Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Adamson’


How We Make Progress, How We Have Change: Rebecca Adamson

Reposted from the Cultural Survival Quarterly

By Agnes Portalewska


Her voice reflects her passion. Her work reflects her commitment. Her legacy is an inspiration for many. Rebecca Adamson (Cherokee) is a businessperson and Indigenous rights advocate. She is the former director, president, and founder of First Nations Development Institute and the founder of First Peoples Worldwide. Born to a Swedish-American father and a Cherokee mother, Adamson grew up in Akron, Ohio and spent summers with her Cherokee grandmother in North Carolina. Reflecting on these early years, she says, “My journey and my vision has been driven by knowing we could solve our own problems and really wanting to listen to the ways our cultures helped us and supported our problem solving.”

Early in her career Adamson was hired by the coalition of five Indian Controlled Schools in the country. As she tells it, “the schools sued [then-President] Nixon to release the Title IV Indian Education funds. Title IV provided funds for parental involvement, among other things.” With the release of that money, the Coalition of Indian Controlled Schools were able to help tribes start their own schools. “All of this dovetailed into the Indian Education Self Determination Act. After they won and then they hired me, and I got to work in our communities, and it was amazing.” She also worked to get the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 passed, giving tribes authority for how they administered the funds.

Adamson’s background was in philosophy, a field she entered with “an undying belief that as Indigenous Peoples, we needed our own models. People constantly look at our systems and they talk about them being quaint. We get pushed back on two things: one is that the principles that I call ‘fundamental design principles’ are called romantic notions in Western thinking. But then they get caught up thinking that we’re saying individual Indians are better than individual Westerners. Both of those are just wrong. We [have] built systems that actually incentivize the good behavior.”

Later, as she pursued a graduate degree in economics and “began really looking into the finances of it,” she says, “what really hit me was how all the models that we were taking out into our communities carried Western values—they weren’t our values. So I thought if we had a development process that really listened and brought the technical and the resources together with the brilliant thinking and problemsolving of Indigenous peoples, we would get new models.” This is how the idea for First Nations Development Institute was born in 1980.

Initially, the primary purpose of First Nations Development Institute was to create a development process for Native people to do their own problem solving. The Institute created the land consolidation model, the tribal investment model, marketing, arts, food sovereignty, traditional food processes, agriculture, and the first micro-loan fund in the United States. The first 15 years were devoted to exploring Indigenous economics domestically, and the Institute began global outreach in 1994. Their first international field project grew into First Peoples Worldwide.

Since 2007, First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund has awarded nearly $1.5 million to Indigenous communities around the world representing 427 Indigenous groups in 53 countries. “Making that international transition has been extremely rewarding,” Adamson says. “It is magnitudes more difficult, more violent, and more discriminatory internationally, with what other Indigenous groups are facing. The grants are really what bring the energy and excitement and the heartbeat into our work.” She adds that the fund has supported projects that are “really struggling in dealing with huge global corporations and the pressure of being surrounded by the extractive industries and the governments that want the resources. In those cases we may be the only funder out there that is funding our communities to make their own decisions. One-third of our grantmaking portfolio had never had funding before. So we’re building those links back up to national and international groups so that we build that political machinery, bit by bit.”

For Adamson, getting corporations and governments to respect Indigenous rights requires a multipronged approach. “In the long run I think the activist groups keep the heat on. Social media has absolutely been bringing attention to it. If corporations want to manage by headlines, we’ve got to get them headlines. The activist groups are doing good work on that. Legal and rights groups are trying to get legal precedents set. What hasn’t really been approached in all this is the market. That’s why First Peoples Worldwide did the Indigenous Rights Risk Report (see page 14), to try to get one more strategic tool out there that we could all use. I think it really will bring more power and augment what we’ve already got underway,” she says.

Forward progress, however, isn’t always linear: “We don’t have a silver bullet anywhere. We could win a court case and the government decides not to uphold it. We could win an activist and media campaign, and as soon as the headlines die down they turn around and do it again. We make progress and then we slide back. [But] that is how we make progress and that is how we have change. “

After concluding its risk assessment of US-based extractive companies, First Peoples Worldwide is now turning its attention to Canada; Adamson estimates that about 70 percent of the global equity capital financing oil, gas, and mining comes from the Canadian exchange. “What we hope to do is bring the Indigenous groups in areas where we’re researching together with the other groups in the areas we’ve already researched. That’s the idea, to really start sharing this information among ourselves,” she says.

To aid in this information sharing, First Peoples Worldwide is currently developing curriculum on shareholder advocacy and planning to organize Indigenous shareholder advocacy leadership training centers in Indigenous areas where resource extraction is rampant. “We are organizing these centers so that our people in those places have the accountability they need to really negotiate and control their destinies with these corporations and with the government,” she explains.

Getting resources and information to the grassroots is a must for Adamson. “Real successes have been primarily [achieved] by us, by Indigenous people. We’ve got thousands of grassroots groups out there, and we need to be able to link them with the international and national groups. We have an ability to build the political machinery globally that we need to achieve change. We need more local capacity. Funders right now tend to build somebody else’s capacity, to study us, to work for us, to be an intermediary with us, but never fund us.” She cites the adoption of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as a prime example: “We saw hundreds of thousands of dollars going out to non-Indigenous groups to do FPIC studies. The Indigenous groups are the ones having to figure out how to implement it, and yet all of the resources went to other folks to study us in doing it.”

