PR News 2016 Nonprofit PR Awards: Public Affairs/Issues Management

Winner: Havas PR North America—Moving Mountains to Draw Attention to Sacred Navajo Land

In northern Arizona, the majestic San Francisco Peaks are among the most sacred of all places to the Navajo Nation. They are where plants are collected for ceremonies and where the Navajo people, and a dozen other Southwest Indian nations, practice their religion and culture. Crisis is often at the essence of life; here, spiritual life was being pitted against progress, innovation and skiing.

Since 2012, a private ski resort on lands leased from the U.S. Forest Service to Arizona Snowbowl has used reclaimed sewage wastewater to create artificial snow, and operations have continued to expand. When the Navajo Nation learned from news accounts in August 2014 that the City of Flagstaff had signed a 20-year wastewater renewal agreement without notice to the nation or an opportunity for consultation or public comment, it decided to act.

With the help of indigenous rights experts Rob Williams and James Anaya of the University of Arizona’s Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program (IPLP), the Navajo Nation filed a petition on March 2, 2015, with the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), part of the Organization of American States (OAS), to declare the United States government in violation of human rights. Because of the magnitude of the issue, Williams and Anaya enlisted Havas PR as a media and PR partner with experience in advocating for human rights.

Havas PR worked to position the Navajo Nation and the indigenous rights representatives as experts on the matter through thoughtful media outreach. Its strategy: deliver the facts and make them clear and accessible.

Havas’ media strategy of getting the facts and the experts to the right outlets ensured that consistent messaging would reach key audiences, such as governing bodies, indigenous influencers, human rights activists, policymakers, media and the general public.

Havas focused, for example, on delivering the messages that “the Navajo people have been waging their fight against the expansion of private ski resort operations on the San Francisco Peaks since the 1970s,” and discussing how the case had gone previously all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and consistently lost. The campaign has sparked attention in Washington, D.C., around the country and with global human rights leaders, leading to a greater focus on the crisis.

Honorable Mention:

•    U.S. Green Building Council - Booz Allen Economic Impact Study