Finishing the Race

Pre-[event] jitters.

I didn’t experience this before the wedding. I didn’t ever feel jittery before the first day of school or a new program. Excited? Yes. Jittery with nerves and adrenaline?

Barring a few traumatic moments in my life, the last time I felt what I’m feeling now was in the pool.

Surprising to some, I was a competitive swimmer in high school. I was even the captain my senior year, which looking back is like “how?” My strongest stroke was the freestyle but I got lumped into doing the individual medley and 100M butterfly because I was the only girl on the team who knew (and cared to know) how to do it by regulation standards.

Hey, it was a Buffalo Public School. Practices lasted an hour after school and we weren’t expected to keep any kind of regiment on our own. I think I utilized the weight room for swimming purposes three times in my three years on swim team. At Lafayette, it was a resume builder and a great way to do something other than go home and do homework (which I ended up doing anyway when I got home even later — overachiever since way back when…)

But it was fun and when I did practice, I practiced hard. Did I think I’d ever be an Amanda Beard or even a D3 collegiate swimmer? No. I had fun and I filled my time.

But have I ever mentioned to you that I’m super competitive? I’ve eased up on it since I was 15-16-17 years old but I was SUPER competitive at things I knew I wasn’t even that good at.

My parents used to tell me that being competitive like that was a waste of energy because “there is always going to be someone who is better than you at what you’re doing.” Well that might be true but it’s not going to be true about the person who I’m swimming next to. So there. Sass.

In BPS, we had these All-High meets wherein all the schools got together at ECC City where we’d compete amongst every other school at the same time. And it was nerve-wracking because it was the capstone of the swim season and I would invite my mother who was there every year. Friends from other schools and at least a hundred of the other competitors parents and so were there.

And I remember seeing my name on the list for the 100M butterfly. And my heart sank. I’m basically a spaztastic impostor of a butterfly swimmer and they want me to go up in front of City Honors, DaVinci, and Hutch Tech as their butterfly swimmer?

via {Google Search}

via {Google Search}


You’re probably wondering “And I’m telling you this story why?”

Last night, the last three presenters from my cohort presented their plans and defended their campaigns to the panel. The capstone of our graduate program. The last three presenters before it’s my turn, that is.

When I looked at my phone last night and it was 9:45, I knew that their defenses were done. And it was my turn. I’m on deck. And as unfortunate as it is, my mind automatically blanks and I’m suffering from impostor syndrome. They want me to defend what? How? Yeah I know the material… but do I know the material?

And as weird as it may sound… for a brief second I swore I smelled chlorine. And I started shaking my hands and bouncing side to side like I used to do at the starting mount. Time to psych myself out. I’m not an impostor. I’ve put in the work, I know what I know, and it’s time to own it.

Hopefully this works as well as it did then because all I remember from then is hearing the starting pistol, jumping in the pool, and I’d focus on my strokes. Going as fast as I can because I’m never more prepared than I am in this moment.

And at the end, I’d come out glaringly average. Not the best in the pool but not the worst.

But my parents always said that they were proud. And without fail, each time, said “at least you finished the race, Sam.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant then. In fact, it kind of made me feel a little mad when they said that. That’s it? But since its been almost 7 years since my last time in the pool (for competition) I think I know what they mean.

Tomorrow, when I go into my presentation, I have to believe in myself. I have to do what I’ve been working on for months. I know this.

And at the end, if I’m not the top student — at least I finished the race. I still have my master’s degree. And 7 years from now, it’s likely no one will care who the top student was (less our program stats/records and the person who was top).

It makes sense. I couldn’t tell you who won the butterfly race. Or who lost it the worst. Or even what place I came in. I finished my race.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing my high school swim meet to my graduate degree here. And I am taking my program a bit more seriously than an hours practice per day. But it’s a lesson I’m carrying over in dealing with nerves. I’m 24. I’m being critiqued by a panel of seasoned experts in the field. And I’m trying to convince them of a plan that utilizes all the elements of marketing communication that they could pick apart in seconds if it’s wrong.

Time to psych out. Shake my hands and bounce side to side, if need be.

I’m never more prepared than I am in this moment.

Time to go practice a little more so I’m more prepared in that moment than I am now.

Time to finish my race.