Adamson believes that Canada, at the epicenter of so many protests and recent controversies around FPIC and Indigenous rights, “is really the microcosm of all of this. What the First Nations have made [Prime Minister] Harper’s administration understand is they can stop his resource development agenda.” She also points to the Amazon region, which “has had the lowest bids on concessions in its history,” a cause she attributes directly to protests and work stoppages. “We can stop the production and the extraction of these resources and get heard, but it’s a path that could lead to violence, which in many cases has been a struggle for our lives,” she says.

As the First Peoples’ risk report illustrates, in-country risk is one of the biggest drivers of corporate risk. “Corporations want to go to where there’s the least risk, and if it’s working with us, we can be at the table directing the government to title our land, uphold our rights,” Adamson says. “We are finding out through the risk report that it’s good business when countries uphold Indigenous rights. My hope is that we can get the results into the market quicker; that we can prove that countries that want economic performance have to uphold our rights to get it, and companies that want profit have to uphold our rights to get the profit. We’ve got to get that message out more and more.”

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Indigenous Rights Risk Report Quantifies Social Risks of Extractive Companies

Reposted from Cultural Survival, originally published December 15, 2014

By Madeline McGill

Further complications between extraction industries and Indigenous Peoples have been unveiled in a new report published by First Peoples Worldwide. The report, The Indigenous Rights Risk Report: How Violating Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Increases Industry Risks, found that U.S. extractive companies expose shareholders to tangible risks in neglecting the rights of the Nation’s Indigenous.

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

First Peoples’ Indigenous Rights Risk Report analyzes 370 oil, gas and mining sites on or near Indigenous land operated by 52 U.S.-based companies. The results are eye opening. 92% of these sites pose a medium to high risk to shareholders and investors. Yet only 5 companies have Indigenous Peoples policies to guide the company for how to positively engage and work with Indigenous Peoples. Co-written by Rebecca Adamson and Nick Pelosi, the report quantifies many of the social risks posed by extractive industries. Until now, such grievances have been difficult to prove, which has made it difficult to evaluate social risks.

“The push back on evaluating social risks, or at least as far as the conventional wisdom goes, is that there are no quantitative metrics,” said Rebecca Adamson, founder of First Peoples Worldwide and author of the report.  “Meaning, social risks are considered to be ‘intangibles’ a word the market uses to ignore whatever it does not want to have to deal with, such as the environment, is intangible. However, like the environment, we are seeing much more public pressure for corporations to be responsible for their footprints: planet and society. The funny thing about ‘intangibles’ is how much attention they are getting in the market nowadays.”

Now that attention is being granted to some of these issues, the next step is to incentivize companies to implement policy that recognizes these risks.

“Indigenous Peoples are securing unprecedented recognition of their rights from governments,” the report states. “But these impressive legal gains are matched with chronic gaps in implementation, especially as they relate to resource extraction.”

One of these gaps is the failure of many extraction companies to formally observe the land and human rights of Indigenous people. Adamson believes that these injustices can be addressed by holding companies accountable not only morally, but also economically.

“If you have bad credit you pay a higher interest rate,” Adamson said. “This is how the market works. So the idea behind the Risk Report is to quantify the risk companies encounter when they violate free prior informed consent and tie it to their cost of capital. That way a company that consistently violates Indigenous Rights will be rated riskier than one that upholds our rights, and therefore it will have to pay higher financing costs.”

This, she believes, will incentivize companies to take action in a way that local, national, and international governmental bodies have not been able to successfully achieve. The Indigenous Rights Risk Report hopefully will speak to profit-based companies in a language they more readily comprehend: their market value.

“I don’t have much faith in either the national or international political leadership,” said Adamson, “many of the countries are not implementing UNDRIP, courts are slow to rule and often rulings get ignored. The activists are raising awareness and public pressure is mounting. Social media has helped catapult the issue onto national and international attention but the end game for corporations is still about keeping your stock price up and there is no incentive to change yet.  No one strategy will solve it we have to continue to build on the legal successes, look for gaps and new strategies, and get more resources flowing directly to our communities. However, using market mechanisms is a crucial void this Report intends to fill.”

Currently, the report states, action is taken to address these social risks if and only if tangible negative consequences arise. This fire-alarm method of regulation, the report finds, is beneficial to neither party.

“These informational loopholes limit the financial sector’s ability to comprehensively manage social risks…” the report states. “In the absence of market incentives for proactively addressing social risks, companies are not prompted to do so until things go wrong, and social risks become social costs.”

The Indigenous Rights Risk Report serves to evaluate these risks both quantitatively and with respect to the most pressing human rights issues affecting Indigenous people.

Looking at 52 oil, gas, and mining companies listed on the Russell 1000 Index (a stock market index that represents the 1,000 largest publicly-held companies in the US), First Peoples Worldwide identified those which overlapped with Indigenous Peoples. From there, they used five risk indicators (Country Risk, Reputation Risk, Community Risk, Legal Risk, and Risk Management) to rate each company on a scale of low to high risk, indicated through numbers 1 through 5.

