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  • indigenous people
  • art
  • unrepresented minorities
  • mentorship
  • blockchain
  • AR
  • VR
  • developer relations

77. Voices of Native and Indigenous People in Tech

Hosted by Esau Sanchez-Diaz, with guest Amelia Winger-Bearskin.

All too often, tech is created and catered for people with privilege, often leaving people of color behind. One such group is the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who are native to those lands. As tech seeks to revolutionize the world, will it also listen to the voices that have survived for millennia? Amelia Winger-Bearskin is part of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma Deer Clan, and works as a developer evangelist for Contentful. In this episode, she'll discuss how tech supports indigenous populations and how it can do more.

Show notes

Esau Sanchez-Diaz is a Customer Success Director at Salesforce, and he is interviewing Amelia Winger-Bearskin, a developer evangelist at Contentful. Amelia Winger-Bearskin is a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma Deer Clan. She has been making art with computers for decades, starting with a Commodore 64 her father brought home one day. Amelia's work often examines the relationship between tech and her native roots. One such example is in her tribe's use of Wampum, which is a sort of contract recording all the activity between two nations. A wampum is comprised of beads of different colors which signal when and between whom an event. As a wampum can span many decades, Amelia relates it to something like the blockchain. Each transaction that occurs on the blockchain is immutable, and since it cannot be tampered with, a history of the movement of data is recorded for all participants.

Some of her projects, like the 3D Beadwork, are just a natural 21st century extension of traditional artisan practices. Through her work, Amelia has been able to build a large cohort with other indigenous people in tech. In order to amplify their visibility, she runs a podcast called Wampum.Codes about the projects they are building.

Mentorship is an important topic for Amelia. She's worked as a professor of animation, and is helping to show the newer generation that a career in the tech industry is possible. Her job as a developer evangelist has helped her hone the necessary skills of meeting strangers and finding common bonds with them. She views her outside mentorship as opportunities to transfer the knowledge she's gained in the industry and to become a good community member.

  • is Amelia's podcast interviewing native and indigenous people making cool things with new technologies
  • The Co-Creation Studio at MIT Open Documentary Lab researches and incubates alternatives to a singular authorial vision, through a constellation of media methods
  • AISES is a national, nonprofit organization focused on substantially increasing the representation of indigenous peoples of North America in STEM studies and careers
  • Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences


Esau: Hi, my name is Esau Sanchez-Diaz. I'm a success director with Salesforce, originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, in an area, indigenous area, predominantly dominated, if you will, or inhabited by the Zapotecs, which is an ethnic group from back down south in Oaxaca. And, today we're going to have a pretty cool topic, which is the voice of the native and indigenous people in tech, which is, you probably assume correctly, are very small voices. We don't have that many around, but we have the pleasure to find one who is a big one called Amelia Winger-Bearskin, and here's Amelia with us. Hi, Amelia. How are you?

Amelia: Oh, hi, thank you so much for having me on your show. I've been a very big fan of Code[ish], and I really enjoy the podcasts and listening to developers sharing information with our community. So thank you so much for having me. I am Seneca-Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma Deer Clan. We are also known as the Haudenosaunee, which is the Iroquois Confederacy of Six Nations, and I am a developer evangelist for Contentful. I also have a podcast called,, and I interview indigenous native technologists who are doing creative things with new technologies for their communities, and also just for the world. So, it's a lot of fun talking to natives about the cool things they're up to, and the funny stories that they have.

Esau: What does wampum mean? Forgive my ignorance here, just only-

Amelia: No, no, no. I don't expect anyone to know. I'm inspired by my traditional wampum. So, wampum is like a shell, that, it's a type of animal that grows in the rivers in our territory, which, our traditional territory is in the United States and Canada, the North, East and West. So, it goes from about Michigan, all the way up to Quebec, and that would be our traditional lands. And we have wampum. It's an animal that is in the rivers, it has this beautiful shell that's purple and white. So, it's like a binary structure, and we use that shell to make purple or white beads, or beads that have both the purple and the white. And then we use that as a type of coding system where we would record the types of contracts that were decentralized, and came to an agreement through verbal conversation through argument or storytelling in front of the collective, and then they would be ratified and agreed upon, and they would create a woven structure called the wampum belt.