A call for change: the communication field’s need for diversity

As communications professionals, we are charged with getting the views and objectives of our organizations/campaigns to the public sphere. Smart and ethical PR practitioners do this in a balanced, unbiased manner.

But the ethnic landscape of America requires more than just one point of view. It requires looking into more than the white, suburban, middle class family. Because marketing and public relations have become so complex due to being able to target specific markets down to a tee, a campaign designed from this one point of view is old hat.

Even if your target market happens to be “white, middle class” there’s power in understanding the differences that arise here. For instance, some in the white, middle class may very well be part of the LGBT community. Now imagine trying to create a campaign that reaches this specific demographic but making it so heteronormative that the people from the LGBT community are now alienated and removed from the message. Ethically speaking, this is wrong. And business-wise, this is still wrong.

Imagine you’re say… a fashion company who wants to hold an annual party and they think “Hey, let’s throw an Indian-themed party! Woo.” Wow, well if you’ve been following my blog, you know about Paul Frank’s Dream Catchin’ Pow Wow party. Do you think this would have been so easily constructed if say they had an actual Native person on their marketing team?

Do you think if KTVU had an Asian Executive on staff that the producers (or if there were an Asian producer at this station) would dared to name Asiana pilots “Captain Sum Ting Wong,” or “Ho Lee Fuk?

The answer is most likely no.

The communications field at-large needs a stronger representation of all minority groups. Journalism, marketing, public relations, media production, etc., all need to have that different perspective that creates a more all-encompassing message.

And no, this is not a “I hate white people” post. I do not want to remove white people from the industry all together. That’s ridiculous (but I have been accused of such things, hence needing to clarify).

This past week, I was encouraged to write a post about this from my current professor at Bonaventure, Shelley Jack. She’s noticed that I’m quite passionate about this based on my presence on Twitter. And she’s not wrong.

We talked briefly about the idea of shared experience and how this matters when it comes to diversity. We talked about how no matter how much research she does, as a white woman, she couldn’t really relate pertinent information to minority groups. There is an inherent difference is reading/learning about a different culture and being part of a different culture. When messages come from the outside, it sounds like you’re being talked to rather than talked with.

The Human landscape is filled with different art, languages, cuisines, experience, and histories. To market something as a small  homogenized group to a broader audience is, in my opinion, haphazard and shortsighted.

I call for a broader representation of people in the communication field because I think it’s incredibly valuable to recognize the many different perspectives that inhabit our country everyday.

I’ve taken a small first step this last summer as I paid for one half of a tuition for a student from the inner city of Buffalo (the only one) to take a journalism workshop. In the thank you letter I received, the student said he now has a much higher appreciation for the kind of impact words can have.”

It may have been a small step but reading that made me incredibly happy to have helped even just this little bit.

What do you think? What are some ways to make this happen? Does it need to happen at all? I’m open to your thoughts on this post!

Public Relations & Customer Service – Don’t Get It Twisted

Hey friends, don’t mind me, but this post is yet again a school assignment. Please feel free to stick around and read my thoughts on customer/public relations. I’m considering creating another blog in the future about my professional interests. But I’ve been saying that for years. Anyway – disclaimer done.

The social space on the internet has finally become a staple for a lot of big (and small) brands out there. This is no secret. Companies and organizations are utilizing social media to generate interest for their products/services. But with this easy-to-get-attention machine comes the scariest thing to a company.

Quick and easy access to rate anything and everything.

And when people complain about your brand on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, or even LinkedIn… don’t you want to be the one to help ease the situation?

Before these incredibly powerful tools became accessible to the masses, customer service was something all together different from public relations. Even today, you have to really think about it to correlate the two. But when the consumer has the power, it’s best to make sure the customer is happy and helped

Ignoring a complaint today is damaging. Ignoring too many complaints becomes a crisis.

In case you didn’t know, if you want your business to succeed… try and avoid crises. 

When it comes to handling customer service in the era of real time customer reviews social media, my favorite brand to use as a benchmark is Wegmans.

Customer service has always (in my opinion) been phenomenal in the stores. Everyone is completely helpful, knowledgeable, and for the most part, quick. Because this foundation has been part of their customer service practice, it’s no surprise that they’ve translated this to the social space.

