In 2005, we began working with the Port Gamble S’Klallam (PGST), a small Native American tribe. With about 1,100 members, they have a reservation located on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula.
For several years, we helped the PGST with their general communications—news releases, positioning of initiatives, crisis communications, and other PR-related activities. As a sovereign nation, PGST struggled with identifying what was news-worthy, while deciding what information was appropriate to share. We helped them with these concerns and began to make the local media and the community-at-large aware of the good work they were doing—from the development of new business ventures to events that celebrated the culture and traditions of the S’Klallam people.
In 2010, they asked for our help on a very personal undertaking: create a communications and outreach plan to help in their environmental efforts to protect Port Gamble Bay. With their original ancestral village on her western shore and the reservation on the side to the east, this waterway is a key piece of the Tribe’s heritage and plays an important part in the day-to-day lives of its members even today—many fish commercially or depend on the Bay to literally put dinner on the table.
For nearly 150 years, Port Gamble Bay and Port Gamble—the town that is PGST’s ancestral home—was also host to a saw mill that dumped wood waste and other toxins into the water. While the Bay has been naturally resilient, many areas have been closed indefinitely to shellfishing harvesting—the lifeblood of the Tribe. The PGST has been working with state agencies and responsible parties on a cleanup plan for several years, but one has yet to be finalized. The challenge for our office was to communicate this information and the importance of the initiative to both the Tribal and non-tribal communities keeping in mind that many of the people we were speaking to likely did not think of themselves as environmentalists.
In addition to educating the public on the importance of cleaning up the Bay, we were charged with organizing the overall effort internally; disseminating information between different departments and making sure everyone involved—including those outside the Tribe—was up-to-date on the latest developments. We also worked on pushing out information to all stakeholders on immediate threats, such as a marina and a massive housing development proposed for the shores of Port Gamble Bay. Through our efforts, PGST has built an internal group that deals with and advises their governing body on issues related to Port Gamble Bay.
We brought together environmental groups and community leaders making many of them aware for the first time about the threats to Port Gamble Bay. We’ve been able to sustain their support, while building a coalition to move forward a conservation effort that includes not only the Bay’s shoreline but several thousand acres of land surrounding the Bay.
Through editorial lunches and strategic press communication, the PGST now has strong relationships with local media and are seen as a first source on stories related to the Bay.
By building a website dedicated to Port Gamble Bay and being strategic in our use of a regular column slot in a local community paper, we’ve helped the PGST—who was insulated from the rest of the county when we first began working with them—speak directly with the community, educating them on this important initiative, what it means to the S’Klallam people, and gaining long-term supporters.