Before I begin, I must apologize for not posting in a while. I’ve been incredibly busy in my new role as the communications department’s sole person at the National Indian Education Association. We’ve planned three events in the past 6 months and I’ve also been revamping their communications plan and redesigning the website in spare time. Posts will be more frequent in the upcoming months – I promise!

This past week, the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) held its 14th annual Legislative Summit in Washington, DC. It was a gathering of Native American educators, tribal leaders and students who are passionate about better policies and increased funding for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students. The event included in-depth advocacy and legislative training, meetings with U.S. Congress Members and their staff and updates from other education organizations.

This was my first time doing media relations and membership communication for an advocacy event, so I had quite a bit to learn. Here are a few of those lessons:

Rally around a Mantra

I learned this lesson a long time ago, but rediscovered it’s power as we planned for this Legislative Summit. Ideally, we wanted to create a tagline that reflected both the needs of our delegates but was also relevant to policymakers. Once we selected “Restoring the Trust in Native Education,” the theme effectively wove into speeches and was later echoed by delegates as they were in their Hill meetings. ┬áIt reminded me once again of the importance to focus attention to one or two key points.

Connect with press secretaries and bring a camera

If I were to revise former President Teddy Roosevelt’s clever quip, I would say “speak softly and carry a big camera.” During our second day of the Summit, Members of Congress and representatives from the Administration and Federal agencies spoke to our group about why education is important to them and how to approach their Hill visits the next day. I wanted to make sure that I captured every moment on video and film to use for our membership magazine this month.

As I’m taking pictures of Congressmen and women, press secretaries continually approached me to see if they could use the photos. I obliged and asked, in return, that they put our press release out to their media lists about the summit. They were happy to do so and I was able to network, snap photos, and live-tweet at the same time. Many of them also retweeted our efforts, like Rep. Xavier Becerra:

Those contacts came in handy the next day since I could not possibly attend all 40 Congressional meetings. I was able to ask the staffers to take pictures of our delegates with their staff, which enabled me to attend more. Aaah, I love strategy!

Never underestimate the power of radio

Our membership truly values radio broadcasting above other media. Some of our communities do not have access to phone lines, much less a television broadcast – making me strategize a bit more on how to effectively communicate with all of our members.

I was able to have our State of Native Education address broadcast on Native America Calling, a popular call-in radio broadcast for all of Indian Country. I was ecstatic to have them cover our event because it amplified our audience beyond Capitol Hill, but also down to the local communities. What I didn’t expect was that other public radio outlets would want to interview our members while they were on the Hill. I later learned that the relationships I cultivated with press secretaries the day before helped land 3 interviews during our day on the Hill. This leads to an additional insight…If you have a day on Capitol Hill with 200 delegates and more than 40 Congressional meetings, it is easier to have reporters carry a tape recorder than a video camera.

In all, NIEA’s Legislative Summit was a success, but my poor feet paid the price and allowed me to learn one final lesson: Media relations days on Capitol Hill require running shoes.


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