Amelia: And the reason it's called a belt was really because people could tie it around their waist and carry it with them, and then you could go to a neighboring area, or maybe if you are from the Seneca nation, you could go to the Cayuga nation, you could say, "Hey, this is my wampum belt that ratifies that we have entered into a trade agreement," or you've agreed for help with crops, or maybe we're trading certain things at certain amounts. And when our brothers and sisters from Europe came, and Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, founding fathers of the United States, were very fascinated by this system of creating contracts, and Thomas Jefferson spent a year in one of our largest cities in upstate New York, studying our confederate democracy that was recorded into a wampum belt. And he actually modeled the United States Constitution after this specific wampum belt that showed our confederate democracy. And it's interesting, because George Washington sent a letter to the other founding fathers, saying that he wanted the original constitution to be more like the Iroquois Confederate constitution.

Amelia: And he was saddened by the inability to let go of those shackles of a Western way of thinking of a confederacy, because he said that the Haudenosaunee people, the Iroquois nation had 1000 years of a lasting peace of states that were both separate and equal, and had this constitution as the core values to their lasting peace. And so, I think that's very inspiring to me, because it was a coding system created by my tribe. It was the basis of a lasting confederate democracy, a lasting peace and prosperity without war, and I thought that was just really beautiful. And so, I wanted to create a podcast about who are the new wampum makers out there, who are the new coders?

Esau: Absolutely. Wow, that's pretty awesome. Thanks for the explanation. That's pretty cool. And, as you were talking about the wampum and how, I guess, that wisdom and that process was incorporated into the Constitution of the United States, I remember a video that I saw of you presenting something similar, something along the lines of ... I think your phrase was, "Don't colonize our future of data," that we need to be more inclusive and look at data from ancient civilizations or older civilizations, really try to understand and learn from them, and see how we can extrapolate or overlay that on top of the technology and the things that we're trying to do here. I mean, could you talk a little bit about that? I thought that was fascinating.

Amelia: Absolutely. I like to use different new technologies as windows to understand other types of technologies. It's very easy for us to say, "It would be really cool to try out a city that was entirely run on blockchain." When I was in New York ... I recently moved to Oakland, California, it's very beautiful here. I used to live in New York, and in New York, I was the founder of a nonprofit called IDEA New Rochelle, and we were creating an AR and VR citizen toolkit for citizens to co-design their cities with city planners. And, I was part of a project from Bloomberg Philanthropies where we received the Bloomberg mayor's challenge million dollars for our citizen VR toolkit in collaboration with the Mayor's Office of New Rochelle. And, some of the other projects that were either in the city of Austin or other cities, who also won this mayor's challenge, were looking at blockchain, specifically.

Amelia: We were looking at AR and VR. That was my specific project that I built, but I was fascinated by the projects that were using blockchain, and a lot of the conversations I would have with them when they say, "We don't really have data on how alternative economies would work, but we're really interested to see how these types of micro payments, or how a whole community could own property or own value on the blockchain." And I started thinking, actually, we do have examples in this country, on this very land, of people who had decentralized ways of owning property and recording it on a blockchain, we just called it wampum. And so, I think about that as, if we say, "Well, it's diff- ..." It is. With machine learning, with data science, it's difficult to project outcomes without data. And so, you can say, "Well, we can model it on this small amount of data in the small time period," but if you include the data from nations that people may have assumed were too unsophisticated, and yet have really sophisticated records that are wampum.

Amelia: Another example of course, is in South America with a Quipu project, and the type of records that Quipu recorded. We have systems of knot tying that the Inca used called Quipu, and a lot of those Quipus were saved and are maintained within museums and have been scanned. And the MIT Quipu project actually created a Python library so that you could understand the data. So we have census data for a long time of a very large nation. The Inca nation was so large, and they kept very detailed records of their census data, of the water levels. So, we really do have data that can go back hundreds of years. And, some people have said to me at that specific talk that you're referring to, someone did ask me, they said, "Just more data isn't better." And I said, "Well, no, but a narrower understanding of data is a way of colonizing our future." And I think that I would ask us not to do that, to say, "We have data of when people lived in a different type of harmony with our planet, like we do with the Quipu project, and just as we have data with wampum of how people lived in a decentralized and co-owned state of peace, and without concepts of slavery or other things that that made that peace, or economic disparities happen."

