I’d Rather Be David Than Goliath

By Jason Campbell, founder and CEO of Arete Development Group,

Jason Campbell


Arete Development GroupIn spite of my lack of writing prowess I have chosen to share a story that in many ways parallels one that many of us are familiar with: the story of David and Goliath. Before we follow the path of David and before we identify Goliath, I would first like to share my story.

My entry into the world of Sustainable and Responsible Investing (SRI) occurred after successfully navigating an MBA program at Gonzaga University, after which a professor forwarded me a notice that US SIF’s Indigenous Peoples Working Group (IPWG) was offering a Certified Financial Planner® scholarship. US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (www.ussif.org) is the US membership association for professionals, firms, institutions and organizations engaged in sustainable, responsible, and impact investing. In 2009, US SIF pledged their financial and professional support to enable a Tribal citizen to engage in socially responsible investing via financial planning in a reservation setting. I applied and won the scholarship. While I initially saw this as a good opportunity to learn more about financial planning and socially responsible investing, I did not fully envision the opportunities for Indian Country that were lying just ahead. The CFP® course provided me with the tools and framework to conduct individual financial planning. I am utilizing what I learned through the financial planning coursework and my experience in sustainable and responsible investing to assist Tribal governments. I am working with the Spokane Tribe and Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes located in the Northwestern United States.

In the fall of 2011, I moderated a panel discussion “Business and Indigenous Rights: Why Corporations Need to Act Now” at the SRI Conference in New Orleans. The panel explored the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) and a specific framework of engagement in the Declaration – Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). This breakout session was one of the first to present the concept that there are financial costs to corporations for ignoring FPIC principles.

At the SRI Conference I had the opportunity to join a tour of a community investing project in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans which was completely devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Make it Right Foundation, in collaboration with the local community, was working to help rebuild the Lower 9th Ward using the highest standards of green/sustainable building along with guiding principles defined by the local community. During the tour I saw how this collaboration was helping a devastated community. It crossed my mind that a similar project might work on American Indian reservations. Tom Darden, Executive Director of Make It Right, attended the SRI Conference, where he was kind enough to let me share with him the parallels I saw between the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the economic disaster areas where many Tribal reservations are located in the United States. My question for Tom and Make It Right was whether they would share their innovative model, a community-driven approach to socially responsible and sustainable neighborhood development with Native Tribes and reservations in dire need. They said “yes” and we started with the Ft. Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana. Through a process employing extensive collaboration between the Tribes of the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation’s leadership, Tribal citizens, and with Make it Right Foundation there will be 20 families living in LEED Platinum homes (funded through a low income housing tax credit) in the fall of 2015. [USA Today article on the homes- http://usat.ly/1eKLKXa]. This is step one of a much larger nation building vision driven by core principles generated by Tribal citizens of the reservation.

Earlier in 2011 before I approached Make It Right at the SRI Conference, I inquired of Steven Heim (Steering committee member of US SIF’s Indigenous Peoples’ Working Group and Director of ESG Research/Shareowner Engagement at Boston Common Asset Management) about how I could better understand sustainable, responsible and impact investing particularly on the institutional side. This would be increasingly important to understand due to the work I was starting to do with Tribes. Steven’s support and commitment to my professional development and his creative approach to solutions led to some research work that summer with Boston Common Asset Management and the Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) team that Steven leads. The Boston Common family welcomed me, and for that support I will forever be thankful. As you are about to learn, my time with Boston Common’s ESG team has led to a series of events that has fostered tremendous growth and innovation in my professional life particularly in combining sustainable, responsible and impact investment strategies with FPIC principles on my reservation and across Indian Country.

During my internship with Boston Common my sister sent me an article from my local Spokane newspaper. A Spokane Tribal citizen was on the front page of a multiple full-page article outlining the horrific impacts of a legacy uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Back in the late 1950’s a unit of Newmont Mining led the Spokane Tribe to believe that extracting uranium in support of the Cold War would create desperately needed jobs and be totally safe. Newmont used the Tribe as a disposable workforce that is feeling the adverse effects even today. Newmont also never bothered to clean up the mine site that went dormant in the 1980’s and is now a $200 million EPA Superfund site. The resulting contamination includes high cancer rates and other diseases, contamination of water, sacred sites, medicinal plant gathering sites, and elk calving grounds.

Fortunately for me, Lauren Compere, a member of Boston Common’s ESG team had led a multi-year shareholder engagement with Newmont. She shared with me her perspectives on Newmont’s long history and pattern of human rights issues in relations to Indigenous communities around the world. She also shared how shareholders have advocated with the company to improve its practices. My new knowledge of this type of advocacy allowed me to reach out to the Spokane Tribal Business Council to propose a shareholder engagement approach with Newmont, which the Tribe approved.