Wegmans has an astounding social media team that will answer in a flash. If you have a problem with a product, can’t find a product, or need to know specifics about products, there is a team there that will check into all of the above for you.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 8.38.23 PM

I once asked @wegmans how big are their chicken breasts. Within five minutes, I was told they average 5-6 oz. When I was unhappy with a vegetarian noodle bowl I bought, they asked me for my address so that they could send me coupons to use in the prepared foods section. That coupon bought a Wegmans sub.

What you should take away from this is… I’m talking about them. And I would recommend anyone go to Wegmans.

Are the prices more than at comparable grocery stores? Well, probably no comparable… because it’s Wegmans. But yes, it is a bit pricer.
However, you get so much in that extra price. And I love Wegmans.

This is the power of word of mouth marketing. This is where their public relations pros are keeping an eye on customer service practices to ensure that the customer (me) is happy. I forgave the flavorless noodle bowl pretty instantly and still go there happily.

And when Buzzfeed published an article about why Wegmans is basically the best, you better believe I retweeted and posted that article to Facebook!

What happens when you turn this around though?

Oh… bad social media practices can cause a crisis. For instance, banks. Banks don’t have the best rap right now… but Bank of America showed just how bad customer service (social media common sense) can backfire.

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This is the kind of post that Bank Of America could have ignored all together and there would have been no ramification to them whatsoever. However, afterwards… this happened:

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After this, it was brought to light that BOA consistently uses generic tweets to answer to any message directed at them. And I mean anything:

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 9.20.38 PM


Engage in online customer service the way you would face to face. And if you don’t? Well…

I hope you’ve got a stellar PR team on hand. And even then… it doesn’t always save you.

Public Relations: Ethics and Crisis

Disclaimer to my regular blog readers – This is an assignment for school. You can skip it if you wish, however, I encourage you to read my thoughts on ethical public relations practices. You may disagree, agree, or completely not care about what I feel is ethical. Feel free to chime in if I’m way off base 🙂

At this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW – seriously, I need to get to this someday), BBH, a PR agency out of New York City had the idea that they would outfit 13 homeless people with shirts that say “Hi, I’m Melvin. I’m a 4G Hotspot.” The idea was make sure people attending SXSW had enough places where they could connect, and since the demand would be high for this connectivity, this idea was born. Each of these people, who happen to be homeless, were paid $20 an hour and were allowed to keep the suggested donation of  $2 for 15 minutes the agency said could be paid for via PayPal or cash. 


Arguments against this case say that the company exploited these people’s precarious situation when they don’t care about their condition outside of the context of this SXSW stunt. Arguments in favor say that they have brought the issue of homelessness to the attendees of SXSW who would talk with them while using the wireless hotspots. One of the 13 people, Melvin, said this, “That’s a good side of it, too — we get to talk to people. Maybe give them a different perception of what homeless is like.”

So I’m posed with this question:

  • Is it an ethical PR tactic in your opinion?
  • Respond to the general idea that “all press is good press.” Do you agree or disagree.

Here’s the deal, I don’t agree with what they did because I agree that they’ve gone ahead and exploited this situation. It makes them look as if they care, but beyond this one single instance, they clearly don’t. I would have agreed with this situation if, in fact, BBH devoted time or money into battling homelessness. I perused their website (though it is a very nice website, neither here nor there right now) and did a quick Google search to see if there had been any charitable efforts following SXSW and no go. Giving these people preference for this kind of job is nice and all… but it’s not helping to battle the root problem.

BBH could have easily gone to an Austin-based not-for-profit who works with people who need a home and have hired through that effort while simultaneously doing actual good. While the people who worked for BBH got a little reprieve, it’s unlikely that there were any long term benefit to. That’s a problem.

The long-term benefit here is in the hands of BBH because I’m talking about them. I’ve visited their site. BBH has been mentioned in more of the articles written about this situation than Melvin, the man wearing the Hot Spot tee.

So no, I do not think this was an ethical PR tactic. Exploitation is never ethical.

Next topic…

All press is good press.

All press is good press… if you know how to handle it when it’s actually negative press.

Crisis communication plans need to be solid, every member of the team needs to be well acquainted with protocol, and for the love of all that is good… please, please, please, never say “no comment.”

All press is good press in the sense that you have the opportunity to start a real conversation. You have an opportunity to right a wrong. Not dealing with the negative correctly is pretty detrimental…

For example? Last September, Paul Frank hosted… a Dream Catchin’ Pow Wow party. Native American cultural appropriation was en masse at this party and it didn’t particularly paint Native culture in a very good light. For instance, they had three signature cocktails that were labeled, “Rain Dance Refresher,” “Dream Catcher,” and “Neon Teepee.”