Amelia: And so, since we have that data, we can look at it. We don't have to move into the future blind. And I think it's a way that we can decolonize our future, is by saying and accepting that we do have records, we do have alternative systems, and we can look at them, and if we value them, they can help us be informed on how we can move into the future with AI, with blockchain, with data science, and having that be more inclusive.

Esau: That sounds great. I mean, that's what I loved about ... It was a shorter conversation, but it was very meaningful and powerful. It's like, how do you incorporate other cultures into this? How is it that you don't drive the truth, if you will, just based on your background and the power that you have to drive it, and impose it on the world, but look at other things and be almost auto critical, or self critical, and then say, "Oh, wait, you know what? I wasn't thinking about this, so I didn't consider this or that element of that culture that is super cool. Let me see how I can incorporate that, learn from that and move forward?" So that was pretty fascinating.

Esau: And, that's a theme that it's obviously common. I feel like, when we think about, let's say, the Mayans, and how they build their pyramids, and their buildings in the amazing alignment that they have, with some of the stars and the different events that happen throughout the year, et cetera, I mean, it's just pretty incredible that they had that type of notion and advanced knowledge to do that...

Amelia: Absolutely.

Esau: ...but it doesn't sound like a natural thing that some of our indigenous people would have, based on what we hear from the normal society today based on who is in power and who's in charge of qualifying what is smart and what isn't. So, that's pretty cool that you're opening that window to that knowledge to transpire and be in the present here in the technology world. I think that was pretty amazing.

Amelia: Well, I was very fortunate in 2019 to be able to go and meet His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, India, and he spoke to the group of delegates who were part of a conference of fostering universal ethics, and I was a representative in tech and AI along with a couple of other ... Those of us who are technologists. And something that really moved me is, when he was talking to the group about the thousands of years of neurology and science that India had, especially on the topic of the mind and body connection, and how saddened he was that so much of these archives and libraries were destroyed through colonization, and one of his role goals is to reconnect with that information, and to take what is left, and help more people understand the long history of neurology and science in India from their perspective. And I thought it was really beautiful.

Amelia: And I think indigenous people all over the world are starting to reconnect with their own archives and with their own data, and we have just hundreds and hundreds of years of that. And I think it's really beautiful that there are people who have been studying the mind and body connection in a very scientific way before Western science was ready and open to it, and now we are ready, we are open to it as a global community, and I think it's important to look back at that, and to include that in our archive.

Esau: Absolutely. I've been meditating for a few years now, and I can tell you that it's a great tool to help you be mindful, be present. And it's continuous work. I mean, it's a lifetime work. You have to think about yourself, you have to meditate, and you get to certain stages in which you're aware of things that you were not really seeing before. And it's interesting too, because it seems like lately science has validated the importance of, let's say, meditating, and what it does to the brain in terms of expanding the elasticity, creating connections between neurons that were not connected before, et cetera. And so, it looks like, finally, the Western civilization isn't only ready to practice it, but really to understand scientifically how is it that it provides a benefit to the body and to the mind, in general? So, it's super interesting.

Amelia: Absolutely.

Esau: And so, how do you go from ... Do you live most of your life in Oklahoma, or ...?

Amelia: I lived a part of my life in Oklahoma near my reservation. I lived in Little Rock, my reservation's in Meum, Oklahoma. And then I moved Upstate New York to the site of our largest ancestral city, which was known as Ganondagan. So I moved out in the rural area near Rochester, New York, which is near the Salamanca and Allegany reservation. So even though my family is descended from that area during the Trail of Tears from Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act, the families were separated, and some of the Iroquois escaped to Canada, and some were relocated by the US government to Oklahoma to a reservation. So that is where my family is and where my reservation is, but my mom really wanted ... She grew up actually in California, and on the reservation, both in Oklahoma and LA, which was a very ... That's also part of our relocation, too. A lot of us were moved from the reservation to Los Angeles area in the '40s and '50s. And so, she always wanted to go to the ancestral land and just see the nature of her ancestors, and her very close relatives too, her aunts and uncles who still live there.

