritage Month, our DEIB Program Manager, Thando Kunene, sat down with Jeff Keas to learn more about contemporary Native issues, Native inclusion in tech, and how we can do more to support both.

Thando Kunene: Tell us about your role at Nutanix and what brought you here.

Jeff Keas: I’ve been in my role as Strategic Capture Manager and Chief Technical Advisor to the Federal Civilian BD Capture Team for about a year. Previously, I had spent almost a decade between Splunk and VMware in strategic capture and business development roles. 

I was inspired to join Nutanix because of its work on virtualization technology and cloud infrastructure. I saw Nutanix as a great opportunity to help deploy enabling technology across the federal government and push the hybrid cloud market forward. Furthermore, I was also drawn to Nutanix’s great culture and its support for employees.

In recent years, I’ve come to embrace the Cherokee Nation and my extended Cherokee family as a larger part of my social and cultural identity because I realize I now have an opportunity to give back to the Nation as an at-large citizen living in Washington, D.C.

Jeff Keas

TK: What does your Native American heritage mean to you?

JK: I’m a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. My family is Cherokee. When I was young, I would hear stories about my Grandfathers from my mother and her sisters. I would hear about how they were raised and the challenges my family faced in rural Oklahoma in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was a precarious time for Cherokees during that era - post-civil war upheavals, the horrors of Indian Boarding Schools, the establishment of Oklahoma as a State, Jim Crow laws and so much more. These stories are my family’s stories and they’ve stuck with me throughout my life.

When I was young, my family moved overseas. The move created a physical disconnect that meant that I lost a lot of my cultural and extended family ties to my Tribe. The longer I was gone, the more entrenched these disconnects became. The stories of my Grandfathers always stuck with me, but as I grew up those stories became fainter and my understanding of being Cherokee diminished. Throughout my life, I have been given privileges and opportunities that a lot of my tribal cousins never had - based on how I looked to the rest of the world. Partly as a result of this, I did not fully reconnect to my Tribe until later in life because I didn’t want to be seen as taking anything away from the Tribe or from those Cherokees who have faced more challenges because of their physical identity. 

In recent years, I’ve come to embrace the Cherokee Nation and my extended Cherokee family as a larger part of my social and cultural identity because I realize I now have an opportunity to give back to the Nation as an at-large citizen living in Washington, D.C. 

Meet Cassie

So, when we think about Natives in Tech America, the best thing we can do is expose our youth to these career paths and provide them with knowledge and resources to pursue a tech career should they choose.

Jeff Keas

TK: Is there a perception that Native Americans are often left out of the typical workplace diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging conversation? 

JK: Yes. We are such a small percentage of the workforce in Tech that Native issues and talent are often not part of the conversation. 

Natives are less than .5% of the overall US population and experience more economic poverty and the associated social problems at a greater proportion than any other group in the U.S. Native children are often born and raised on Reservations or in rural, isolated areas. Geography alone impacts the types of opportunities available to a young Native person. Combine that with under-resourced health, education, law enforcement, and infrastructure - it’s a vicious cycle. 

So, when we think about Natives in Tech America, the best thing we can do is expose our youth to these career paths and provide them with knowledge and resources to pursue a tech career should they choose. 

Today, I work with pan-Indian groups like TribalNet and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to help build economic opportunity and drive training and educational resources to Native Youth. In my opinion, education is the path to the future for our Tribes and knowledge will help our youth become modern warriors capable of accomplishing anything.

TK: Tell us about the movement for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), the cause that you’re fundraising for during Native American Heritage Month.

JK: MMIW, is a decades-long issue, really a centuries-long issue going back to Columbus in 1492. Each year, hundreds and even thousands of Indigenous women are victims of violence and go missing throughout North America. Advocates have found that Native women on reservations are often targeted because Tribes have limited resources to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by non-Indian individuals and/or others who do not reside on the reservation. State and local law enforcement lacks coordination with Tribal authorities on these types of cases and criminal jurisdictional issues mean hundreds and hundreds of missing person cases go unsolved every year. Today, there are more than 5500 Native women and girls missing in the U.S. It’s systemic and it’s unacceptable.

Thank you to Jeff and Thando, for this open, authentic conversation. Life at Nutanix means supporting causes that are uniquely important to our employees.

For more on our DEIB in action, check out our recent ESG report. To learn more about Life at Nutanix, visit our careers page.

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