YOUR COMMUNITY NEEDS YOUR VOICE!
Preserving and Strengthening HIV Prevention in Native Communities
Part of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center’s mission is to provide advocacy in support of healthy indigenous communities. The most culturally appropriate advocacy that is available is the movements that are generated and driven at the community level.
There are times, especially with dwindling resources and more and more communities and agencies fighting for the same funding streams, when we need to mobilize – as an agency, department, community, tribe, reservation, village, people, or even as a sole voice – to call attention to an inequity. If necessity is the mother of invention, then inequity is the mother of advocacy.
Advocacy is a broad and general term that can be used to describe any activity designed to influence formal and informal public-policy, representation, systems change, or resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Much like a CHR or a patient advocate may speak up for their individual clients, advocacy happens when agencies or communities need a similar voice.
The goal of advocacy is change – the nature of that change is determined of course, by the nature of the issue or inequity. Groups who are creating an advocacy arm of their organization or undertaking a very specific advocacy effort should keep in mind that most groups find success when they hone their function to one (or potentially more) of the following functions:
- Provide a voice to underrepresented or misrepresented people and/or interests
- Mobilize citizens to participate in the governing process
- Assist in the development or restructuring of better public policy
- Raise awareness of public policy decisions or lack of public action
- Ensure governments’ accountability to constituents and community
- Support the development of a representative governing culture
Advocacy can include many activities that seek to educate a person or decision-maker, or call a community to collective action. Examples include:
- Media campaigns – working with various media outlets to raise awareness of the issue, recent decisions, and create calls to action through articles, opinion editorials, interviews, etc.
- Letter writing campaigns – to include letters from community members, local leaders, collaborators, and partners to targeted leaders and decisions-makers
- Public speaking – speaking to community members through organized events and efforts to raise awareness, educate and create a call to action
- Commissioning and publishing research or poll on pertinent issues
- Filing of ‘friend of the court briefs' – an official court document that allows third parties to express their opinions and provide input on the legal matter at hand
- Lobbying – a direct approach is made to legislators or decision-makers on an issue)
- Educating decision-makers – provide new information to decision-makers without attempting to influence their decision on a specific piece of legislation
NNAAPC, as an agency, has successfully implementing many of these strategies in order to raise Native inclusivity on federal decision-making bodies, address inequities in funding allocation, raise awareness amongst decision-makers of the impact of federal programmatic decisions, and educate decision-makers on the current state of HIV prevention in Native communities. This toolkit and guidance was created out of our some our own advocacy efforts. In it you will find links and tools to get you started and resources to get you prepared in advocating for Native communities right to equal prevention services. The specific tools provided below can be downloaded and tailored to meet your own specific advocacy needs. These tools can also be shared with other communities who might find themselves in a position to undertake a concerted advocacy campaign.
This is by no means an exhaustive toolkit – it does not provide samples or guidance for every potential activity that an agency can undertake. It does provide some basic guidance and templates for getting started though. Project Red Talon at the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board has an impressive advocacy toolkit that should be reviewed and is available online at
_media_materials/#Other Available Tribal Health Curricula and Toolkits
Please NNAAPC know of your local advocacy efforts, and how we can support you.
Please be aware that certain advocacy efforts may not be permitted if you are operating under federal funding, so please consult with your project officer or funder if you have any questions. And the same goes for NNAAPC. This toolkit and page were created using non-government dollars, and our own involvement in community advocacy efforts is also affected by own current funding sources.
We have provided the following tools for to make your advocacy easier.
Define your issue
It is important that you understand exactly what your issue right up front. Know what it is that you want to see changed and what you are going to ask people to do. Also know with whom you may need to collaborate to accomplish these tasks. We have provided the following tool to help to organize your thoughts and get started.
Define Your Issue and Your Strategy.pdf
Write a letter to your elected federal officials in Washington, DC
There are many elected official in Congress that are aware of issues in Native communities and will work hard, along with their staff, to address issues of concern. First and foremost are to communicate with your own states two US senators and the US representative from your district. If you need to identify your representatives, use the following links: www.senate.gov, and www.house.gov. Use this guidance and this template to create your own letter regarding your own issue.
Be sure to:
- Do this process three times in order to send a letter to both of your US senators and your US congressperson
- Address the letter using the titles Senator or Representative (or Honorable Mr. or Mrs.)
- Include your complete mailing address in the actual letter (not just on the envelope)
- Print the letter out on your own agency letterheads
- Sign the letter personally
- Attach appropriate amount of postage
- Encourage other staff members, friends, family members, community partners, collaborators, business, etc. to send a similar letter to their own representatives and senators if you are seeking collective action (or to your senators and representatives if you are seeking action locally).
- Feel free to collect letters from various parties and mail them all in one envelope with your agency letter serving as a cover letter.