Amelia: And so, she moved us there near Ganondagan, and she was the education director at the Center of Ganondagan, which is a state historic site as they were excavating the city, and they even have built long houses there to connect them, and they have an education center and everything. So she moved there, and so I grew up in Upstate New York in my ancestral land, and then moved to New York City, to Brooklyn, but I've lived in other places too. I've lived in Austin, Texas, and I've lived in Nashville as well.

Esau: How do you get into tech, how do you get into art? I mean, I looked at your website and it's pretty impressive. The type of art that you put together, different events that you have worked with, with other technology people. What inspired to go into tech?

Amelia: Well, actually when I was very small, I was about five, and I really loved to make art; I loved to draw, I loved to craft. I was always asking my dad for more materials and more space, and just literally taking over any space that was possible in the house as art project land, and, finally, my dad said, "If you really want to be an artist, I have the tool for you." And he bought me a Commodore 64 and a Qualopad, and he said, "If you can learn how to make art on this, this is going to be the future." And at the time, of course, in order to get any kind of basic animation or drawing, it was so much code, because there was no GUI interface or anything like that. And so, I just had to learn a lot of FORTRAN and code all different ways to make animations, or to make music, or to make drawings. And, as I grew up, my father, he worked for Eastman Kodak. He was in their innovation lab, and actually was part of the team that built the first digital camera, and so, he always had the newest computer at work. So whenever that one became old, he would bring it home and be like, "All right, use that one."

Amelia: So, I looked at a Macintosh, and then you had all the different iterations of computers for making creative things. So I always, from a young age, was like, "Well, to be an artist, I need to be a programmer."

Esau: Absolutely.

Amelia: So, it never seemed weird or odd to me. And I usually tell people, I say, "I've been doing the same thing since I was five, but the name for it has changed quite a bit." And so, sometimes in my life, people say, "Oh, you're a new media artist," or, "you are a creative technologist," or, "you're a creative coder," and I'm like, "All those names are fine, but I've been doing the same thing. I was just making creative and beautiful things with code." So, to me, I'm just doing the same thing. And now as a developer evangelist, I feel like I'm still doing those same things.

Esau: That's pretty awesome. I mean, I looked at you, like I said, your work and your website, the three bead work, and it looks pretty amazing. I just love the imagery and ... Could you talk a little bit about the creative process involved in that?

Amelia: Sure. Yeah. Actually, a museum called MIA, the Minneapolis Institute of Art was creating, I think, the largest, to date, survey of native women artists, and they asked if I had something that I would like to show, and I showed them a bunch of the VR work I made, and they were like, "Okay, we're not ready to show with headsets, and that ... This is a 50 person show, and in order to have a headset ..." I was trying to explain to them, they would need an attendant there, so that people don't knock into the other artwork, because you're blindfolded in VR, and they're like, "Amelia, no. It's cool, but we're not ready for VR yet, not this show. This show needs to tour all these other museums. They're not ready for this. It's opaque."

Amelia: And then I thought, "Oh, well, maybe I won't get to show in this show, because I don't really ..." I was doing other things, and I was busy, and then, one of the curators, or assistant curators found my Instagram, and they said, "What are these?" And I said, "Oh, no, well, look, that's ... I don't know if that's art or not, because I used to go ..." I have traveled a ton. As a developer evangelist, you travel a ton, and I used to, when I traveled all the time as a professor or in various jobs I've had, I used to bead on the planes. And I just do my traditional beading, and it was just for fun. It was something I made to pass the time, and, because I don't really like planes, and now you know. I get nervous. But then, after 9/11, it was very difficult to bring a lot of my beading equipment on planes, because people would say, "Oh, you can't have scissors. This is too pointy," but you need really pointy scissors in order to do the beading, and they would say ...

Amelia: Sometimes my needles were long, and they're made of porcupine or something, and they're like, "What is this? What are these things?" So, I started really missing doing that on planes, and I said, "Well, you know what? I'm a technologist. I'm just going to do my same beadwork patterns, and I'm just going to find an app that I like, and I'm going to still practice my traditional craft, and I'm just going to do it on the phone, because I'm an indigenous person in 21st century, and we're going to do it." And so I found a couple of 3D design apps where I could make 3D beads, and then I started making my same patterns but in 3D form. And then, the nice thing about that is I could export those as OBJ's, and bring them into something like Unity, or Cinema 4D, or Blender. And I could remix them, and I could make videos with them, and they could have another life of their own.

