Joining me on this week’s EthicalVoices episode is Candace Hamana, the owner of Badger PR and the founder of The Indigenous Peoples Public Relations Association. She discusses a number of important ethics issues, including:
- What to do when your employer doesn’t let you act in true faith
- How to make land acknowledgments more than a performative action
- The importance of cultural contexts
Tell us about yourself and your career?
I’m Candace Hamana, I’m Hopi and Navajo, which are Indigenous tribes in Arizona, which is where I was born. I got my start in public relations, interestingly enough, doing political campaigns and community organizing back in South Carolina in 2007. I felt very compelled and impassioned with the work that I was doing in the communities in the South, the hotbed of retail politics. I learned a lot about public speaking, community organizing, canvas operations, and just really being an agent of change in my local community. I told my mentor one day, “I would love to be able to come back home to Arizona and bring this lived experience with me and do this kind of work that I’m doing in South Carolina for my Indigenous people back in Arizona.” I moved back to Arizona in 2012, and a lot of my work has pretty much been in alignment with that wish that I had back in South Carolina. I feel very extremely blessed.
I think my friends in New Hampshire may argue that they’re the true home of retail politics, but I know it’s big in South Carolina as well. You founded The Indigenous Peoples Public Relations Association. Tell me more about it. What’s its purpose?
During the pandemic, which you know is still ongoing, especially in tribal communities, it became very obvious that, as communications professionals, when it comes to tribal communities, you really do have to lean into cultural understanding and add that layer of perspective as you’re building out campaigns regarding public health or other messaging that you need to get out to Indigenous communities, including our urban Indigenous populations.
After my years of experience in PR and communications, I felt this was something that had to happen and it had to be Indigenous-founded and supported. We have allies, of course, of the organization, but IPPRA, for short, the Indigenous Peoples Public Relations Association, is a member-based organization where Indigenous communications professionals from around the world can come together and exchange ideas, best practices, and case studies.
But more than that, IPPRA is going to provide safe spaces for cultural exchanges, where members will be able to lean into these discussions while advancing their PR skills. What that really means is people understanding that Indigenous communities have governance structures of their own, and they have tribal laws and ordinances, and they have their own certification programs and public health campaigns. All of these things need to be taken into consideration when working with tribal organizations, when working with tribal governments, or even working with non-Native companies and corporations that do business with tribes. This member-based organization will provide workshops and add that cultural context that’s missing from the larger conversation of PR communication professionals.
I think it’s a great initiative and I can’t wait to see it continue to grow and see more people benefit from it.
The most difficult ethical challenge that I faced was when I used to work for a water utility company. I was in charge of being the liaison to tribal communities. If you know anything about Arizona and our 25-year-plus water shortage and drought, you’ll understand that tribes are still fighting for their water rights and access to clean, safe water here in Arizona.
When I took the position with this company, I really felt like it would help me understand how the system works from the inside and what stakeholder relations means to that particular entity. But I was disheartened to know that a lot of the roles and responsibilities under that title included a lot of performative action, and it was shrouded with sidebar conversations that I was not privy to, things that really did not allow me to operate in true faith and good faith with my tribal community partners, and did not allow me to operate in transparency with them. That for me was definitely the most ethical challenge of my life as a professional.
The tribes that were impacted by one of their decisions were the Hopi and the Navajo tribes, of which I am both. My mother is Hopi and my father is Navajo. I took all of that experience and had to come face to face with what I called dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight. It was very romantical and romanticized at the beginning phases that this could be something that could be a beautiful dance and a balance. But actually coming to full realization that this was not going to be in alignment with where I stand as a Hopi woman, as a Navajo woman, as an Indigenous person, and what it meant to my people and my community was the thing that actually made me start my own company. It was that experience that made me start Badger PR in September of 2018.
Do you have advice for other people that find themselves in the situation where their company values don’t align with them? The company is making performative actions and not walking the walk.
Before I even took the position with the utility company, I had a conversation with my uncle and told him I was thinking about taking this position. He basically said, “I’m not going to tell you no and I’m not going to tell you yes, but I am going to tell you that at a certain point in your time there, you might come to the realization that this is not going to be something for you. Listen to that inner voice, listen to your intuition, and don’t feel like you have to compromise your personal value system to get ahead in your career.”
Those were the key takeaways that I got from that experience. Now that is something that, even on the hardest days as an Indigenous social entrepreneur, gets me up in the morning and gets me going to fight and work for my clients to the best of my ability.
