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'Native Voices' explores the world of media and gaming

TEMECULA, Calif. - For tribes all over the country, getting a fair and balanced message out to the media about their culture, gaming enterprises and assorted news to the public often comes wrought with challenges. For starters, there are the age-old stereotypes - sometimes romantic, but more often negative - closely followed by the illusion of American Indians bathing in casino riches.

The first-ever ''Native Voices: Communications Strategies for Tribal Nations'' half-day seminar, held Sept. 24, provided an avenue for media and tribal representatives to discuss how to forge a relationship of trust that will best convey tribal and gaming news to the public without the negative impact of stereotypes.

BNP Media (formerly Ascend Media) invited Anthony Pico, former chairman and spokesman for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, and former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne and senior policy adviser for Holland & Knight - both schooled in dealing with the media - to lend their expertise.

The seminar was held in conjunction with Raving Consulting's 10th annual Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference, held at the Pechanga Resort and Casino Sept. 25 - 26.

Pico spoke in depth about the media's role in painting a negative picture of gaming tribes, in addition to the federal government's excessive involvement in tribal sovereignty and the depletion of funds for health care and social programs for Natives.

''How we are viewed in the eyes of the nation and our ability to deliver our message to the public, the press, elected officials and federal and state policy-makers is of crucial importance to our grandchildren, their grandchildren and future generations of our people,'' Pico said. ''The era of the 'no comment' and no returned phone calls has to end.''

Campbell took a similar stance in his speech. But he also shared how his experience on Capitol Hill gave him a bird's-eye view of how Natives interacted with Congress, and how they still need to step up political involvement. ''It's not in Indian people's nature to blow their own horn,'' he said. ''We're not out of the woods yet: anyone can introduce a bill that can hurt us.''

He advised tribes to always make sure the appropriate tribal source talk directly to media, instead of relying solely on a public relations person. ''If you don't get your story across, then they're going to write a story that you don't like,'' he said.

Campbell said the illusion that all gaming tribes are wealthy has to be smashed. ''Only 10 percent of are making serious money,'' he said. ''Most Indian people are not doing very well.''

Another workshop, comprised of experienced media people, gave advice on how tribes can forge better relationships with their local media. They encouraged tribal officials to visit editorial boards and forge a relationship with the reporters in their area.

Conroy Chino, a partner of The NATV Group, said that tribal leaders need training on how to effectively communicate with the media. ''Indian people can tell their own story, bottom line, whether it's on the radio or in print,'' he said.

As for what tribes can do to further enhance their public image, Jose Barreiro, assistant director for research at the National Museum of the American Indian and former senior editor of Indian Country Today, said that the public needs to repeatedly hear how tribes positively impact their community through gaming dollars.

''Public perception always influences public policy in some way,'' he said.

Dennis Conrad, Raving president and chief strategist, said about 50 people enrolled in the Native Voices seminar, and 150 total for the conference. In the past, the conference was held in the Midwest. This was the first one held on the West Coast.