Amelia: And I hadn't done that yet. I just had only taken screenshots of some of the remixes in Cinema 4D and Blender. And, the assistant curator was like, "Just do that, show those." And I said, "Well, that's not really art." And he's like, "Well, make it into art, but just do it. You have them, make them into art." Then I said, "Okay." So I took the files and I put them into Cinema 4D, and then put them into After Effects, and I made a short film with these 3D beads. And then they took two screens, they were very large 8K screens that we're using, actually, for this beautiful exhibition that they had there that was an underwater city, an ancient Grecian underwater city that had flooded and preserved. It was very beautiful. It was a temple of ... Oh, I'm trying to remember the god. It was a Egyptian God. It was really beautiful. I don't remember now, but they had these gorgeous 8K ... I don't know. It was like, I don't remember now, but I went through the exhibition there, and they had these gorgeous 8K screens on the walls, and then the video was your underwater discovering this underwater city, and I was like, "Wow, those are beautiful. Let's use those."

Amelia: So, they took two of them and turned them on portrait mode, and then put them together so they created a perfect square. And then, I exported the video in such a way that you could stitch it together, and then it just ... It's in this beautiful square. So, that's when I did that. That's what that 3D beadwork piece is.

Esau: Wow. Do you continue to do that, or you're evolving your art form into something different now, or ...?

Amelia: Yes, I always try to evolve ... I mean, that piece luckily gets to have its own life, and I think, right now, it might still be at the Frist Museum in Nashville, which is fun, because I used to teach at Vanderbilt University, and I used to teach animation there. So, I was like, "Oh, I hope my old students can see it."

Esau: "You want to see my work, go to the museum."

Amelia: I know, it's going to be so cute. I don't know. But this is the first time that I've ever done podcasting, and it's been really generative, and obviously during the sheltering in place here in California, it's been really wonderful to still be able to talk to people about their creative practice, and what cool things they're doing with code and VR, anything that they're doing. So, even though I don't know what type of artistic practice podcasting is, but it's been really generative for me, and I've been really lucky to feel connected to my indigenous community, but then also to just talk about ideas with other people. So, that's my new forum is, really diving into audio. I do have a background in audio, because when I was 15, I was an opera singer, and I toured the world, and I sang in operas, and I just loved the human voice. It's a beautiful instrument. And so, I do usually try to have music, but most specifically, the human voice in a lot of the work that I do. So, for me, podcasting is just very ... It's like a nutritional value [crosstalk 00:23:24].

Esau: That's awesome. That's great. That's great to hear. So, what's the type of people who you typically host in your podcast?

Amelia: It's usually people who are doing creative things with technology in a way that helps their community. And that's a very, very broad topic, and I'll give you some examples, for instance, the very first person that I had on my show, Asha Veeraswamy who's Seneca, from the Salamanca reservation, New York. She talked about her startup where she creates an AR ... It's also VR, but AR, primarily, system for actors to do live performances with their lines as an overlay. So you can imagine, it could be, A, seen as training for stage acting, because it's like having cue cards in your field of vision, but I think, more interestingly, it also could be a way in which audience or external factors could interact with the actors. So you could have a type of way where you're controlling the lines that actors are given, and it could almost be used for a comedic effect as well too. So it's a pretty interesting startup and tool that she's created for live performance and AR.

Amelia: And then, we also started to kind of going off topic and talking about, in reservations in the US famously have casinos, and a lot of people see them as being, I don't know ... You would say opera is very high end, and casino entertainment would be very low end or something, but she said, "Why don't we re-embrace the casino as being this multimedia space of types of entertainment that we could maybe see people coming for the casino, but also being able to go to an AR or VR experience, and then understanding our culture, because we don't really get to share our culture at casinos, we're just sharing these video games and other kind of things." But we have beautiful cultures, and I think that it would be cool to reimagine those as cultural hubs, and I joked to her on there that it reminded me of the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where they had a holodeck, but then they also had the bar area with the casino. And I was like, "There's going to be like deep sea science." So that was one of the conversations I had.