Mail sent to the US Congress goes through extensive security screening, so do not anticipate an immediate response. Advocacy efforts with the Congress should be planned out well in advance and should ideally coordinate with any relevant current pieces of legislation being proposed, committee or sub-committee hearings, or issues garnering national media attention
Meet with your elected officials
If a representative from your agency happens to be in the Washington, DC area or in your state’s capital while your elected officials are serving locally, feel free to stop by for a visit. Elected officials welcome visits from their constituency. Below are some tips for visiting with an elected official – whether it be at the local, tribal, state or federal level.
- Do not be surprised if you do not actually meet with the elected official. Legislative staffers are there to field constituency concerns about a variety of topics and to funnel this information to the elected official.
- Call ahead and try to schedule a meeting in advance with the official or the legislative aide. This will help to ensure that you meet with the aide designated to your area of concern (healthcare, Native American affairs, LGBTQ rights, etc.). Drop in visits are fine and are common, but there is no guarantee that the aide with whom you really need to see will be there.
- Be prepared for a brief meeting – generally 15-20 minutes
- Be very clear about what you are asking the official to do (whether it be to vote a certain way on a bill, sign on to a letter, make an appearance, draft legislation, allocate funding, etc.) and be upfront about this during your meeting.
- Feel free to use the meeting to deliver any additional letters. Delivering letters means that they will not be stalled by lengthy congressional mail screening procedures.
- Have materials prepared to leave behind that concisely present information and present your request for official action.
- Have all draft materials or proposals in writing for the office to review.
- Use talking sheets with defined bullets to guide your discussion. Use the template and sample below
- Always try to obtain bipartisan support for any issue.
- Always be respectful of the person, their time, their position – even if they do not appear to support your issue.
- Be prepared to answer questions such as, “How will this action benefit my constituency?”, “How are other elected officials dealing with this?”, “Who else have you spoken to about this?”, and “What is your timeline?”
- Create a plan to follow up on specific action items
- Leave a business card
Call your elected officials
Elected officials deserve to hear from us. You should call your elected officials to let them know about things you are both satisfied and dissatisfied about. Call to let them know that you support an issue and would like to support it as well, or you can call to let them know about a more specific issue of your concern (funding, sustainability, programmatic directions, etc.). Be prepared to leave a concise message either with a staff member or an answering machine/voice mail. Be sure to have your talking points prepared so that you can leave a brief and direct message.
At the federal level, call 1-800-828-0498 toll free and ask to be connected to your members of Congress. The following talking points can help with your call.
At the local, tribal, or state leaders, you will need to research to find the correct numbers to use to reach your elected officials.
Write a letter to a funding agency
Agency administrators can value by hearing from tribes, organizations, and entities that they fund. They often do not get to hear about the specific impact that their funding and programs have – both positive and negative. Letters to funding agencies can raise awareness of issues of concern, and create a top-down notification chain. Always send letters to high level manager and directors, as this is where ecisions are made. The manager’s or director’s office will see that the letter is delivered to whom it needs to be, and this also puts your agency on their directors radar screen.
Use the following attached template, and then follow the same steps as mentioned in the guidance for mailing a letter to a federal elected official (type in your contact information, print it out on letterhead, sign it and mail it to the funding agency)
Opinion editorials (or Op Eds) are brief letters written by community members that express opinions about issues of local concern and submitted to local publications. The opinion pages are some of the most popular sections in any local or tribal newspaper. A letter goes a long way. Use the following sample Opinion Editorial pieces to write into your local paper.
Letters to the Editor
Add your personal touch to the following sample letters to the editors. Feel free to edit them and put them into your own voice. Your local paper will have specific instructions on how to submit a letter, so be sure to check with your opinion page editors.
Pass a Resolution
Governing bodies (including agency board of directors, business councils, tribal councils, city councils, and mayors) have the ability to pass resolutions. These resolutions are formal policy statements by the body and can be used to create support for an issue. Resolutions from bodies (e.g., National Indian Health Board, National Council of Urban Indian Health, National Congress of American Indians, area health boards) serve as evidence for widespread support for an issue and can be used when meeting with elected officials.
In our effort to document the efforts taking place around the country, if you are successful in passing an HIV-related resolution, please send a copy of the signed resolution to Alvin Chee, firstname.lastname@example.org or 1031 33rd St., Suite 270 Denver, CO 80205 so that we can demonstrate the support of the governing Native bodies.
Feel free to use any supporting materials that you may find on our website (e.g., fact sheets, publications, articles) in your advocacy efforts. Also do not forget about the resources that you have locally at your disposal (spiritual leaders, tribal elders, tribal colleges, area health boards, tribal health departments, CHRs). These can provide invaluable as you are garnering community support and raising awareness. It is also good to work with other agencies on your advocacy efforts so that you are not duplicating efforts, you are ensuring local support, and you are creating bridges that may benefit the agency and the community in the future.