Credit: Native Appropriations Blog (Adrienne Keene)

Credit: Native Appropriations Blog (Adrienne Keene)

Here’s the rest of the shit storm that was this Pow Wow themed party:

  • Plastic tomahawks
  • Fake headdresses
  • Glow in the dark war (face) paint
  • Plastic bows and arrows
  • Antlers

What the actual fuck?



Indian Country was enraged. I was enraged. You are not honoring a group of people by deigning to emulate a fictitious caricature of a very real, and very still alive, group of people. Paul Frank was DEAD WRONG for doing this.

Thankfully, the writer of Native Appropriations and Harvard PhD candidate, Adrienne Keene (Cherokee), had the wherewithal to email Paul Frank’s PR company about this. And the backlash that Paul Frank got was enormous enough that the President of Paul Frank reached out to Adrienne in response. They immediately admitted to wrong-doing, scrapped the 1000+ photo album off their Facebook, and here’s the kicker, offered to allow real Native artists to come in and design outfits and accessories with the fashion company.

Here’s the letter from President Elie Dekel of Paul Frank Industries to Adrienne:

Dear Adrienne K, 

My name is Elie Dekel and I am President of Paul Frank Industries LLC. I am writing to see if you would be willing to speak with me regarding the recent Paul Frank event. While we have not yet received your letter [AK note: I only had emailed it to the PR company], we have seen the copy online and would like to address your concerns directly. This is something we take very seriously, and since the event, we have begun to take numerous steps to address this regrettable and unfortunate situation. I’d like to talk with you so I can update you on what we’re doing as well as hear more from you, so we learn from this mistake. If you would be interested in speaking with me, please let me know how best to reach you and when you might be available.


Elie Dekel


Keene and Paul Frank worked in conjunction with the Native boutique store, Beyond Buckskin, to create a line of clothing that was made by Native fashion designers and artists from around the United States and Canada.

I actually already bought a pair of Candace Halcro (Cree/Metis) sunglasses. Aren’t they just dazzling?!

glass2_case_RSWhat did Paul Frank do here that makes this good press?

  1. The addressed the problem head on.
  2. They took the photo album down from their Facebook.
  3. They requested to speak to learn from their mistake.
  4. They made it up by featuring authentic Native designs that aren’t superficially made.

It’s terrible it had to happen this way, but because Paul Frank did the right thing in response, I now own Paul Frank accessories. And I’d encourage you to get some of these sunglasses as well. Halcro/Paul Frank just came out with beaded rimless sunglasses like the one pictured above and I think I just have to have them.

Now if only Victoria’s Secret had done a little more like this… I’d probably set foot back in their stores.

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2012. Granted, they didn't air this outfit when the show televised... but more could have been done.

Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2012. Granted, they didn’t air this outfit when the show televised… but more could have been done.

So yeah, sorry I couldn’t give a straightforward answer on the all press is good press debate. But it really does depend on how the press is handled. People will mess up, people will get mad… it’s a matter of dealing with the situation at hand.

Now comment below and tell my professor that I need an A 😉


Plugging Along and Brussels Sprouts

There you have it. I changed my blog – again! But that’s what I do. It’s like my house, I rearrange everything every couple of months because I like novelty. And being sick of the same old, same old. It kind of goes against all of my training in integrated marketing, you know – keeping a consistent message, but we’re allowed to be our own contradictions. Right?

Right?! (At least I recognize I’m being a contradiction! That’s a step.)

Anyway, here is a brief (word-vomit-about-my-life) update.

I’ve been taking this Creative Message Strategy course in my master’s program. It’s basically advertising for the integrated marketer – and it’s amazing. Most Bonnies (at least IMC Bonnies) seem to know who MJK is, and I love being in his class. All of our other teachers, though wonderful and amazing, they have to teach us about strategy and the mechanics of certain things – it’s their job! – but in this advertising class, I feel like we’re releasing SO many creative juices (with some strategy thrown in there, don’t get it twisted) that it’s just plain fun. Several of us have agreed that even when we’re being ripped apart by MJK, we’re loving his class.