Amelia: And then I also had another person, I think, we talked about a little bit earlier was Joey Cliff who is a ... He's a writer, and a comedian, and a comedy performer, and you might be like, "Well, what does that have to do with tech?" But he actually has the largest Facebook group, 8000 plus people, for comedians in LA to share photos of their cats.

Esau: Wow. Wow.

Amelia: So, he uses social media and does these bits on Twitter or on social media, or he organized with the comedian Tig Notaro. She famously has other comedians take over her Twitter and amplify their voice, and he communicated with her and said, "I think it'd be cool if you did a whole month of just native comedians." And she said, "Yes, let's do this." And so, he organized a Twitter takeover that every week of this month, different native comedians and personalities came and took over Tig's Twitter, and I got to be one of them. And I took it over and I just, of course, did animal memes. I just made animal memes, because that's my vibe, but ... So, even though you're like, "Joey's not a coder, and Asha is a coder, but Joey is using social media and technology in totally unique ways, and amplifying his community in a different way." And a lot of the people, I would say, a majority of the people on my podcast are in the AR, VR, creative technology, and creative AI space, just because that's where I come from. So, it's a lot of my friends, but some people are from very different backgrounds.

Amelia: One of the guests that I had, Vru Dessaline George Warren. He was actually one of my students at Vanderbilt, and he started coding just a year ago, and has been making an app for his Kitaba language on his reservation for a language preservation project, and I thought that was really cool to feature him, and he is an opera singer too.

Esau: Wow, that's awesome.

Amelia: I know, I know. So, they're a really diverse bunch from nations all over, and it's a really fun bunch. The MIT co-creation studio Open Doc Lab in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, and many others. We had a panel of all of the guests of, got together and had a panel, and then the questions that were asked to us were from the indigenous screen office from Canada. And so, that was really fun to just have all 10 of us up there on the Zoom screen, everyone chatting, and that was ... I could not have asked for anything more exciting in my week than to just see all the people that I had gotten to speak one on one with get to meet each other.

Esau: Wow, that's pretty cool. How do you see the native youth? I mean, is there a lot of youth interested in technology, or what are the tendencies or the areas that a typical native youth gravitate towards? Is it more art or technology, or more like politics or business?

Amelia: Yes. I mean, I think we're definitely as diverse as any population in that way. A lot of us in the US have gone through the program AISES, which is the American Indian Association of Sciences, and they have a lot of wonderful STEM programs where they give scholarships for undergraduates who are studying in the STEM fields. Both of my sisters won those grants, I didn't, though my two my sisters did. They won that scholarship. When I first started telling people about my podcast, they were like, "How many people are you going to get on your show?" It's like, "How many natives make VR?" And I was like, "A lot." They're thinking I'm going to have two episodes, and then be like, "Uh." I'm like, "No, there's a lot." And I think it's because the younger generation, the zillennials, the zoomers, whatever you want to call them, I think they're very digital native. They're digital native natives, and there's a lower barrier of entry in communicating to your community, to your other friends in online formats, than there is if you're like, "Oh, I'm going to get a huge, expensive camera, and get a huge crew and make a film."

Amelia: There's just a lower barrier of entry, and I think a lot of them, it doesn't even have a consideration of, "As a native person, am I doing this?" It's just, they're a member of their generation, and they're interested in exploring technology, because they interact with it so much.

Esau: One of the cool things that I learned about you as I was doing a little bit of homework for this interview, for this podcast is, talking about the centralizing, I guess, storytelling, or how do you call it? Talking to everybody. What is that concept, if you could explain to us here? What do you mean by that? I mean, I read the article and everything and I get it, but it'd be great ... I mean, I'd love people to know and understand that.

Amelia: I wrote this article, decentralized storytelling, before everyone was talking about decentralization, decentralization, was talking to everyone, and I guess my core thesis was really that, new forms of storytelling have a lot of power and a lot of vibrance within the decentralized story space. And I use modern examples, things like Homestuck, where you have an author and animator and creator who's created a story world, and then within that story world, anyone who writes fan-fiction, or comments in his live chats, or comments to each other, or creates their own splinter narratives within that world, he includes it into the canon so that it becomes part of the core story. And that if you're talking about Homestuck, the game, the video game, the animations, the comic book, everything that's fan created is not seen as a separate thing, it's part of the larger whole.