The findings, as expected, were not positive. 330 projects were assessed for risks associated with operating country, companies’ reputation, the engaged Indigenous community, legal action, and risk management. 35% of those projects had high-risk exposure, and 54% had medium-risk exposure.

The report found that a majority of companies were not exhibiting adequate efforts to establish positive relationships with Indigenous communities. 92% of companies surveyed did not address community relations or human rights at the board level in any formal capacity.

Many found to be at high levels of risk were both small and large companies alike. Companies such as Alpha Natural Resources and Southwestern Energy were found with risk scores of 100%. Companies with risk scores of 50% included names such as Chevron Corporation and Murphy Oil.

Adamson hopes that the report will garner the attention of some of these companies, who rely on intangible assets such as intellectual property, human and social capital, reputation and goodwill, and even risk management accounting for 80% in the valuation assessment of their stock.

It is the purpose of the report, Adamson explains, to link corporate accountability to Indigenous social costs such as overburdened roads and utilities, increased crime, housing shortages, and polluted waters.

“In the case of Indigenous social concerns there will be cultural practices, sacred sites, subsistence livelihoods — all crucial elements of the social costs we face when corporations come into our territories with or without our consent. By identifying and quantifying these impacts Indigenous Peoples are better informed to make decisions and set development agendas on their own terms. And corporations are better equipped to listen to those terms.”

However, the news is not all bad. There are corporations taking steps towards social awareness. Conoco Philips, Exxon Mobil, Freeport-McMoRan, and Newport Mining all had board committees with community relations or human rights in their mandates. Furthermore, Exxon Mobil has an active and independent external body to advise and evaluate its community relations or human rights performance. While larger companies such as Exxon may be more incentivized for these actions to avoid negative media exposure, they are a step in the right direction.

Adamson believes that with the unprecedented findings of the report and a more unified front, real change could be seen in the relationship between Indigenous people and extractive industries.

“Indigenous Peoples have the potential to set a major portion of the extractive industries agenda but we have to be so much more united and organized,” Adamson said. “The data we collected for the Risk Report was sometimes erratic and had gaps so we were unable to calculate what the total production and future reserves were for Indigenous lands. However, there was a pattern that ran close to 30 % of current production was coming from Indigenous lands and up to 60% of the future reserves were on Indigenous lands. This is HUGE. If we were more united we could harness the market forces and make sure it is no longer business as usual. United we could be sure we are all heard in the corporate boardroom whether the answer is NO to development or whether it is YES. Indigenous Peoples would be the ones determining the relationship they want to have with corporations.”

Read the Indigenous Rights Risks Report here.


Cultural Survival helps Indigenous Peoples around the world defend their lands, languages, and cultures as they deal with issues like the one you’ve just read about.


World Bank Makes Killing Indigenous Peoples More Profitable

The World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework draft neglects Indigenous rights

Washington, D.C. – Not only does the World Bank’s new Environment and Social Framework (ESF) draft incentivize governments to ignore Indigenous peoples, it strategically neglects Indigenous and human rights of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) and protection from forced evictions. Despite the Bank’s repeated “alignment” with international human rights laws and standards, the new ESF draft prioritizes rapid loan approval for borrower countries over protection of human rights, by allowing countries to “opt-out” of FPIC requirements if they do not recognize Indigenous peoples within their border. The neglect of Indigenous rights in the new ESF draft sends a clear and false message that protecting Indigenous peoples, let alone basic human rights, should drive up the cost of lending.

A set of environmental and social safeguards designed to support borrower countries’ Bank-funded projects, the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) draft was released for consultation on July 30, 2014. A concerned letter from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHCR) accuses the World Bank of continually prioritizing rapid approval of loans over the enforcement of safeguards, likely due to increased competition from other lenders to secure the “business” of developing country borrowers. However, incentivizing governments to adopt poor engagement practices with Indigenous peoples is counter-intuitive: countries that have negligible or non-existent policies toward Indigenous peoples are found to pose a much higher business risk than those that do have Indigenous policies, according to a recent study by First Peoples Worldwide. The Bank is cultivating a more hostile environment, both for Indigenous communities and business, with this safeguard draft.

While the ESF draft does require borrower countries to obtain Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) from Indigenous communities, it allows countries to define who Indigenous peoples are to begin with. Countries where “the existence or notion of Indigenous peoples is contested” can choose to opt-out of the ESF’s FPIC requirements – essentially incentivizing governments with fewer standards to comply with if they choose to not recognize Indigenous peoples within their borders. If countries decide to opt-out, the piecemeal treatment of rights throughout the document fails to protect Indigenous rights under any other safeguard clause. Even if countries do comply with the FPIC requirement, the processes for acquiring FPIC outlined in the ESF draft don’t comply with international standards, and don’t require requesting parties to have meaningful consultations with or participation of affected Indigenous peoples.

The Bank also backpedaled on their land acquisition, restrictions on land use, and involuntary resettlement standards, particularly concerning for Indigenous peoples. While an existing standard (ESS5) states that involuntary resettlement should be avoided, the new ESF draft fails to prohibit projects that will cause forced evictions, and fails to recognize that forced evictions violate international human rights law. There is also no reference to the need for prior notice before resettlement, security of tenure, access to public services and facilities, and most alarmingly, no prohibition on use of bank funds for land grabbing and the consequent displacement of people.