I’ve also been taking this Organizational Behavior class at the same time. It’s online, so a lot of it is reading and writing, which is great. I’m learning about methods in management and leadership, along with how to create effective teams and managing a diverse employee landscape. More to come on this when I have time to go in depth on it.

I’ve been busy because did I mention I was taking these two five-week intensive graduate level courses at the same time? Yeah, my cohort thinks I’m bonkers, too.

We’ve made another stride in the longest wedding journey ever. We’re pretty much set for a late August engagement shoot with our photographers! They’ve been posting other people’s engagement photos on Facebook for a couple of weeks and now I’m getting antsy for ours! I want to have them in time for October 4th, when the one year countdown begins! Every now and then when I think of it that way, my first thought is “Holy shit, I’m getting married. Me. Me? Me.” Then it’s all followed by being thankful for having this wonderful hunk of man in my life. He who rubs my back every single time I ask for it (because he knows I won’t stop until he does it), who makes life easy when I’m physically down and out, and is pretty much the completion of my marketing communications self with all of his snazzy graphic know-how.

I’m 100% glad I declined going to China. Yes – I’m missing out on something special but I’m sure I’ll get there someday. However, in this moment, in this time and space, I am SO glad that I’ll have a month of doing grad work on my time and using spare time to cook, clean, work out, be a human being.

We’re getting serious about losing weight. Like we’ve made strides. I’ve already lost a few pounds, which is probably just water weight, but that’s the first step. No? Well I’m saying it is. I have engagement photos I’d like to not look like a heifer in, and a wedding. Essentially, I’d like to be in the best shape of my life by 25, in 2014. I was always slightly overweight in high school despite being incredibly active in sports and such, so I don’t think this is a too-much-to-ask-for goal.

So there it is. I’ve been trying to focus on grad school, health, fitness, and wedding stuff. I keep saying I try to keep wedding stuff on the back burner until I’ve graduated… do you know how incredibly hard that is?! Clearly, it’s hard.

And as an ode to one of my favorite bloggers (and fitness/health/healthy eating/feminist/wedding inspirations – Rachel at The House Always Wins), I’d like to end this blog with a recipe that will hopefully help me in this weight-loss journey because this shit is delicious and filling and I’m making them again tonight.

I call it: Brussels so easy, a Sam can do it:

Brussels and some asparagus. It was a feast.

Brussels and some asparagus. It was a feast.

– As many brussels sprouts as you want in a serving. I made half a bag from Wegmans because I was excited to love these and to have more for lunch today (which I did and they were amazing).

– Extra virgin olive oil

– Salt (Sea Salt preferred but I used regular because I haven’t stocked up on that yet)

– Cracked Black Pepper

– Crushed Red Pepper flakes for a heat kick!

– Half a lemon

It burns so good.

It burns so good.

Halve the brussels, pour some of that EVOO (yes – I love Rachel Ray, too) over the Brussels and make sure to rub all of the oil over their surfaces. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper, and the red pepper flakes to taste. I did half with a righteous kick, the other without so much. Pop in the oven at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. When they’re done, some of the skin should have a nice roasted look to them. Squeeze lemon juice on top to your taste. Voila! Amazeballs.

This is such a simple recipe I can’t believe it took me forever to get it right – with a thanks to Rachel above! I’m thinking of sprinkling a little parmesan on them tonight to mix it up.

If I not-so-secretly want to be a food blogger, I should probably bust out the DSLR so you're not subjected to these iPhone photos of food. Bon apetite!

If I not-so-secretly want to be a food blogger, I should probably bust out the DSLR so you’re not subjected to these iPhone photos of food. Bon apetite!

Light at the end of the tunnel…

It kind of took me aback that today is March 18th.

Seriously, how is it two weeks until April? I feel like I was just in Spain, celebrating New Years Eve, drinking too much cava and freezing my ass off in a Madrid public square.

I counted the months until graduation in mid-December, and I have 8 left until it happens. Seriously, it will be the most bittersweet moment to date when I’m recognized for completing my program at St. Bonaventure.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t already envisioned our small reception-style recognition (I can’t really call it a graduation ceremony, can I?) and thought of how incredibly hard it will be to hold back tears. Education has always been one of my mother’s highest wishes for us girls, and here I am, completing my master’s degree. Completing something at 24 years old, that same something my father wanted so badly at the ripe age of 48 but just couldn’t fit it into his lifestyle.