Amelia: It's also similar to things in game worlds too, where you have a group of people who have a Minecraft server, and they're creating story worlds together, and they're building stories together. And so, I connect that back to the ways in which, at least in my tribe, we have this concept that anything that you want to last, that is for the benefit of your community, you should think of a way in which you can encode it for the next seven generations, and that anything that I'm doing now is really based on the code of the seven generations before me. And so, constantly being in communication, both with our ancestors and our descendants, helps us understand story worlds in a different way. If you need to communicate a scientific technology to future generations around organizing for crops, or preparing for planting season, which is a technology, it's the business of your culture, we would encode those into stories, and then usually, in that story, there was a moral message, a scientific tip, and then also maybe something that was about the landscape, or about a natural phenomena, or maybe about an animal, so that, that way, it has this multi-layer approach so that people will continue to tell the story, because they're like, "Oh, this is the story about bear, but the story about bear also teaches you about planting, but the story about bear also teaches you how to be kind."

Amelia: So, it has this multiple steps to it, it becomes something that's sticky, and then it becomes something that you can pass down, and it becomes something that becomes core to your mythology and your culture, but without all of those steps together, I'm sure there are tons of stories that we've forgotten, but the ones that we haven't, the ones that we haven't forgotten, have that trifecta of information in them. And, I believe it's the same with how we want to encode media now, where we're looking at the ways in which people are creating game worlds, or creating space. I have a son, and he's 18, and I do see the way that he communicates story; it's fully interactive with his friend group. He's not really interested in anything linear, like linear music, or linear films, or linear TV shows. He thinks it's super weird that I watch TV or watch movies. He's just like, "Nope, that's boring." He wants to go have Zoom on one, or Discord on one, Twitch on another window, another window is YouTube, and then another window is the game that they're playing, and all of these windows are happening at the same time, and the chat is open to these 10 people that are all talking at the same time and narrating their experiences across all these windows. And I think that's interesting.

Amelia: It's really interesting to me how they're already building these decentralized story worlds, and they don't care that these platforms were not maybe designed to work all in this way. They don't even need an API to connect them, they're all just opened up at the same time.

Esau: Do you get to hang out by calling much, like go back around the reservation and talk to the youth, and serve as an inspiration or as a role model? I mean, you inspire me and I'm an older man already, so I would assume that younger people would be fascinated by all the things that you have achieved, how is it that you're able to mesh in all these different medias, and art, and technology, et cetera, into one super cool experience?

Amelia: I think mentorship is the most fulfilling part of my life, and because of that, I try to jam pack my life with it. I loved being a professor, and I won't ever stop being a teacher and a mentor no matter what my job title is. Luckily, as a developer evangelist, that is what you do, which is wonderful. You are a mentor to your community, and some of my favorite ways in the upcoming months that I'm mentoring is, I am a advisor and a mentor for the Sundance Institute's New Frontiers story lab, which is now going to be online. And, I'm very excited to meet that new group, and there is a group of indigenous VR creators, which is also ...

Esau: Awesome. Wow.

Amelia: And then, I also am working with the native and indigenous program at Sundance Institute. We're imagining a type of summit for emerging native filmmakers, and technologists, and people working across these new emerging media fields. And we're trying to find a fun way of having that gathering, so that it's not just another Zoom panel, and we'd love it to be more immersive, and more in-game world, or something. So, we're designing that, and then I hope that we can design a fun space where the younger generations of indigenous youth can find collaborators and friends, and then also be mentored, but I want it to be fun, so we're trying out a bunch of things. I don't know what it's going to be yet, but we're figuring it out, and I'm very inspired by the indigenous program at Sundance Institute since it's one of the longest supporting of indigenous filmmakers in the US and in the world. And, when it was formed, when the Sundance Institute was formed, one of its core goals was to help indigenous filmmakers.

Amelia: So, I always love to give back to that community, and Bird Runningwater has been leading it for a while now, and he's just an inspiration to me. So, I'm happy to help others. Whenever he asks me, I never say no.

Esau: That is awesome. That's fascinating. And you say you're relatively new to the Bay Area?

Amelia: Yes. I had moved her for my job at Contentful. I moved from Brooklyn. I was living in Brooklyn, then I moved. I live in Oakland now, and I'm new, I would love to meet more people. I started an indigenous group on Nextdoor,...

