Tulalip Tribe Connects an Entire Community with SMS/Text Messaging

3 minute read

Upland Admin

This Native American Tribe is Revolutionizing How Text Messaging Can Be Used to Connect an Entire Community

How do you use text messages to connect an entire community?

At Upland Mobile Messaging, we’ve talked a lot about ways texting can bring citizens together. Schools can communicate with parents and students. Local governments can keep citizens informed about weather issues and civic emergencies . Medical professionals can offer broad access to vital health resources. Charities can keep people informed about events.

The Tulalip Tribe – a small native American tribe of just 4,500 people – is bringing all of that together. They’ve created an expansive texting program that serves every aspect of their community.

But it was a heartbreaking school shooting that prompted them to create it.

How It Started

Tulalip’s text campaign started with a tragedy. In 2014, a Tulalip teenager shot and killed four other young people before turning his gun on himself. The trauma rocked the close-knit community.

Tulalip leaders wanted to prevent further atrocities. In particular, they turned their attention to mental health. The tribe already offered extensive mental health resources, including family behavioral health and children’s behavioral health. But too often, those in need weren’t taking advantage of them.

The tribe hired Chris Gandin Le, an experienced technology consultant with a background in mental health. He had worked at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and partnered with the text messaging gurus over at DoSomething.org.

Gandin Le suggested that the community could launch a text messaging hotline, where people could be connected with health and emergency services they needed.

The Scope of the Campaign

Health & Mental Health

The Tulalip text campaign started as a health resource. Tribe members could text in their questions and ask for help. They would then receive personal responses from Gandin Le and his colleagues, who would often refer people to the community’s existing health resources. They also started “The Feels,” an emotional support line for those in need of more immediate reassurance.

Weather & Traffic Alerts

When a flood threatened the Tulalip reservation, the tribe realized they could use their existing text messaging campaign to provide emergency updates. Hundreds of people immediately opted in to receive weather and storm warnings, which evolved into alerts about traffic issues, downed trees, road closings, and any other vital civic news.

School Updates, Community Events, and More

As the text campaign expanded, other members of the community saw the potential to send out news updates and alerts. The local high school sends out notices about school closures and basketball games. Community leaders send out updates about popular events, like canoe races. Over the holidays, the tribe even used text messaging to assist in their toy drive. People could text in to either give or receive a toy, and would get instructions back about where to drop off their donations.

More and more members of the Tulalip Tribe are exploring the power of text. The local police chief, for example, is interested in accepting intakes over SMS.

The tribe’s text message campaign shows how a simple technology can provide a huge range of services. The campaign also proves that digital technologies – so often criticized for keeping people apart – can bring a community together.

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