I often remind folks that a lot of times if you have to leave it may be short-term pain it will be better in the long term than letting your soul wither or do things that you don’t believe in.
Absolutely. You’re not going to create the space mentally and emotionally to move forward if you are stuck in a situation where you’re not feeling valued and where you’re not feeling that alignment to your core as to who you are and your character building. It really is relational.
Michael Smart recommends everybody have a Freedom Fund of at least three months of salary so you’re not stuck in a position for financial reasons.
I come across this question with my clients almost daily, and there are mixed reactions in that some of my Indigenous colleagues are like, “Well, I appreciate that when people start their programs, their conferences, their symposiums, that they’re understanding that they are standing on sacred and ancestral lands of Indigenous people. I appreciate that, that’s a positive step forward.” But now that it’s sort of trending, there are other people who have been in the game of how we work with communities and how we reflect our values through these different events, where we want to see more. We want to see more than a performative action.
It’s not enough just to acknowledge that you’re on sacred and ancestral lands. How can you give back to those tribal communities? How can you show respect to those ancestral homelands? I’ve had clients who come from an authentic place. Most of my clients are that way, which is the beauty of being an entrepreneur. But they want to do more. They want to plant trees. They want to help clean up a community garden. Something that brings back balance to the work that we do and to nature and taking care of Mother Earth and her finite resources.
Thanks for sharing that perspective, because that’s what’s always bothered me is you make the acknowledgement that you took the land and you are working on somebody’s ancestral sacred land, and that’s it. There needs to be some action behind that to actually make sure you’re not just being performative.
There are so many great nonprofit organizations that would benefit from some of those funding sources from large companies and entities that are either in the inner city or on remote tribal lands. Any way that they could help fund some of those ideas, even for people that are reflective of that tribal community, is a great way just to pay it forward.
I think that for Indigenous public relations professionals, it really is all about leaning into those cultural contexts. That’s not something that is really of high value sometimes when you’re talking to prospective clients, large businesses or corporations. They may gloss over some of that, but that is how we establish that initial trust and build on those relationships from a place of authenticity.
If you ask other colleagues in my industry, you would also find we are fierce advocates for more Indigenous representation in all aspects of PR and communications, including broadcast, print, and online journalism, being at the C-suite, bringing their expertise and knowledge to corporations that have diversity, equity and inclusion programs, but don’t have a single Indigenous person representing. Even having conferences and not inviting someone locally who is Indigenous from that area to contribute to those conversations.
There are many ways that we work in these circles and recognize that there’s still a lot to do, and so we’re all rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. I think that’s the beauty of what IPPRA is going to bring. It’s going to bring increased awareness of professionals that have been able to build up the skills and the expertise to lend this kind of knowledge-based experience and relationships to folks working with Indigenous communities.
I always shake my head when people say they don’t value leaning into cultural context. There’s the moral reason to do, but even if you’re just selfish, by engaging the culture culturally appropriately, you can have better results in your campaigns.
One of the campaigns I played a small part on for the past few years is the Washington State Department of Health’s COVID communications. We really reached out to the local communities to make sure we were having the right messages and the right messengers, given in the right way to actually have an impact.
Right. Also understanding that in a lot of these remote tribal communities, there’s still a digital divide in that the internet does not reach some of these tribal communities. You’re still relying on traditional PR methods that include radio and billboard campaigns. Just knowing and being able to bring that kind of knowledge and understanding to influencers within those communities can help you move the scale so that you’re able to reach some of your goals and your overall campaign strategies.
What is the best piece of ethics advice you were ever given?
The best piece of ethics advice I received has been to just follow my gut, listen to my inner voice, and don’t compromise on things that work against my whole value system as a woman, as a mom, as a daughter, the role that I play and all the roles that I have in my life, my lived experiences that I’m bringing to my work. It’s all guided by who I am authentically as a person and that I should never, and I would never want anyone to compromise any of that, while they’re on this career pathway in PR and communications.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you wanted to highlight?
We covered a good broad base. We want people to learn more about The Indigenous Peoples Public Relations Association. We are a member of the Diversity Action Alliance. We are planning to have our first IPPRA conference. It’s going to be a mini-conference, probably a hybrid model, and we’re looking at having that conference in November. So, we’re really going to work on expanding our membership this year and providing some additional workshops and guest speakers at this conference that will add more richness to the work that we’re doing in PR and communications.
Listen to the full interview, with bonus content, here
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