Photo Credit: The Guardian

Photo Credit: The Guardian

Moreover, the recent evictions of Sengwer peoples in Kenya due to a Bank-funded project demonstrate the Bank’s regard for Indigenous lives – that they have none. When a Bank-financed watershed conservation project in the Embobut Forest of Kenya resulted in forced evictions, the Sengwer community challenged the project through litigation in Kenyan courts and filed a complaint with the World Bank. “As the World Bank started to defy their own safeguards, the Sengwer started looking for ways to end the negative impacts the project was having on their community,” says Rebecca Adamson, president and founder of First Peoples Worldwide. “We’re all familiar with a race to the bottom in the business world, but now we are seeing it in the international aid world too.” The Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme is a grantee of First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund.

The ESF draft egregiously avoids significant mentions of human rights or international human rights law throughout most of the document. Although the Bank has aligned itself and its operations in support of human rights through its Articles of Agreement, the ESF fails to stipulate how. While the draft includes a new standard on Indigenous peoples rights, they are built into the document incrementally. The ESF draft does not include a comprehensive safeguard that addresses all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights collectively, as in other international human rights laws and standards. Furthermore, the human rights norms expressed in the ESF draft fail to reflect any existing human rights laws and standards, which may muddle implementation and enforcement. The UNHRC calls for the World Bank to include human rights within its overall program objectives, and incorporate due diligence into its risk management policies.

Read the UN Human Rights Council’s letter of concern here.


The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative: An Opportunity for Indigenous Resource Rights

By Nick Pelosi

Research by the Property and Environment Research Center shows that Native American reservations contain “30% of the coal reserves west of the Mississippi, 50% of potential uranium reserves, and 20% of known oil and gas reserves.” The Council of Energy Resource Tribes estimates the value of these resources at nearly $1.5 trillion. Although a number of tribes are embracing resource extraction as a pathway to economic prosperity, Native Americans and Alaska Natives remain the most impoverished demographic in the country, indicating that federal policies may not be allocating dollars generated from tribal resources as equitably as they should be. Furthermore, debates surrounding what, where, and how much to extract can elicit rifts within communities. In some cases, these problems are exacerbated by minimal transparency requirements for mineral leases on tribal lands.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international standard for openness around the management of natural resource revenues, presents opportunities for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and other Indigenous Peoples to influence emerging transparency laws and norms in ways that benefit their communities, at the local, national, and international levels. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not being realized to their fullest potential due to limited Indigenous participation. Indigenous Peoples’ disproportionate suffering from the negative impacts of resource extraction is perpetuated by their chronic invisibility in movements for corporate accountability and financial reform.


EITI requires resource companies to disclose revenues paid to governments, and governments to disclose revenues received from resource companies. The two data sets are independently reviewed, and released to the public. To date, 31 countries have achieved EITI compliance, and another 17 are considered EITI candidates. Each country creates its own EITI implementation process adapted to its specific national context.

In September 2011, the US announced intentions to become EITI compliant, and established a Multi Stakeholder Group (MSG) comprised of government, industry, and civil society representatives, to oversee the implementation process, define the reporting scope, and prepare an application for EITI candidacy. The application was submitted to the international EITI board in December 2013, and approved in March 2014.

The MSG is developing a tribal opt-in procedure that will enable tribes to institute voluntary USEITI reporting on revenues received from resource companies. However, this process has been hampered by a lack of tribal representation on the MSG. Initially, Rebecca Adamson (First Peoples Worldwide’s Founder and President) was the only Native American representing civil society, and the three spots allocated for tribal governments were vacant. A representative from the Wind River Reservation recently filled one of those spots, but the others remain unoccupied, despite an open call for nominations.

This is costing Native Americans and Alaska Natives opportunities to have their voices heard in a critical policymaking forum, and suggests that the tribal opt in procedure, once developed, will meet little interest from tribal governments. This would cause the benefits of transparency to go unrealized by Native American and Alaska Native communities, while exempting vast portions of resource revenues from the disclosure requirements being formulated under the USEITI framework.

It is true that tribes must be permitted to enter agreements with reasonable provisions for protective confidentiality. Tribal leaders have expressed legitimate concerns that data collected on natural resource revenues could be used against their communities. In Canada, recent transparency legislation met criticism from Aboriginals who believe the government will justify reduced funding for Aboriginal programs and services based on revenues coming from the private sector. Hayden King, Director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, writes that “because of the likely superficial media reporting we can expect many to run with the popular ‘corrupt chief’ narrative to shape their desired policy changes. Many so-called experts on First Nations peoples in the media and politics will generalize to indict all leaders as taxpayer leeches…[and] to call for the erosion of treaties, end of ‘special’ Indian status, privatization of reserves, etc.”

At the same time, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) requires resource projects to obtain Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) from Indigenous Peoples, also defined as “broad community support.” When determining whether to give or withhold consent, community members must have the information they need to gauge whether the economic advantages of resource extraction sufficiently offset the social and environmental costs. As national and tribal governments grapple with the complexities of FPIC implementation, transparency provides a crucial conduit for rallying community consensus around development activities that impact them, and making the principles of UNDRIP a reality.