After I graduate, I’ll have considered my duties as a grateful daughter almost completed. That sounds weird, I know, but I mean it. I still have the more vague things that I can complete, as in, paying it forward, being a leader, and being a strong, Native woman. But those things weren’t as succinct and finite like “get your bachelor’s degree, get your master’s degree…”

And in 8 months, that specific list is done.

And it’s incredibly bittersweet.

After this next 8 months, it’s up to me to figure out ways to continue fulfilling my “duties” as a grateful daughter and remembering/honoring their spirits. And I’m sure I’ll find a way. They continue to be my motivation to do great things.

To M&P, keep me strong these next 8 months. I’m going to need all the will, self-determination, and focus to get through the demands of my life.

The one where I consider law school…


I am perpetually seeking punishment. I am sure of this.

After stressing for nearly TWO whole weeks on a written campaign for my Integrated Marketing Communications class, I am looking at another program in the future. I’m a year away from fulfilling my requirements for a master’s degree, and I’m already hungry for more.

This past Monday was our company holiday party and I had the opportunity to speak with quite a few people who are on the higher up of Seneca governance and business. One in particular was a professor of law at a prestigious school, and his lesson/lecture to me sounded like one straight out of a college classroom. I was intrigued and incredibly mentally stimulated. As a former practicing lawyer, this guy knew his stuff. And I was keeping up in conversation. Maybe not to the best possible extent, but I was asking the questions that I needed answered.

Since then, when I take breaks from creating my IMC plan, if I’m not perusing the Twitterverse (and keeping up with Indian Country/#idlenomore) I’m staring at the Cornell University Law program.

Just for background, I’ve been enrolled at Cornell before. I’ve met amazing people who have done amazing things. I wish I could do it again. And I’ve always said (since my short 5 years since high school) that if I were to go for an advanced degree, I’d do it at Cornell. Unfortunately, you don’t really go to an Ivy League (unless you have money, a lot of money) for an advanced marketing degree. But since this inkling of law school has come up, I’ve been thinking of The Slope, the libraries, and of course, Collegetown Bagels, ever since.

(I’ve already told Mark that our babies’ cribs will be donned with Cornell University apparel. If I can’t go, my offspring surely will.)

One of my main goals is to be able to make life better in Indian Country. I feel like being able to better navigate these manmade laws, such intricate things, could help. I don’t need to practice it, so much as I need to understand it. I’m a communicator at heart. See where I’m going with that?

I feel like a background in American Indian law/marketing would be beneficial for when I finally become Dr. Sam Nephew, PhD in American Indian Studies.

So many details to hash out. What’s possible and what’s not? What can I handle now and later?

I have a lot more thinking to do. But more importantly, I have a lot more thinking on my current assignment. I am most definitely graduating from St. Bonaventure with my IMC degree, so I need to make the most of it.

To the campaign book!

When 20,000 Thank You’s Aren’t Enough

This is what I mean by having a strong community. A strong pillar of support for people when they want to reach their goals. I am lucky.

I am so incredibly lucky and so, so, so fortunately placed, to have this opportunity.



Normally, I’d be a little hesitant to share these kinds of numbers, for any reason. But holy mother f@#king sh!*.

There is no way in hell I could afford this on my own. I was willing to take loans. Oh so hesitantly, was I willing to take loans. But $20K is a lot of money. Anyone with any kind of educational debt can understand, and for a lot of people, it’s that very understanding that keeps people from advancing their degrees.

I am so incredibly thankful to have a community like the Seneca Nation having my back. Sure, I have to deal with a little of this…

Ass baring jeans that has beading that looks similar to the Two-Row and Hiawatha Wampum belts, very sacred meaning to the Haudenoshaunee people. But who knows, Urban Outfitters would deny (or would they?) selling Indigenous ideas for a profit.

But that’s okay. That’s why it’s such a perfect fit to have done media studies and will eventually go on to marry American Indian studies with that.


So there it is. The Seneca Professional Scholarship which awards $20,000 for each year of studies.

My parents would have never been able to afford to help me to school. I hate that excuse, the one that says “your parents should pay for school.” No, my parents came from poverty and built their way up as much as they could. Supporting the essentials and paying for school? Not an option. This takes me back to sophomore year of high school when my Mom would say, “Work hard and get into a good school. But you have to work hard and get a lot of scholarships, because just so you know, your father and I aren’t helping you.”

