Tsleil-Waututh Nation on Media Relations

How TWN navigates the media

Tsleil-Waututh Nation on Media Relations

When I first began to work for my community, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (“TWN”), we were in the midst of a piece of litigation with a decision imminent in the mid 1990s. We had no communications department. Calls came into our retail store and a newspaper from Toronto interviewed one of the clerks! Then TWN got organized. All staff were briefed on who would speak to the media and where media calls would be directed. Our Treaty, Lands & Resources Department (“TLR”), and our internal caucus with our legal counsel mapped out our responses. Everyone knew where to send the requests and everyone knew that we were NOT to speak to the media. That was my introduction to media relations.

After that episode, the TWN created a communications team within the organization. They were mostly within the Economic Development Department and the TLR. As we grew, our administration grew as well. In that growth, came projects that attracted media attention: leased land, specific claims, treaty negotiation, economic development and the 2010 Olympics. The team helped us navigate during the Olympic bid process and into the 2010 Olympics. By then, we worked with media relations for the Four Host First Nations, and learned about how to manage the sometimes-rocky path. The media relations taught us interview methods that really kept us on message.

Our opposition to the Trans Mountain Expansion project (“TMX”) has thrust TWN into the fray. We created the Sacred Trust Team that handled all of our TMX outreach to First Nations along the pipeline and parties also opposed. Within Sacred Trust we have a media relations person, and he helped us determine where we would use our limited resources. We had people that would do outreach to First Nations; to NGOs; specific people were identified to be speakers on behalf of the TWN if the Chief was not available. It was getting more intense. It was during this time that we created a communications department.

We have a very good public relations gentleman working in our Sacred Trust. He ensures that folks understand who we are and our positions. He makes sure we know what the gist of the questions will be and that we have been properly briefed. He also is savvy and knows which media outlet would help and which we may pass on. Knowing where to spend our limited time is really an asset.

We’ve also been able to hold our own press conferences. Now that has been empowering. We get our message out loud and clear and speak directly to the media.

As a First Nation leader, speaking to the media has become a routine occurrence during large news stories. Since the last approval of the TMX project, I have spoken to so many radio stations, community papers, national papers, and television news outlets, I can’t even remember them all.

At the start of this, it seemed as though TWN had to do a lot of explaining. Now it appears that the media has a better understanding of our positions. My experience has been mostly a positive one. I find that give and take on interviews can be fast, and it takes some organization in my own thinking to stay ahead of the questions. It’s important to be able to think on your feet.

My advice is to not make things too complicated. Speak clearly and slowly. Try and make people think about things. Before you know it folks are asking you about the latest legislation or the upcoming election.  Then you know you’ve arrived....