Brad Pitt Makes it Right for Native Americans

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Brad Pitt Makes it Right for Native Americans

A new approach to housing for Indigenous Peoples
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - 11:05am


By Jason Campbell, founder and CEO of Arete Development Group

In spite of my lack of writing prowess I have chosen to share a story that in many ways parallels one that many of us are familiar with: the story of David and Goliath. Before we follow the path of David and before we identify Goliath, I would first like to share my story.

My entry into the world of Sustainable and Responsible Investing (SRI) occurred after successfully navigating an MBA program at Gonzaga University, after which a professor forwarded me a notice that US SIF’s Indigenous Peoples Working Group (IPWG) was offering a Certified Financial Planner® scholarship. US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment is the US membership association for professionals, firms, institutions and organizations engaged in sustainable, responsible, and impact investing. In 2009, US SIF pledged their financial and professional support to enable a Tribal citizen to engage in socially responsible investing via financial planning in a reservation setting. I applied and won the scholarship. While I initially saw this as a good opportunity to learn more about financial planning and socially responsible investing, I did not fully envision the opportunities for Indian Country that were lying just ahead. The CFP® course provided me with the tools and framework to conduct individual financial planning. I am utilizing what I learned through the financial planning coursework and my experience in sustainable and responsible investing to assist Tribal governments. I am working with the Spokane Tribe and Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes located in the Northwestern United States.

In the fall of 2011, I moderated a panel discussion “Business and Indigenous Rights: Why Corporations Need to Act Now” at the SRI Conference in New Orleans. The panel explored the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) and a specific framework of engagement in the Declaration - Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). This breakout session was one of the first to present the concept that there are financial costs to corporations for ignoring FPIC principles.  

At the SRI Conference I had the opportunity to join a tour of a community investing project in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans which was completely devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation (, in collaboration with the local community, was working to help rebuild the Lower 9th Ward using the highest standards of green/sustainable building along with guiding principles defined by the local community. During the tour I saw how this collaboration was helping a devastated community. It crossed my mind that a similar project might work on American Indian reservations. Tom Darden, Executive Director of Make It Right, attended the SRI Conference, where he was kind enough to let me share with him the parallels I saw between the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the economic disaster areas where many Tribal reservations are located in the United States. My question for Tom and Make It Right was whether they would share their innovative model, a community-driven approach to socially responsible and sustainable neighborhood development with Native Tribes and reservations in dire need. They said “yes” and we started with the Ft. Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana. Through a process employing extensive collaboration between the Tribes of the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation’s leadership, Tribal citizens, and with Make it Right Foundation there will be 20 families living in LEED Platinum homes (funded through a low income housing tax credit) in the fall of 2015. [USA Today article on the homes-]. This is step one of a much larger nation building vision driven by core principles generated by Tribal citizens of the reservation.

Earlier in 2011 before I approached Make It Right at the SRI Conference, I inquired of Steven Heim (Steering committee member of US SIF’s Indigenous Peoples’ Working Group and Director of ESG Research/Shareowner Engagement at Boston Common Asset Management) about how I could better understand sustainable, responsible and impact investing particularly on the institutional side. This would be increasingly important to understand due to the work I was starting to do with Tribes. Steven’s support and commitment to my professional development and his creative approach to solutions led to some research work that summer with Boston Common Asset Management and the Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) team that Steven leads. The Boston Common family welcomed me, and for that support I will forever be thankful. As you are about to learn, my time with Boston Common’s ESG team has led to a series of events that has fostered tremendous growth and innovation in my professional life particularly in combining sustainable, responsible and impact investment strategies with FPIC principles on my reservation and across Indian Country.

During my internship with Boston Common my sister sent me an article from my local Spokane newspaper. A Spokane Tribal citizen was on the front page of a multiple full-page article outlining the horrific impacts of a legacy uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Back in the late 1950’s a unit of Newmont Mining led the Spokane Tribe to believe that extracting uranium in support of the Cold War would create desperately needed jobs and be totally safe. Newmont used the Tribe as a disposable workforce that is feeling the adverse effects even today. Newmont also never bothered to clean up the mine site that went dormant in the 1980’s and is now a $200 million EPA Superfund site. The resulting contamination includes high cancer rates and other diseases, contamination of water, sacred sites, medicinal plant gathering sites, and elk calving grounds. 

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