Student Insight- PRSSA Celebrates National Native American Heritage Month

National Native American Heritage Month: Combatting Misconceptions and Overcoming Challenges.

Blue-orange gradient background. White text. Headshots of Ken Lingad, Joely Proudfit, PH.D., and Jim McCarthy.

The Combatting Misconceptions and Overcoming Challenges Confirmation Panel, celebrating Native American Heritage Month, was an eye-opening conversation about the obstacles, experiences and stereotypes Native Americans encounter in the media and in the public relations field.

When I first saw this panel advertised on Twitter, I was immediately intrigued. I had never seen PRSSA or PRSA do an online event like this before. Digging a bit deeper, I read more about each featured panelist: Joely Proudfit, Ph.D., chair of the American Indian Studies Department at CSU San Marcos, Ken Lingad, Founder/Chief Communication Strategist at 1680PR and Jim McCarthy, president at Counterpoint Strategies. After learning more about each panelist, I knew that this panel would be phenomenal. Sure enough, it was. I gained cultural awareness and insight, but also professional advice. Here’s just a few takeaways from the panel:

Building Relationships is Key

  • Building trustworthy and respectful relationships is, as Joely mentioned, the cornerstone of public relations. When developing these relationships, and especially when working with Native Americans, the connections need to be meaningful. It’s just as important that each side invests time into establishing these worthwhile relations. Time invested can be done in small steps, like listening and learning stories. However, time can also be invested in larger strides, like spending time in the communities your clients’ communities are targeting. No matter the relationship, building trust and value with others can help advance any professional.

You’re Not an Expert

  • If you’re not part of the culture, you cannot be an expert in the field. It’s as simple as that. As public relations professionals, we cannot learn all 600 tribe languages. Like Ken Ligad mentioned, that’s practically learning the languages of 600 different countries. Tribes differ in languages, belief systems and usually traditions. You’re not an expert and you never will be… and that’s ok. Instead, what you can be is sensitive, respectful and willing to understand.

Don’t Assume Stereotypes

  • No matter if the stereotype is negative or positive, never assume it’s true. When dealing with stereotypes, the first step is, as Joely mentioned, to go to the source or people and simply listen. As communicators, it is imperative to check the source and information before assuming anything. Stereotypes can be avoided if we, as professionals, take time to understand who we are working with and the environment we’re in.

Invest in Yourself

  • Above all, professionals pursuing public relations must invest in their selves and in their practice. Understanding what you do, being serious about what you do and following through with what you do will put you farther ahead. Focus on being the best professional you can be, as everything else will eventually follow.

Alyssa Gormley headshot

Alyssa Gormley is a third-year strategic communication student at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Currently, she serves as the executive vice president of Scripps PRSSA, as a PRSSA National District Ambassador and a member of PRSSA’s Social Media Squad. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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