Transparency must be addressed in ways that balance the tensions between proprietary discretion and public interests, and an essential first step is bringing more tribal voices into the conversation through representation on the MSG. Improved outreach to Native American and Alaska Native communities is key to making this happen. To date, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ communications about USEITI have embodied its “government to government” relationship with tribes, and are thus siloed from many tribal institutions, community organizations, and individuals that stand to catalyze action on the issue.

Additionally, Indigenous Peoples would benefit from representation on the international EITI board, which currently has no Indigenous members, as well as in national EITI implementation processes in their respective countries. For the international EITI board, each constituency (government, industry, and civil society) organizes its own selection of representatives, with the next call for nominations opening in 2016. If employed the right way, improved transparency would enable Indigenous Peoples to restrict the ability of governments and companies to extract their resources without giving them a fair share of the profits, and reverse longstanding patterns of exploitation that have come to characterize development of their lands.


Survey for Users of Extractive Industry Data

The United States is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a voluntary, global effort designed to increase transparency and accountability for the revenues paid and received for a country’s oil, gas and mineral resources. Countries that sign up to the EITI agree to adopt its reporting standard and to publish a report in which governments and companies publicly disclose, at the “project level,” the royalties, rents, bonuses, taxes and other payments generated from oil, gas, and mining resources.

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is working with other civil society/non-governmental organizations to gather information to contribute to the U.S. effort to reach compliance with the EITI standard. A federal advisory committee composed of civil society, government, and industry representatives must define the term “project” in order to fulfill the EITI requirement for “project-level” reporting. The goal of this survey is to learn how users of payment data think “project-level” should be defined in order to yield useful data.

Please note that there are two survey links (in the blue boxes): one for people associated with civil society groups/NGOs, and one for local government representatives/employees. POGO is especially hoping to reach civil society folks who work in the communities where extraction takes place — that is, grassroots orgs, activists, etc.

In January of 2013, First Peoples Worldwide Founder and President Rebecca Adamson was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to serve on the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Advisory Committee overseeing the implementation of EITI, and we’re pleased to continue to support their efforts.

“It is an honor to be chosen for the committee,” says Adamson. “We commend the Department of Interior’s recognition of the need to include an Indigenous voice in this process.  Given the impacts of extractive companies on Indigenous communities, it is important that we are given a role in increasing the transparency of the industry.”

Please complete this survey by August 30. POGO will analyze the results and submit them for consideration.  POGO will not make public any names or contact info:




                                                                       by Rebecca Adamson, for the Month of Microfinance

Shannon County, South Dakota, is the 56th poorest county in the United States. That may not sound like the beginning of a success story, but in fact, it is – because just 20 years ago, Shannon County was the single poorest county in the country.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located in Shannon County. Poverty rates on Indian reservations are triple the US national average, and the average household income on a reservation is less than ¾ that of the national average. There are an estimated 2.1 million Native Americans in the United States, 20% of whom reside permanently on one of 310 reservations in the country. 85% of them live in Shannon County. According to the US Census Bureau, the annual median income in Pine Ridge is $2,600. The infant mortality rate is three times the national average and the suicide rate is 72% higher than the national average. 70% of the children living on Pine Ridge are impoverished, and there is a 17% unemployment rate.

Like many Indian reservations at the time, most economic activity took place just outside the reservation in border towns controlled by non-Natives. Thus, money that came onto the reservation quickly left, benefiting non-tribal members as it flowed. We needed to find a way to keep money on the reservation and support local entrepreneurship.

The Lakota Fund was established in 1983, making it the first microloan fund in the United States.  Our goal was to bring capital to the reservation in a culturally-appropriate and sustainable way. Our first step involved mapping the informal economy of Pine Ridge – seeing what was already happening on the ground. What we found surprised us: there were informal companies offering catering services, one that made pine box coffins, another that welded metal crosses for the cemetery, and other businesses that provided locksmithing, hairdressing, fence mending, tire repair and Indian crafts. These businesses provided a bare subsistence living for their workers – they needed capital in order to grow. And so the Lakota Fund was born. Using money from large institutions like the Ford Foundation, we established a micro-loans program for small business development. Borrowers also had access to large doses of financial education and various forms of technical assistance through the Lakota Tiwahe Project, the Business Success Coaches of WBI, and the Lakota Fund Trade Center. Microenterprises qualify for loans of $1,000 or less, and small businesses can access loans ranging from $1,000 – $20,000. We’ve also established the Wanbli Otipi housing project, which provides low income housing options. All of this was done in ways that preserved Native values: children were welcome at training sessions, food was commonly shared. Culture and business were one, not separate compartmentalized parts of life.