Now, as an adult, I see it wasn’t just that they wouldn’t. They feasibly couldn’t. C’est la vie. I hope they’re proud of me 😉

The biggest stipulation of receiving this award is being required to work for the Seneca Nation in the field of your studies.

Yeah… I’m already the Marketing/Communications Specialist for Seneca Holdings, the investment arm of the Seneca Nation of Indians. I’m solid..

I am so relieved tonight. This scholarship was the last bit I needed for grad school to be completely paid for. That’s right. paid for. Between the Dean’s Scholarship from SBU and this… I’m set. I really, really do not mean to gloat in front of people who face a mountain of debt, and I promise that I feel for you. I do. But I understand your stories and I understand the strife that comes with it. And I am not missing the fortune that I have by accepting this scholarship. Believe me, I do not take this in vain!

I wasn’t feeling well when I got home from work, and I’m still not feeling well, but this was a relief. This was one hell of a relief.

I cannot believe I will graduate from St. Bonaventure University with a master’s degree, debt-free.

I am in awe. I am forever thankful to the Seneca Nation.

Indian Country, 8(a) Contracting, and Preserving Community

On September 11, 2012, I had the opportunity to travel to Capitol Hill to speak with various legislators about the 8(a) Program, facilitated by the Small Business Administration, and what it means to Native American people and communities. I traveled with other 8(a) impacted Native women and men from Nebraska, South Dakota, Idaho, and Alaska, and spoke with representatives from each of those states.

Our mission was to express, and put faces to stories, on how the 8(a) affects individuals, families, and communities. A member of the Ho-Chunk tribe from Omaha, Nebraska, and works for Ho-Chunk, Inc., is getting the opportunity to move into her own home through a program funded by the Ho-Chunk tribe. Ho-Chunk is able to serve their community with this kind of opportunity because of their 8(a) contracting capabilities and revenue from that.

Countless of us were granted the opportunity to go to college, and graduate, without accruing ginormous and, often times for those living on reservations, stifling debt. In our communities, especially the isolated ones, these opportunities are far too valuable. That’s why the 20 of us represented the Native American Contractors Association on Capitol Hill in efforts to keep any blockade of this (“handout”) program that the opposition feels is unfair. Unsurprising, it’s representatives from states without any Indian Country that feel that this program is unfair.

You know what’s unfair? 

Assuming that all Native American nations need are gaming facilities. Alaskan Native Corporations don’t have that luxury as there isn’t enough sustainability for Class III gaming there. And when these gaming facilities are operational, they’re met with heavy opposition.

You know what’s unfair?

When New York State threatens the sustainability of legally run Class III Gaming Facilities (under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and threatening 8(a) contracting when we’re not even sure what’s going to come of this standoff.

You know what’s unfair?

Attacking American Indian 8(a) contracting when it makes up less than 1% of all government contracting deals.

You know what’s unfair?

Belittling the countless families who depend on their communities to help get a lift out of the furthest depths of poverty.

My story, which I was met with gracious consideration, isn’t unique, but is an example in community involvement in individual success.

Four years ago, my father passed away. We were fortunate when he was around and making enough money to be comfortable. When he died, it was up to my mother to make ends meet. She traveled an hour, each way, for work with Seneca Construction Management, an 8(a) program. A year later, she also passed away. When that happened, my first-hand experience in what our community does for one another was the burial assistance my sisters and I received to help bury her, next to my father, just 13 months after we laid him to rest. I have been fortunate to receive aid from the Seneca Nation of Indians, which left me without debt after graduating from my four-year program. I am now receiving 90% of my tuition for graduate school, and will be the first in my family to graduate with a master’s degree. Most people may ask me, “why would you care now? Everything is taken care of.” The threat and opposition faced by my nation in this gaming compact cannot be ignored, and I refuse to allow these opportunities pass in the event that my children, and their children, need it. The 8(a) program is an incredible tool that our Nation would fully utilize in making sure that our people are taken care of. That’s what a community should do.”

Now, I didn’t say all of that verbatim with each representative. In fact, this is what I wrote down prior to going into any meeting, and elaborating with each meeting. By elaborate, I mean, I cut it short in my first meeting because my heart tends to lump in my throat when I talk about my parents. C’est la vie. I’m just happy I mustered up the courage to speak about such a subject which was ultimately met with great care by those on the Hill.

