Oneida Nation: Rebuilding and Refining our SRI Practices
The Oneida Nation, located in northeast Wisconsin, was one of the first Native Nations to formally adopt Sustainable, Responsible and Impact investing policies for our trust assets. This resulted in nearly 30 years of engaging with companies as shareholders to bring forth issues impacting Native Country and the environment. While our involvement may not directly be responsible for changes to the ways companies do business or how new policies and agreements are formed, I’d like to think our involvement brought light to issues shareholders may not have seen before and acted as the catalyst for positive change.
This effort was led by one of the legends of Indigenous Impact investing, Susan White, who passed away far too early in 2018. As she would humbly request, this article is not about her selfless work to improve the lives of Oneidas and Native populations across the country and world; but instead the spotlight will be the process.
We hope hearing Oneida’s story of rebuilding and refining our SRI practices will inspire Advisors and key business decision makers to follow along. By intentionally crafting and revising our investing policies, we can further shape positive change for environmental, social and legislative issues.
The void of Susan’s departure created a unique opportunity to re-engage community leaders and garner support for our SRI objectives. The direction of our Trust assets is controlled by a nine-person, elected Committee. Our first SRI conversation started at that level and simply defined the primary issues and topics in which we wanted to make a difference. Our Committee is deeply appreciative of Susan’s work, and this conversation pushed several members into more of a leadership role around our SRI policy. The Committee took the reins and ran with it, adopting a strategic SRI resolution highlighting indigenous communities, environmental impacts, workplace safety, workplace diversity and community development.
Next, our Committee discussed the levels of engagement, participation and time available to work in these issues. To those starting off or without significant time available, partnering with an SRI money manager offers a great benefit. The right manager can perform screens based off issues that pertain most to your clients or business. They can bring current issues to your attention, provide opportunity to join current shareholder resolutions and keep you informed of current governance changes to these processes. One of Oneida’s first steps was to reengage with our current managers to better understand their SRI process and how we can best utilize their work. We are fortunate to be able to dedicate some staff time to SRI issues, and we have carved out a monthly agenda item with our Committee to highlight our progress and next steps. Fortune aside, we’re maximizing the time we have by leveraging our SRI managers and resources to not create extra work for either party.
The next step may be to network and become involved with other like-minded investors. This is where Oneida’s SRI engagement evolved from avoidance to activism. Whether it’s a general SRI group or one specific to niche issues or specific geographic areas, this is the entry point to learn about the specific issues and what is being done at the shareholder level to address them. There is tremendous value to witnessing the process as it evolves from an idealistic issue, into an actionable shareholder resolution, which can impact company or government policy. Oneida has prioritized re-familiarizing our staff and Committee with various networks and the current issues and projects they are currently working on.
In today’s technology driven world, all this networking can easily be accomplished in the comfort of your office by joining conference calls, email lists and working in online forums. However, if you have the time and resources available to attend a larger conference, the ability to meet peers and discuss issues is second to none. This is a welcoming community that understands the collective whole will always be greater than the sum of its parts. My first conference was an overwhelming response of friendly welcomes and people introducing themselves and sharing their connection to Oneida and/or Susan. Admittedly, I enjoy the privilege of displaying “Oneida Nation” on my name tag, but I’d be shocked to hear other newcomers not experiencing an equally warm welcome. As we recruit others to engage in ways meaningful to them, the momentum of positive change can only accelerate.
In Oneida, our process to replace a leader like Susan has been a community effort. Both the elected leaders and staff have taken ownership of the SRI initiatives. As responsible asset owners, we have intentionally and thoughtfully decided we’d like to make a difference with our assets. If you haven’t yet, we’re asking you to commit to the same. After that, it’s just the details of why and how to make a difference. As professionals entrusted with managing assets and businesses, we already perform the due diligence of matching investments to goals, objectives, time horizons, etc. It’s one more step forward to align our assets with the issues we care about as well.
Article by Keith Doxtator, the Oneida Nation Trust Enrollment Director. The role provides him a rewarding cross-section of cultural impact and financial planning. He received his B.S. from UW-Green Bay in Earth Sciences and M.S. from the American College in Financial Services. His love of numbers and solving puzzles directed his career path towards helping others plan their financial futures while owning a financial planning practice. Keith is a member of the Oneida Nation, and his current role provided an opportunity to widen the scope of people he can help. Keith lives in Appleton, WI with his wife and three children. When not cheering on the Badgers or Packers, he can be found hiking/biking the local trails or playing board games. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org