From its basis in traditional Native values, The Lakota Fund has served as the model of connecting capital markets to low-income communities, and our success has been tangible and undeniable. Since our beginning, we’ve issued over 900 loans totaling $7.2 million dollars. We’ve helped create 500 businesses on or near the reservation, providing 1,415 new jobs, proving that success can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Rebecca Adamson – Founder and President of First Peoples Worldwide
Rebecca Adamson, a Cherokee economist, is Founder and President of First Peoples Worldwide. A leader, activist, and ground-breaking Indigenous woman, Rebecca has a distinct perspective on how Indigenous Peoples’ value and economic systems can transform today’s business models. She utilizes the wisdom and paradigms of Indigenous economics, advocacy, and engagement of corporate social responsibility as tools to catalyze change.


Seeking Consensus/Buscando Consenso

Seeking Consensus


Originally published in the Argentinian newspaper Pagina 12 – Spanish version below

By: Darío Aranda

The NGO First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) works in the “creation of bridges” between indigenous communities and corporations, governments, scholars and investors. They adhere to a highly discussed line of work in the indigenous world: a possible dialogue and consent between companies and peoples over the exploitation of natural resources. The survey is directed mainly at companies, in order to bring to their attention the economic risks that run from not having consensus policies with indigenous communities. “92% of the sites poses a medium or high risk for shareholders”.

In order to evaluate the “risks”, the location of the site, company policies, corporative reputation, country, local community and existing laws are all taken into account. With consideration of these parameters, they award a score. The companies that carry the highest risk are ExxonMobil, Newmont, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Apache.

The president of the NGO, Rebecca Adamson, predicted that the situation of unrest and company risk will increase with the conjunction of three factors: the indigenous peoples have rights at the national and international level, the largest reserves of minerals and hydrocarbons are found on indigenous territories, and the means of communication (above all digital) manage to spread the local situations to transform them into global campaigns. The NGO states that of the 370 oil, gas and mineral sites, 43 percent have a score of “high risk” (run risk of stagnation) for not having consensus policies with indigenous peoples.

At the Latin-American  level, extraction was the main topic of the Fifth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples (conducted in Colombia, last November). “We condemn the new neoliberal economic project through the governments that have radicalized their extractive economic policies in alliance with multinational companies”, notes the final declaration of the Summit.


Buscando consenso 

Por Darío Aranda

La ONG Primeros Pueblos en el Mundo (FPW) trabaja en la “creación de puentes” entre comunidades indígenas y corporaciones, gobiernos, académicos e inversionistas. Adhiere a una línea de trabajo muy debatida en el mundo indígena: un posible diálogo y consenso entre empresas y pueblos para la explotación de recursos naturales. El relevamiento apunta principalmente a las empresas, para hacerles notar que corren riesgos económicos por no tener políticas de consenso con los pueblos originarios. “El 92 por ciento de los sitios plantea un riesgo medio a alto para los accionistas”, señala el informe.

Para evaluar los “riesgos” tomaron como parámetros la ubicación del yacimiento, la política empresaria, reputación corporativa, país, comunidad local y leyes vigentes. Con la ponderación de los parámetros, otorgan un puntaje. Las empresas que corren mayor riesgo son ExxonMobil, Newmont, ConocoPhillips, Chevron y Apache.

La presidenta de la ONG, Rebecca Adamson, pronosticó que la situación de conflictividad y riesgo empresario aumentará por la confluencia de tres factores: los pueblos indígenas tienen derechos a nivel internacional y nacional, las mayores reservas de minerales e hidrocarburos se encuentran en territorios indígenas y los medios de comunicación (sobre todo digitales) logran difundir las situaciones locales hasta transformarlas en campañas globales. La ONG precisa que de los 370 sitios de petróleo, gas y minerales, el 43 por ciento tiene una calificación de “riesgo crítico” (corren riesgo de paralización) por no tener políticas de consenso con los pueblos indígenas.

A nivel latinoamericano, el extractivismo fue el tema principal de la V Cumbre Continental de los Pueblos Indígenas (realizada en Colombia en noviembre pasado). “Denunciamos el nuevo proyecto económico neoliberal a través de los gobiernos que han radicalizado su política económica extractivista en alianza con las empresas multinacionales”, señala la declaración final de la Cumbre.


In Canada, Aboriginal Tension Erupts Over Resource Development


Cross-posted from The Huffington Post, Canada

Canada has been singled out as the country with the most risk of conflict with aboriginal communities in a new study examining treatment of indigenous rights and resource development around the world.

“Canada is a developed country and it is having an implosion of the sort that we’ve only seen in the developing countries,” said Rebecca Adamson, president and co-founder of First Peoples’ Worldwide, the group that conducted the study.

“We’ve always seen this erupt when a government refuses to be clear in upholding indigenous land tenure.”

The Indigenous Rights Risk Report studied 52 U.S. resource companies and 370 projects around the world, including 16 companies and 76 projects active in Canada. The aim of the survey is to assess how likely it is that conflict with indigenous communities could result in costly shutdowns.

Canada is home to six of the 21 projects deemed to be at highest risk of collapse according to the group’s analysis — more than any other country. Countries such as Argentina, Indonesia and Ghana are its peers on the list.

The Canadian government is “operating like a third-world country,” Adamson said, adding that its approach to indigenous rights more closely mimics the Philippines and Brazil than the U.S and Australia.

Signs are pointing to an increasing number of protests and possible violence in the country, she added.

First Nations have been on a legal winning streak in Canada, with nearly 200 court victories recognizing their right to be consulted — and in some cases accommodated.

