Alaska Native culture

Dos and Don’ts in Rural Alaska Outreach Campaigns

Angela Gonzalez at the 2015 Alaska Communicators Exchange. Photo by Shipe Shots
Angela Gonzalez at the 2015 Alaska Communicators Exchange. Photo by Shipe Shots

Over the past seven months, I have been sharing some advice and tips about how to do outreach to rural Alaskans or Alaska Native people. I work in the public relations and communications field in Alaska. In 2015, I presented for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) – Alaska Chapter luncheons in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and at the Alaska Communicators Exchange. This month, I presented at the First Alaskans Institute’s Racial Equity Summit in Anchorage.

Why is it important to share this information? To overcome stereotypes of Alaska Native people and rural Alaskans. That is a big part of why I do this blog. There are so many rich stories not being told or shared in mainstream media about Alaska Native people. I also want to show a side of Alaska Native people that you might not always know about.

I think more Alaska Native people should share their stories and culture. I want to give people a voice. When I highlight people, I like to share a positive or inspiring story. I often ask people how they’ve overcome challenges in hopes that it will help others. Often times people are inspired by the people they know who have overcome obstacles and had success.

Over the years, I have made a lot of connections in the Native community and I was raised in rural Alaska. Being raised in rural Alaska gives me a unique perspective. My dad was an electronics technician and worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, and we lived in Nome and Bettles. My family has also lived in Fort Yukon, Galena and Nenana. My hometown is Huslia. I have also had the opportunity to travel to many rural Alaskan communities throughout the years for professional and personal reasons.

Why I created this presentation? I saw a need to address stereotypes of Alaska Native people in media campaigns, offer tips on travelling to rural Alaska, and help communications professionals in their outreach to rural Alaskans and Alaska Natives. In subtle and not so subtle ways, we may be doing things in our outreach efforts to perpetuate stereotypes.

The presentation takes about an hour to present. I do not claim to be an expert or to know all of the answers. I want to share some basic information that might be useful to people who want to do outreach to rural Alaskans and Alaskan Natives. I have a lot of colleagues and friends who have helped me to develop the presentation. Thank you to Leona Long, Dawn Kimberlin, Dixie Hutchinson, Sarah Scanlan, Janet Hall, Joaqlin Estus, April Williams, Anna Sattler, Geri Simon, Jaylene Wheeler and Jolene John for helping me with advice and sharing expertise.

Here is the presentation from November for the PRSA Alaska Chapter in Anchorage:

Here are the top notes and tips from the presentation.

Don’ts

  • Don’t assume Alaska Natives and the Native Americans are the same
  • Don’t assume that one size fits all. Each region has different cultural backgrounds
  • Don’t assume Alaska Natives are living in the old days
  • Don’t assume rural Alaskans have the same phone/internet speed as you
  • Don’t assume all rural Alaskans are Alaska Native. There are plenty of non-Natives in rural Alaska
  • Don’t judge by appearance
  • Don’t believe all of the bad stats

Don’ts – Traveling

  • Don’t go to rural Alaska if you are not dressed properly
  • Don’t travel to rural Alaska and expect everyone to drop everything they are doing to accommodate you
  • Don’t make last minute requests
  • Don’t assume the rural communities are like the city (traveling, transportation, housing, communications, etc.)

Dos

  • Make requests as far in advance as possible
  • Reach out to community leaders to let them know your plans, even if it is just a courtesy. Check in with them when you come into town
  • Build relationships with community representatives. You can gain a lot of knowledge from them
  • Have a local ambassador to help you open the doors and smooth the way
  • Bring food to events you host
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand something
  • Dress properly for weather conditions, but not too under-dressed.
  • Dress is more casual.
  • Teach/provide resources to staff about rural Alaska and Alaskans.
  • Sponsor regional/local events.
  • Review your promotion materials for cultural sensitivity. Have a local person do this if possible
  • Show respect for everyone, especially elders and community leaders
  • Be authentic and transparent; be helpful; be yourself
  • Introduce yourself and create a personal connection
    • Where you are from (how you came to Alaska if you are from out of state)
    • Why you love your job
    • Any credentials that are important to what you are doing
  • Answer the question – Why is it important to them?

Traditional ways of reaching rural Alaskans

  • Radio
  • Print and direct mail are still vital in rural Alaska
  • Television
  • Interactive Media
  • Face to face, word-of-mouth

Trends in reaching rural Alaskans

  • Sponsoring regional events, dog mushing and sports, etc. Also – local publications, like a cookbook
  • Facebook (pages, people and campaigns); sweepstakes/drawings; ads
  • Flyers – send for distribution (electronic & hard copies)
  • Tribal/Native corporation/health newsletters
  • B-Roll
  • VHF radio
  • Bloggers – audience and influence
  • Old school is still relevant – print, radio, direct mail, flyers and posters
  • Digital storytelling

Resources
SAMHSA – Culture Card
Alaskool
Alaska Native Knowledge Network
Father Michael Oleksa – Cross-Cultural Communications
Nalliq Blog by Cordelia Kellie – Stories and poetry about Indigenous issues
RurAL CAP’s Village Voices Newsletter
Alaska Community Database Online
ANDORE – The Advancing Native Dialogues on Racial Equity is a project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, initiated by the Alaska Native Policy Center at First Alaskans Institute.

As you can see, I barely scratch the surface. There are many more online resources and books about rural Alaskans and Alaska Native people out there that go into more comprehensive detail. There are also classes you can take on a number of topics about Alaska Native people. First Alaskans Institute also hosts discussions through ANDORE on racial equity. What other tips, advice or resources would you add to the presentation?

By the way, here is a video snapshot of some of the speakers from the Partners for the next 10,000 Years – Racial Equity Summit hosted by First Alaskans Institute in Anchorage on February 1-2. Search the hashtags #RacialEquity2016 and #andore2016 on social media to see what others had to share.

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