Since 1990, the United States has formally recognized November as Native American Heritage Month, a time when we can celebrate the culture, traditions and ways of this country’s Indigenous peoples, while also taking time to better understand our part in their often-painful history. We must also recognize that our country has a history of mistreatment and even genocide against indigenous people.
We can reflect on this collectively through our role as institutional investors. There are reports that should trouble us and spur us to action, like the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s Renewable Energy and Human Rights Benchmark 2021. Transition minerals, including nickel, lithium, cobalt, and platinum, are critical to the development of a green, low-carbon economy. Increased mining for these resources threatens indigenous rights and territories through the desecration of sacred places, pollution, and an increased risk of sexual violence and homicide. While international agreements provide for Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), the benchmark finds that barely one-quarter of companies had policies recognizing and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples.
We can recall that SGI has been a part of efforts to respect the rights of indigenous peoples. Investors played a significant role in retiring the offensive name of the Washington Football Team. Mercy Investment Services helped organize the letter that spurred the action. As the Washington Post noted: “The company’s request comes less than a week after a group of more than 85 investment firms and shareholders representing $620 billion in assets called on FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo to sever ties with the team unless Snyder changes its name.”
Moving forward, we can also collaborate with and participate in groups like the Investors & Indigenous Peoples Working Group (IIWPG). Launched in 2006 as a task force by US SIF, it became a stand alone organization in 2016. The IIWPG recently wrote an important Letter to the SEC concerning Indigenous Rights in ESG and Climate Disclosures. A recent news report described the group’s work here. In fact, ICCR’s fall conference had a great session outlining the work of the IIWPG entitled “Championing Indigenous Peoples Rights through Shareholder Advocacy.”
The IIWPG has also developed and gathered valuable resources for investors to use:
- Indigenous Sustainable Investment: Discussing Opportunities in ESG (First Nations Major Projects Coalition)
- Top Ten List: Indigenous Investment in ESG (First Nations Major Projects Coalition)
- Free, Prior and Informed Consent Due Diligence Questionnaire (First Peoples Worldwide)
If you are not a member of the Investors & Indigenous Peoples Working Group and would like to be, you can join the mailing list. The IIPWG invites investors to join its monthly calls. As well, the Group serves as a clearinghouse for education, news, and joint action to bridge and bring together Native and Non-Native communities on issues related to sustainable and responsible investing.
Perhaps the best way to honor Native American Heritage Month is to be a catalyst for change.