But companies operating in Canada have no clear regulatory guidelines for how to deal with aboriginal communities, creating an uncertain business climate.

“Canada is caught in a moment of schizophrenia because the Canadian court systems are upholding these cases the way that would be expected from all of the developed countries that uphold the rule of law,” Adamson said.

The Harper government’s stance on First Nations and resource development has been called into question in recent years, particularly in the wake of controversial changes to native rights in Bill C-45, the Idle No More protests and after violence erupted at a protest against fracking in New Brunswick this month.

Canada’s risk level was graded three out of five — medium risk — higher than other industrialized countries like the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, which had a risk level of two.

Canada’s risk level started at a two when the study began two years ago, but after a series of flare-ups the group moved its risk factor higher citing an inconsistent enforcement of indigenous rights.

The group said Canadian projects scored so poorly partly because of the government’s failure to uphold its obligations to First Nations, which is in turn inflicting financial and reputational damage on companies trying to do business in the country.

“The Canadian government may be pro-business but its policies towards First Nations will have very anti-business results,” Adamson said.

“You can already see this in the fact it has the highest number of risky sites. Eventually the companies pull out.”

Houston-based Southwestern Energy’s project in New Brunswick made headlines earlier this month when violence broke out between police and First Nations protesters. That project was ranked highest of the Canadian projects with a risk rating of 4.2 out of 5, the same score as a project in Nigeria.

The company has said the blockades have cost it as much as $60,000 per day. It’s a consequence the report said shows why it makes good business sense to respect indigenous rights and work with their communities and a perfect example of what happens when governments ignore aboriginal sovereignty.

The report concluded that Southwestern “executives were ill-prepared and uninformed for how First Nations in Canada can impact their operations, thus leaving investors and shareholders at risk.”

Cliffs Natural Resources oft-delayed chromite project in Ontario’s Ring of Fire region also ranked highly on the list, with a score of 4.1 out of 5.

The surrounding First Nations in northern Ontario have many concerns about the impact of a giant mining development on their land and traditional way of life. They say an environmental review of the project was too weak.

Cliffs has cited frustration with hold-ups from government and First Nations fordelaying and potentially cancelling the project, saying if it is forced to walk away, it will send a bad signal about Canada’s mining climate.

Some ever-controversial oilsands projects rounded out the riskiest Canadian projects.Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, the Apache/Chevron/EOG Pacific Trails Pipeline, as well as Murphy Oil’s Alberta Bakken project and its Peace River Oil Sands project were assigned a risk rating of four.

Canada’s oil industry looks to governments to settle issues on land claims, treaty rights, traditional territories, consultation processes and royalty/revenue-sharing positions, said Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers spokeswoman Geraldine Anderson, adding CAPP wouldn’t comment specifically on the report.

A spokesman for the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada said existing regulatory frameworks are strong enough to protect the rights of Aboriginal peoples, though he didn’t directly address the allegations in the study.

Such policies “can lay the groundwork for industry, government and Aboriginal communities to benefit from the development of mineral resources,” said Nadim Kara, PDAC’s senior program director.

The clash between resource extraction and indigenous rights is expected to become more pronounced in the coming years as indigenous people increasingly see their rights enshrined at national and international levels and exercise them more effectively.

At the same time, a shrinking number of available resource discoveries means companies are pushing into more remote regions and Indigenous lands.

The study found that most of the 52 companies studied were ill-prepared to engage and work with indigenous people — a whopping 90 per cent of them had no clear indigenous policy at all.

The report says the moral imperative alone has not been effective in forcing companies and governments to respect indigenous rights. The group aims to show companies that there are good financial reasons to accommodate aboriginal communities, namely avoiding protests, bad press and legal battles.

(Photo: Protestors face off against police in New Brunswick,


The Missing Risk: How Indigenous Peoples Can Make or Break Your Portfolio

Ecuador Indigenous

Let’s face it, Indigenous Peoples are all but irrelevant in most people’s lives. The biggest news on Indigenous Peoples lately is whether or not the Washington Redskins will change their name. Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, and Redskins owner Dan Snyder are trying to spin “Redskins” as a “unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” Why? Because Forbes calculates the value of the Redskins brand to be $131 million. Changing the name of one of sports’ most valuable brands would cost millions. Who would have thought that Native Americans could have such an impact on a company’s bottom line?

In fact, Indigenous Peoples across the world are one of the fastest growing risk factors impacting corporate profits, especially those in extractive industries. As oil, gas and mining companies explore the globe for new production sites, they are finding those resources on or near Indigenous Peoples’ land. In the past, that didn’t matter much. For the right price, governments cleared the people away, rented or sold the land, and companies profited handsomely. But now, it’s not that easy.

The investment risk associated with not respecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights is real and growing. The oil industry is holding its collective breath over Chevron’s $18 billion case in Ecuador. Indigenous Peoples sued Texaco, which was bought by Chevron in 2001, for faulty drilling practices that damaged wide areas of the Amazon in the 1970s and 1980s. In February 2008 the Ecuadorian court found Chevron guilty and fined the company $8 billion, which was increased to $18 Billion after Chevron’s refusal to pay. This ruling was upheld in 2012 and the Ecuadorian court froze $200 million worth of Chevron’s assets for continued refusal to compensate Indigenous communities.

