Partnering with Indigenous Peoples to Ensure a Just Transition
March 1st Edition Overview
As I read through the articles for this March 1st Edition by so many esteemed contributors, I am struck by the progress that we have made together in this field. Our work has led us all to consider individually–and now collectively–the frameworks and practices necessary to implement a just transition with and for Indigenous Peoples.
Just transition, in its widest definition, encompasses all the complex interactions between individual and communities, between local and trans-global economies, and between consumptive approaches to natural resources and long-term sustainability. I venture a guess that we are all wading into this complexity because we see that the current paradigm that is resulting in climate chaos and community instability is no longer tolerable.
It is deplorable, but no accident, that Indigenous Peoples were over-represented in the number of human rights defenders murdered in the last few years. It is also not surprising that Indigenous Peoples care for 50 percent of the earth’s land surface but have legal title to only 10 percent. By marginalizing Indigenous Peoples, global leadership has fueled destruction of the planet and its people.
On a personal note, I am humbled to be a part of this movement of Indigenous Peoples and impact investors from my position as Director of First Peoples Worldwide. I watched for a decade as First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) led in creating innovative approaches to indigenizing corporate values. So, I was especially honored when Rebecca Adamson, founder of First Peoples, called to ask if I would continue the organization’s trailblazing work upon her retirement.
First Peoples, from its inception, has pushed the cutting edge of thought-leadership and applied research that integrates indigenous worldviews into mainstream investing practices. In part, Rebecca’s innovation came from her shrewd observation that mainstream investing principles were too narrow to encompass indigenous values. So, not one to eschew hard work, she redefined those principles. She redefined capital as inclusive of natural resources and community, and she empowered individuals as shareholders within their own community ecosystems. Then, Rebecca brought those definitions to boardrooms as fundamental design principles upon which investors could deploy meaningful impact investment consonant with the expertise and rights of Indigenous Peoples.
First Peoples Worldwide has continued initiatives to conduct Shareholder Advocacy Leadership Training workshops to tribes and Native collectives; to generate innovative, applied research on the “S” in ESG; and to articulate and address the impacts of infrastructure development unique to indigenous communities. With the transition of FPW to the University of Colorado, we were also able to create the Rebecca Adamson Indigenous Rights & Business Scholarship to support indigenous scholars in their graduate careers.
In the vein of ever moving the needle forward for Indigenous Peoples, we at First Peoples Worldwide announced in August 2019 that we are designing a model for a private equity fund. The ideas behind the fund are further explored in Issue 2, but I note here that the concept for the First Peoples Private Equity Fund came from our experience watching deals made between Indigenous Peoples and outside entities where too few of the benefits inured to the Indigenous Peoples whose resources formed the core of the investment.
Our goal is to create a new pathway for investments that is Indigenous-driven from beginning to end. In short, we seek to harness the strengths of private equity to amplify Indigenous self-determination, produce financial success, and forward renewable energy.
Maybe she wouldn’t have put it this way at the time, but now, in this era, I believe Rebecca laid the foundation for critical aspects of our current discussion of just transition. The ideas behind just transition of creating inclusive economies that simultaneously value social, economic and cultural wellbeing, and of creating viable vehicles for investment in indigenous communities are a central part of these discussions.
In the first of two issues, publishing in March 2020, we focus on ways that tribal communities are leading as entrepreneurs in sustainable development. In the second issue, we pivot to how investors can partner with Indigenous Peoples to achieve a more sustainable future. I hope that these issues serve as a catalyst to spur discussion and cross-pollination of ideas as we elevate the rights of Indigenous Peoples into new definitions of economic wellness and return on investment.
Article by Carla Fredericks, Director of the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado Law School and Director of the First Peoples Worldwide. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado and Columbia Law School.
Ms. Fredericks’s areas of research expertise include indigenous peoples law, federal Indian law, human rights, development, finance, and business and human rights.
Ms. Fredericks has significant practice experience in securities litigation and was previously a partner at Milberg LLP in New York, where she also founded Milberg’s Native American practice and directed the firm’s civil/human rights litigation. She maintains an active pro bono practice focused on complex and appellate litigation and Native American affairs, representing Indian tribes and organizations in a variety of litigation and policy matters. She is chair of the Board of Trustees for the Mashantucket Pequot (Western) Endowment Trust. Finally, she is a proud, enrolled citizen of the Mandan Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation of North Dakota.