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Socially responsible investing gets a Native interface

Part two

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - When Rebecca Adamson took the podium to deliver two keynote speeches at an SRI in the Rockies conference in Albuquerque, N.M., last November, the occasion represented an opportunity that had been years in the making.

''They were very dynamic and well-received,'' said Bob Gough, of the Intertribal Council on Utilities Policy in Rosebud, S.D., and Native Wind in Boulder, Colo. ''It was good to hear them.''

''She'll tell you herself it's a culmination of her dream for 18 years,'' said Lisa Woll, CEO of the Social Investment Forum, the network of socially responsible investors that sponsors the SRI in the Rockies conferences. At the 2007 Albuquerque meeting, the forum hosted and helped to establish the Indigenous Rights Task Force of the Social Investment Forum, for Native people who are involved in socially responsible investing. Adamson delivered her first speech there, to an audience of 40 or so.

As president and founder of First Peoples Worldwide in Fredericksburg, Adamson has worked with indigenous individuals, organizations and governments worldwide to protect their territorial and land tenure rights. Along with others, she and FPW assisted the San of Botswana in winning a 2006 final court ruling that restored them to their lands in the Kalahari Desert. But the government, which had removed them from their homelands in the process of creating a so-called conservation park, has not enforced the ruling, Adamson told an audience of about 700 at a later plenary session.

And there was worse news, Adamson added. ''Starting with the Micmac and Yellowstone Park, indigenous peoples have been evicted to make way for national parks in about 230 cases to date. ... Globalization has accelerated the rate of what I call 'asset stripping' of indigenous peoples' lands ... Global indigenous peoples are 5 percent of population, 22 percent of land, 80 percent of the world's remaining biodiversity. The rate of asset stripping is devastating our peoples.'' It endangers the environment as well, she added, as indigenous stewardship often gives way to resource exploitation in one form or another.

Worse news still for her audience was that some of the best-funded conservationist organizations have collected large grants from environmentally conscientious donors to help accomplish ''conservation eviction.'' (The practice of displacing indigenous people from their homelands to make way for conservation parks also goes by the name of ''soft eviction.'') Conservation eviction has been led in large part by the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society, Adamson said.

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''I'm asking you to look at your corporate holdings and charitable giving programs and ask that free prior and informed consent [of indigenous communities] is required [before making grants and investments],'' she told the assembled SRI advocates and practitioners.

By the time she had finished, Woll said, many Social Investment Forum members had gotten the message. ''I think what Rebecca did was open our eyes that some of our members are making a mistake with people we would know who are supporting this conservation eviction. ... I think a lot of our people were shocked by this. It planted a seed with some of our members as to how they should work on this.''

The issue ''dials into'' or intersects with many of the fields in which forum members are engaged, Woll added, such as conservation, land rights, global warming and human rights: ''indigenous issues here and abroad.''

Adamson's speech and the response to it also made an impression on newcomers to socially responsible investing.

''I was impressed that there were socially responsible investors who really care about what happens to them [the San of Botswana],'' said Joan Williams, an officer of the Shinnecock Nation Gaming Authority, who had never heard of socially responsible investing before the conference. ''I would liken it to us, tribal nations.'' Without weapons, without knowing the settler language, she asked, ''How could we fight, how could we resist? It made me cry when she was describing what she did to try to help those people. I'm sure there were a lot of people had tears in their eyes when she finished.''

Jonny BearCub Stiffarm of NativeEnergy in Denver said she is new to SRI, but attended because Native Energy provides Social Investment Forum with ''carbon offsets'' for its conferences. She learned that socially responsible investing is interesting, exciting and useful for tribes: ''It's another way to leverage our political capital to improve our people.''

Invited to participate in wind energy discussions, Gough took the opportunity to attend his first full SRI in the Rockies conference. ''It appeared that there was a real interest on the part of the people there in Native American projects. And they were involving Native Americans in committees and in future meetings. We were delighted by that outcome.''