Esau: Oh, wow.

Amelia: that I can meet other indigenous people very close to my neighborhood, and there are a lot of awesome people that have joined in. And so, when we're done with sheltering in place, I would love to get back to going to the red market and other kind of spaces for indigenous people.

Esau: That was pretty amazing. And then, it's like the Mecca of technology too. Have you been super excited to be in the epicenter of technology here in the Silicon Valley and around?

Amelia: I mean, I'm very lucky because, my job as a developer evangelist means that I am required to go to meetups, and I'm required to speak at them, and I'm required to host them. And so, that's wonderful, because it just means the second I get here, whether you have reservations or not, you got to get out there. You got to get out there, meet people, and meet people from all different kinds of companies. I've gone to Salesforce meetups, and ... So, it's been really a fast way of getting to know the community here, and I would go to three meetups a week just to get involved and meet people, and it's been really wonderful. And I do love the other developer evangelists who are very chatty people. Usually, the devrel meetups are somewhere in the Salesforce tower, so I'd go up there, and depending on, if it's a ... Who's hosting it and whatnot, and I get to meet the other devrels.

Amelia: It's a great group to land in if you're like, "Hi, I'm brand new, I don't know anyone." And then they're all like, "No problem, we know everyone." And they're very chatty, and they're community oriented, and they're helpers. And, it's a wonderful ... You meet other developer evangelists, and they want to introduce you to everyone.

Esau: Wow, that's pretty awesome. I mean, that job totally fits your personality. It's simply a ... You sound pretty social, and chatty, and engaging, and very generous with your time as well. So that's pretty cool.

Amelia: I know it's a very good fit for my personality, because sometimes I'll ask my boss, I'm like, "Is it okay if I just spend this day mentoring this group of developers." He's like, "That is your job. You don't have to ..." "All right, all right. Okay, good."

Esau: "You don't have to ask for permission, go ahead and do it."

Amelia: "That's your job."

Esau: That's hilarious. Do you mentor developers in certain type of technology or language, or what is the actual job of a person like you?

Amelia: Yes, it's definitely dependent ... Someway it's dependent on your product. Since we're a headless CMS, content management platform, a lot of what I do is maybe in the Jamstack community, or talking about other APIs, and static site generators and those fun things, but because I do have a background in VR, and AR, and XR, I do speak a lot at those meetups, and mentor people in those fields, since that's where I have maybe the most experience. And we're mentoring beginners who are maybe interested in moving to Jamstack, or interested in making cool things with Contentful, but we also mentor people on technologies that, doesn't matter if you use Contentful or not, if you just are interested in learning to code, or if you're a Women in React group, or lots of different types of development groups, it doesn't have to just be people who have used our specific product. It's really about being a good community member.

Esau: Well, I'm super flattered that you were able to spend an hour with me here talking in this podcast.

Amelia: Oh, it's been my pleasure.

Esau: I really appreciate it. I enjoyed every single word and sentence that you said, and I'm very grateful again to have your time here. And, before we close, one of the things that we're doing here in WINDforce, the group that I'm part of here at Salesforce, they call it a group that represents indigenous people, it's, we open or close events with land acknowledgement. And this is nothing complicated, we don't sing or say anything especially, other than, we just want to acknowledge the land that we are on today, and that was Ohlone land, and Ohlone people were the original custodians of this land, and we want to honor their memory by being respectful, and in walking with that around here, with that acknowledgement and that sensitivity.

Amelia: Thank you. That's beautiful.

Esau: Just wanted to share that, but thanks a lot, Amelia. Appreciate you, again, being here with me, and stay safe, okay?

Amelia: Thank you, you too.

About code[ish]

A podcast brought to you by the developer advocate team at Heroku, exploring code, technology, tools, tips, and the life of the developer.

Hosted by


Esau Sanchez-Diaz

Success Manager Director, Saleforce

Esau grew up in the Zapotec region of Oaxaca, Mexico. Beyond his family, he loves to travel, read, workout, meditate, & learn about other cultures.

With guests


Amelia Winger-Bearskin

Developer Evangelist, Contentful

Amelia is the founder of the Stupid Hackathon and the host of She is a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma Deer Clan.

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