GreenMoney Interviews: Jan Bryan talks with Jason Campbell
As the guest editor of this edition of GreenMoney I had the opportunity to interview a leader in the Native American community and the first name that came to mind was Jason Campbell, because he understands how SRI can and does positively impact Indigenous Peoples. Jason was the 2010 recipient of the CFP Scholarship created by the Investors and Indigenous Peoples Working Group formerly at USSIF. Jason quickly understood that Sustainable, Responsible, Impact (SRI) investing could be a powerful force in Indian Country. He networked with SRI professionals and foundations like “Make it Right” and soon helped create a LEED Platinum affordable housing project on Fort Peck Reservation. Jason exemplifies the term “entrepreneur” and I recommend you follow his business trajectory as he takes “possibilities” and turns them into “reality.”
Jan Bryan: How did the Spokane tribe react initially to your proposal for the nation-building Sustainable Community Master Plan?
Jason Campbell: Nation-building implicitly is nothing new. When I started talking about nation-building specific to the energy sector, it made total sense to our elected leadership, to the citizens of the tribe. Renewable energy production is a form of stewardship, which is what their community has talked about as far back as they can remember.
I discovered that the Spokane tribe had on its books a very unique entity called Sovereign Power, Inc. When I took over Sovereign Power as CEO, it purely was engaged in power marketing. But if we’re going to be energy independent as a tribal nation, we also have to be into energy production, energy distribution and energy storage. We also have to be into legislative affairs.
Renewable forms of power production make sense. Solar makes sense.
We started off with a pilot project where we did residential scale solar, individual housing with low income houses and single moms. This Summer, we completed a community scale solar project with ten individual tribal governmental buildings.
Some of the challenges come in our governance. The largest of the buildings with solar is the Tribal Admin Building. We had to cap the size of that based on laws around how much can go into a single meter. The rooftop could have held a whole lot more.
We look at deploying this in a way where Spokane tribal citizens are gaining the skills necessary to design systems, install systems and engage in the operations and maintenance of those systems while mitigating monthly utility expenses for those vulnerable parts of our community.
Jan: How do you integrate your nation-building work with the climate resiliency work you were doing with your tribe?
Jason: The Spokane Indian reservation is roughly 160,000 acres. In the last several years, we’ve had two major wildfires. Each of those wildfires knocked out the power grid for an extended period of time. We lost houses. The fires really exposed the tribe’s vulnerability to continuity of governance and vulnerability to being able to serve members of our community.
We expanded on a planning effort that the tribe started through the Sustainable Communities Master Plan. We created an inventory of the state of the nation and a value set that the tribe wanted to follow moving forward. The Master Plan led to a more specific Wellpinit core revitalization plan that redesigned the major municipal seat on the reservation. The first major node incorporates renewable power generation through biomass heat timbers. Timber is the major industry, and largest employer, on the reservation.
We did an extensive biomass study based on the Department of Natural Resources 100 year forestry plan. We now have stamped engineered drawings of a biomass heat facility to build out a heat district that serves all of the major nodes in the community.
What is a bigger opportunity here? The Spokane Indian Reservation is a significant food desert. We built out a new grocery store that’s reflective of the Sustainable Communities master planning efforts. We reached out to Whole Foods market. We have Whole Foods-related people assisting with food access, store design, industry best practices, hard systems, and soft systems incorporating skilled labor development. We’re addressing the 45 percent tribal unemployment rate.
We’ve got a new grocery store with a learning kitchen that joins our food distribution program, and the commodities program. We can help people source healthy foods and start educating the community around doing the best with what you have.
Nation-building and addressing the food desert intersects energy in this way: The tribe was established through executive order in 1881. In 1889, pre-development began on Little Falls Hydroelectric Dam, which wholly sits on the Spokane Indian Reservation, but is part of the Columbia River watershed. The Spokane tribe were salmon people. The hydroelectric dam system eliminated those salmon runs, our source of food, a major source of education, and sources of medicine.
Jan: What is your business plan going forward?
Jason: The biomass heat district is one of two major projects in the pipeline. I’m building the capital stack. We will have direct relationships with federal departments, new markets, tax credits, and the impact investing community.
In close second place is utility scale solar. It’s through the formal permitting process. We have investors identified. We get to directly engage with our regional utility. The interconnection point is the Little Falls Hydroelectric Dam substation. We can engage in energy production at this place of historic trauma. We can rewrite the story in a very positive Spokane tribal value way where we are starting to control the landscape of that specific place, starting construction on that utility scale solar asset.
The challenges are state laws, federal laws, and the fact that now Sovereign Power is acting as a market disruptor.
Nation-building also lends itself to energy distribution, which requires us to build a formal tribal utility authority. We are about halfway through the process of building the Spokane Tribal Utility Authority.
In subsequent projects, we will build out the power storage side.
Jan: Is this process replicable with other tribes? If so, what advice would you give other tribes interested in embarking on a similar journey?
Jason: I absolutely believe that this model is replicable for every tribe. Tribes are unique and distinct.
Here is what’s universal if tribes are going to exercise self-determination and reflect true sovereignty: Vertically capturing the energy sector is absolutely necessary. There’s only one sector of nation-building that’s more critical than energy, and that’s water.
You tie it to all of the critical, critical history. And you fast forward to the present where the tribe is proactively reshaping the narrative to all of that traumatic space.
For more on Jason and his projects read this article form Native Business magazine
Jason Campbell is a citizen of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and a values-driven entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience overseeing sustainable development projects in Native communities. Campbell sits at the helm of multiple companies, including his own consulting company, Areté Development Group, all guided by the mission to improve self-determination, social responsibility and sustainability in Tribal nations. As CEO of Sovereign Power, Campbell identifies, leverages and develops renewable energy opportunities that promote energy independence for the Spokane Tribe of Indians. He sits on the Board of Directors for the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association and serves as an Advisory Board member for First Peoples Investment Engagement Program. Campbell holds an MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship from Gonzaga University, a Global Financial Strategist designation through Thunderbird, and completed the College for Financial Planning, Certified Financial Planner course. When he’s not nation building, Campbell spends his time elk hunting, fly fishing and exploring the wilds of Montana.
Jan Bryan has 30 years of experience in the field of Sustainable, Responsible and Impact investing. She is an Investment Advisory Representative of First Affirmative Financial Network, LLC, a Certified Financial Planner™, and Accredited Investment Fiduciary™ professional. First Affirmative is an independent Registered Investment Advisor with the Securities & Exchange Commission. Jan co-chairs Yethiya, the Investors and Indigenous Peoples Working Group (IIPWG) and she is a member of USSIF. Contact Jan here