That entire experience was necessary, painful, and informative. I was relieved in meeting people who support those in Indian Country, meeting Native Americans in positions of power on the Hill. I learned of the lack of any Native representation in some facets of government. I was told a story of a Superior Court Judge, whose name escapes me, who expressed his contempt of Native American preference by saying, “What’s so special about Indians?” And I didn’t know that there was any opposition to 8(a) programming before meeting with NACA, but now I know that there is and who is against it. I was reaffirmed by Non-Indian representatives that there are definitely racial motivations to some of the opposition. I like to try to believe the best in people, but this helped to reiterate the point that it isn’t always the case. The best in people is just the worst sometimes. 

Traveling to D.C, learning all of this, becoming a better, well-informed citizen, of both the Seneca Nation and of Western New York; all opportunity granted to me by my company. My company that deals primarily in 8(a) contracting.

So, while New York State continues to break their promises, and city mayors continue to make idle threats to the welfare of our businesses and people (and coincidentally, their own citizens), I’m going to continue to help in Holdings’ mission to diversify our economy. I’m going to continue to learn about how to effectively disseminate messages. I’m going to learn about our history, our laws (internally and with the federal and state governments), and our heritage.

Because when people say bad things about me, whatever. But when you speak poorly of the Seneca Nation of Indians as a whole, I take it as an attack against my family, my mother, and people like her.

Back to work…

The only picture I have of me in the mix at the NACA Emerging Native Leaders Summit in Washington D.C.

Marketing and the American Indian: Grad School Week 1

For the last three hours, I’ve been reading the “Culture Code” for my first graduate course. Already, the mental juices are in overdrive as I set out to understand these concepts and how I can apply them to my work.

However, the book tends to overlook the depth of American culture, continuously noting that the American dream began back before “we” settled and began to use this “undeveloped land.” I’ll grant you that the writer of the book, a native Frenchman, wouldn’t necessarily look to the history beforehand, but it’s still irksome. I feel as though that this book, that is used with such high authority in positions of graduate study, continue to undermine the position of the American Indian in the greater context of American culture. Surely, it has to be positioned to foreigners/immigrants that America is relatively new to the world. However, there was a history long before that and although the people have been left with little to fend for (speaking specifically to land, though it’s not limited to that in today’s context). Surely, they know about us? I’m not speaking specifically to Seneca or Haundenoshaunee culture (there are many others, though, the Haudenoshaunee was a powerhouse in their heyday) but to the entire presence of the “American Indian.”

Beyond my contention for this chief idea that the American culture is so homogeneous (because we’re all so new and shiny!), I began to question something. The drift of the book takes us to what America means in other cultures. What is our “code” when cultures around the world think of us?

My idea is this, “What do the 500+ American-recognized sovereign American Indian nations think of America?”

“Indian Country” as it’s known within the larger community of American Indians, is recognized as an entity within a larger entity. Not a superior entity, but considerably larger. I, for one, would be the first to admit that I recognize myself as a Seneca before I would ever say that I am an American. In terms of National pride, I would be first, “A Member of the Seneca Nation of Indians,” and second “An American.” I have no doubt that many other people within “Indian Country” feel the exact same way.

So, what to do with this in a marketing perspective? Well, that should be a new goal of mine. How would a company market to the American Indian? What are the specific codes in relation to the different Nations across the country? The French code for food differs greatly from the American code. Is this the same for a member of the Cherokee Nation? What about from the Mohawk Nation? What about the difference in code just between the Cherokee and the Mohawk?

I don’t know how many companies are distinctively marketing to American Indians in this country. As such a small contingency relative to the rest of the country, and largely destitute, why specifically send messages to us?

There is something to gain from this, and it will require much more thought that what I’ve been able to assert in this short and spontaneous post.

I don’t know much about it yet. But what I do know, is this.

I have walked miles in just the two days I’ve been in graduate school.

I may not be excited to market cheese, but I am excited to take the methodology in marketing cheese, and finding a way to leverage that in marketing and marketing to the American Indian.

Marketing to the American Indian is not the same as marketing to an American. Though we are close in proximity,  the culture of the various American Indians, continues in different patterns than that of the “typical” American. It’s a unique space to say the least.
(Photo taken by Mark James)