Small tribes like the Spokane Tribe are “Davids” and typically have very little chance of gaining traction or a successful outcome when they engage with “Goliath” giants like Newmont, one of the world’s largest mining companies. One example is the Western Shoshone of Nevada and their decades-long battle to retain their lands and fight development like Newmont’s gold mines. The Spokane Tribe had a few advantages due to its increased capacity in SRI and the recent adoption of the UN Declaration, specifically the doctrine of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). The Spokane Tribe also had two starting points with the company. Newmont has corporate governance policies that commit to FPIC principles plus Newmont is a member of the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM). The ICMM has an Indigenous Peoples and Mining Position Statement reflecting FPIC. Though Newmont’s governance policies existed they had only made cursory attempts to create informative dialogue with Spokane Tribal leadership and Tribal citizens. The framework for creating fully informed communities for the purpose of providing formal consent to Newmont was never reached and perhaps never intended.

As a community, the Spokane Tribe had a choice to make. We could wait for engagement efforts to improve with Newmont by following a few paths; the Tribe chose to adopt two different paths simultaneously. We formally engaged Newmont in very public venues and reminded them of their own governance policies and the ICMM Position on Indigenous Peoples. We asked Newmont to formally take the opportunity to further implement FPIC on the ground, on our Reservation for the purpose of developing a fully informed community that would be able to provide consent to future actions by Newmont. Newmont’s Group Executive for Environmental and Social Responsibility publicly said “yes” to our proposal.

The Spokane Tribe also decided in the interest of nation building it was necessary to develop our own specific governance reflective of FPIC because of our connection to historic values of stewardship and a Seven Generation perspective. The tough part was finding an example of FPIC that was codified. Many Indigenous nations, governmental agencies, NGOs, environmental advocates, institutional investors, and industry leaders talk about FPIC. But we kept hitting dead ends in our search for specific written FPIC codes that would result in practical implementation.

I reached out to the US SIF’s IPWG Steering Committee for resources. Carla Fredericks, Director of the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado at Boulder, stepped up to assist. Carla and her law students dove into the work, connecting with our community stakeholders and Tribal leadership producing for the Spokane Tribe what we believe is a very solid body of work codifying FPIC.

Sadly, Newmont has chosen a different path. After an intense, lengthy, educational process regarding FPIC, the Spokane Tribe and Newmont had collectively developed a framework for community engagement. The framework would be implemented through a community liaison from Spokane Tribe for the purpose of fully informing the Tribal community about the impacts on Tribal culture, environment, social and governance systems and the effects over the short, mid and long-term. Newmont decided to make the community liaison position contingent on the Tribe making concessions on other parts of the agreement rather than the position being a fundamental cornerstone necessary for an honest and successful collaborative relationship. All of the public commitment in front of many Indigenous Nations, governmental agencies, NGO’s, environmental advocates, institutional investors, financial planners, and industry leaders turned out to be for the benefit of public perception rather than true collaboration.

I have told the story of one David and one Goliath. Here Goliath is one of the world’s largest gold mining companies. But I think Goliath is the extractive industry sector as a whole. Regardless, the risk exposure to shareholders of extractives companies is ever increasing. The hiding places of the Goliaths are all but disappearing and their devastating impacts on Indigenous Communities can no longer be concealed. Social media is putting corporations under a magnifying glass. This is an environment where Tribal nations like the Spokane Tribe of Indians innovate policy to assert their sovereignty reflecting historic cultural values woven with best practices. And, like David, Tribal nations have cast a stone at Goliath through governance reflecting inherent rights.The result of that governance, like the impact of the stone, results in risk to the company and the sector.

The financial risk to shareholders from the liabilities of extractive companies and their failure to adopt clear FPIC guidelines is real. The former era of blatant disregard for Indigenous Peoples is obsolete. It will become increasingly difficult for mining companies to operate as they have in the past in a “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” world as the UN Declaration becomes implemented more and more. Investors are demanding fuller disclosure and transparency from these types of companies. With support from investors, the Spokane Tribe and other Tribal Nations are now standing up to Goliath. Please stand with us.


Article by Jason Campbell  Jason’s organization, Areté Development Group, was launched after graduating with an MBA from Gonzaga University. Areté Development Group focuses on serving American Indian sovereignty by building connected self-sustaining communities. Through culturally based policy development woven with cutting edge practices and strategic partners, Areté Development Group strives to contribute to a quality of life for citizens of Native nations that reflects the core values of individual Tribes.

The development of sustainable capacity building opportunities, of which, socially responsible investing of financial assets is a part, represents the historic cultural values of stewardship and generosity.

Mr. Campbell has worked with Boston Common Asset Management on the Environmental, Social, and Governance team where he conducted corporate research and analysis. Jason also participated in meetings and events of the Indigenous Peoples Working Group (www.ussif.org/ipwg) of US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (www.ussif.org) that seeks to bring together Native and Non-Native communities in the area of sustainable, responsible, and impact investing (SRI).

The information in this article should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any security. All investments involve risk, including the risk of losing principal.


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