Solving the SRI Puzzle
My journey understanding Sustainable Responsible Impact Investing (SRI) and how to implement it within Indian Country has been a captivating and everchanging learning experience. This journey led me to meet many inspiring people along the way that have dedicated their lives to the SRI beliefs. Their commitment and enthusiasm have captured my attention from the beginning and kept me moving forward to help solve this puzzle for my tribe. I am a proud enrolled member of Ho-Chunk Nation (HCN), People of the Big Voice, in Wisconsin, with over 7,000 tribal members nationwide.
My introduction to SRI was puzzling indeed and normally I like to consider that I catch onto concepts and theories rather rapidly but for the SRI concept eluded me initially. At this time, in 2005, SRI stood for Socially Responsible Investing and even the title puzzled me. As I began to research this concept my understanding grew but honestly more in a book sense. Initially my thoughts resulted in doubts that only translated in my mind to “loss of income” to those participating. Because I love challenges, I felt that I really needed to gain a better understanding for myself. My recollection was of a prior conference where I heard about a tribal member, Susan White (Oneida Nation Trust Officer) implementing an SRI policy. I reached out to Susan and from there the puzzle began to come together.
Similar to that of other tribes, we began the path of Native Gaming operations decades ago that resulted in gaming per capita payments for our enrolled members. The minors’ (underage tribal members) cut of the pie is placed in trusts and invested until they turn 18, at which time the assets are distributed. Without investing expertise at that time, our tribe relied upon outside professionals to make those investments on our behalf. The importance of how we can use our investments to support Indian County and our own beliefs as a tribe began to grow through our awareness of SRI.
Ho-Chunk Nation’s original investment policy statement from the 1990’s for the minors’ trust fund initially included a statement that divested alcohol companies from the portfolio and had not been updated since that time. As I worked as Treasurer for the Ho-Chunk Nation, my awareness of the need to focus fiduciary oversight over the tribe’s portfolios grew. My work continued as I assumed the new, first ever financial position created within the Ho-Chunk Legislative branch – Financial Examiner. A Children’s Trust Fund task force was created to strengthen the much-needed oversight that included SRI discussions. Visits from our (Ho-Chunk/HCN) Legislature with Oneida Trust Committee from Oneida Nation of Wisconsin resulted in participation in an SRI conference attended by many HCN Legislators which moved efforts forward. Through dedicated efforts and focus of our elected officials, we discovered the need to pursue alternative vendors that were cognizant, open to our voice and the SRI elements. In 2012, an overhaul of our Investment Policy Statement (IPS) for our minors’ trust included SRI language and we actively engaged our seven member Trust & Investment Committee in the process of adopting SRI guidelines within our minors’ trust IPS.
The once separate puzzle pieces began to come together as I began to work closer with the Investors & Indigenous Working Group (IIPWG). This group was the glue needed to bring the puzzle pieces together. The passion, the heart, the purpose became clear for pursuing SRI and the value became apparent. Once I had this understanding from listening to my predecessors, it motivated me to share with others. The presentations, IIPWG monthly phone calls, attendance at both the USSIF Conference and The SRI Conference produced more of the pieces that clarified why this is so important to Indian Country.
Our legislators passed a motion to support the IIPWG efforts by protesting the offensive Washington Redskins NFL team name. Their efforts included a demonstration at Minneapolis stadium when the Vikings were playing the Washington team. Following that, HCN provided our Fed Ex proxy votes to file a resolution on the floor of the Fed Ex annual meeting. Lending proxy votes to have a voice became part of our new practice with the SRI component of our investment portfolios. This type of shareholder activism tool was new to the tribe and has been an educational process. We have also joined in efforts using our proxies to oppose some mining company practices. Most recently HCN supported the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and we continue to use our united voice through the IIPWG in support of a nationwide voice to have our culture, values and way of life preserved into the future.
Our current puzzle pieces have found their place by integrating SRI language into all of our investment portfolios and contractual agreements so that we can build on the work we have started. Our Trust & Investment Committee work is supportive of the strengthening of the Equator Principles framework, lending proxy votes for activism, and building core SRI policy that actively uses our investments as a voice for Indigenous rights.
As my heart began to lead me on this path, I have moved away from Gaming Financial Management as a career to Native community work through a non-profit Native CDFI, Community Development Financial Institution. Once exposed to all the great work in the SRI environment, my dedication moved to directly working in the communities to make a difference. Impact Investing can make dreams happen for tribal communities and I want to be a conduit for that to happen. The vision is to connect these worlds together and use our investments not only for building financial wealth but creating a long-term sustainable people/societal wealth that includes indigenous people.
I am extremely indebted to our predecessors and all those working to build a stronger, bigger voice for Indigenous rights throughout our country and others. Our puzzle is not complete but has enough pieces to create a beautiful core framework that will continue to march forward in hopes of setting an example for other tribes to join. The glue is the heart, the passion, the commitment to value our mother earth and all the core values of our tribal communities past, present and the future.
Article by Becky Albert-Breed, Executive Director, First Nations Community Financial. Becky is an enrolled tribal member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. She holds a bachelor degree in accounting from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University. Prior work experience includes both internal and external auditing for City of Milwaukee, large corporate bank, tribal government and gaming. Ho-Chunk Nation financial positions include Treasurer, Business Finance Director over Casinos and C-Stores, and Legislative Financial Examiner. She was instrumental in advocating for positive change within the Children’s Trust Funds for her tribe. This effort lead to establishment of the Trust & Investment Committee to preserve and protect investments of her tribe with portfolios holding over half a billion dollars and has served on the committee since inception in 2011.
Becky has served as Chairperson at First Nations Community Financial (FNCF), a Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) since its inception in 2010. She is excited to recently transition to the Executive Director role at FNCF.