Some of Chevron’s shareholders are not happy and responded with a letter questioning, “whether the company’s leadership can properly manage the array of environmental and human rights challenges and risks that it faces.” A week later, 38 percent of Chevron’s shareholders voted in favor of a resolution reprimanding CEO John Watson for his handling of the Ecuador situation, and some have gone so far as to ask the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate the company for misleading investors.

Chevron is not an isolated case. In 2012, Talisman Energy became the fifth oil company to withdraw operations from Block 64 in the Peruvian Amazon because of resistance from the Achuar and other Indigenous Peoples. Now Peru’s state oil company Petroperu is trying its luck, but they are facing continued Indigenous protests. “We have opposed all the companies here, beginning with Arco, then Occidental and most recently Talisman,” wrote one Achuar organization in a letter to Peruvian president Ollanta Humala. “Like we did for all of those, we will make it impossible for Petroperu to enter.”

The costs are not limited to court fines and abandoned projects. John Ruggie of Harvard University and the U.N.’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights found that delays were a major cost for companies, calculating that it costs a company $20-30 million when a community protest shuts down a world-class mining operation for a week. And delays are increasing in the industry. In 2008, a Goldman Sachs study found that the time it takes an oil project to come online has doubled over the last decade. The reason?73 percent of the delays came from “above ground” or non-technical risks. Translation: unhappy communities are quickly driving up project costs.

The reality is Indigenous Peoples are not going away and extractive companies are going to encounter them more and more. An upcoming report by First Peoples Worldwide that reviews the operations of 40 U.S. oil and gas companies from the Russell 1000 found that over 30 percent of these companies’ current worldwide production takes place on or near Indigenous Peoples land. That figure jumps to over 50 percent when considering future reserves. The numbers are even higher for mining companies, rising to over 40 percent for current projects and near 80 percent for future projects.

How did Indigenous Peoples go from invisible to a major risk factor? Over the last few decades Indigenous Peoples have learned how to use international and domestic legal systems to their advantage. For decades they fought for official recognition at the United Nations and for the right to have Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) over actions and development projects undertaken on their land. In 2007 they received it in the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Knowing they needed more teeth than international law could provide, Indigenous Peoples then fought with increasing success to get UN member states to pass UNDRIP-inspired laws at home.

But Indigenous Peoples also realized profit and loss statements can be more powerful than international law in achieving their goals. They began working with shareholders to pressure corporate boards to consider the costs of ignoring Indigenous Peoples’ rights. In 2007, they successfully worked with the shareholders of Newmont Mining, who voted overwhelmingly (91.6 percent) to direct the company to assess the ways it could strengthen its policies and practices to resolve and avoid community opposition to its projects.

The result? Extractive companies worldwide are racing to define their policies for working with Indigenous Peoples, and Indigenous Peoples are familiarizing themselves with how to use FPIC to their advantage. The losses Dan Snyder and the Redskins face pales in comparison with what extractive companies will experience if they ignore the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But there is a better way. Just as Snyder could embrace change and work with Native Americans to find a new name that respects Native Americans and preserves the brand equity of his franchise, companies can work with Indigenous Peoples to forge win-win relationships where both shareholders and Indigenous communities achieve their short and long-term goals.

(Photo: Fox News Latino at


Movements of Survival: A Conversation with Rebecca Adamson & Bill McKibben about Idle No More &

by Dan Morrison

Idle No More
A few years ago, I wrote a piece titled, The Art of Slacktivism about how young people were Tweeting and Facebooking away from their dorm rooms and sofas to support causes they believed in. Millions donated $10 to relief efforts in Haiti from their cell phones and then went on with the rest of their lives feeling as if they changed the world. Slacktivism seemed a perfect philanthropic transaction for the ADHD-riddled 21st century – fast, convenient and cheap.

Then all of a sudden people filled the streets Tunisia and a dictator fell. Wael Ghonim, a Google employee in Egypt, started a Facebook page that rallied Egyptians to oppose the now fallen Hosni Mubarak regime. The Arab Spring spread and dictators tumbled in Libya and Yemen, and uprisings and protests continue throughout the region.

The United States wasn’t immune. On September 17, 2011, people emerged from behind their laptops and mobile phones and marched on Wall Street to protest corporate greed in the wake of the economic meltdown. Occupy Wall Street soon became Occupy Chicago, Boston, Portland and spread across the world.

These people were not “slacktivists” but activists, revolutionaries and heros. Social media was finally living up to expectations – inspiring people online to take offline action.

But two of the biggest movements may be yet to come.

The first is Idle No More, a movement that caught many by surprise. What began with four indigenous women protesting Bill C 45 for violating Canada’s Indian Act became a movement of Indigenous People circle dancing in the streets across Canada, blockading rail lines, and hunger striking to speak with the Prime Minister and Governor General. By using the Twitter hashtag #IdleNoMore, the movement spread across North America and the world. It came to represent Indigenous Peoples fight for self-determination, cultural respect and a healthy environment for all. It is as powerful as it was spontaneous.‘s climate movement is different. It was a planned, concerted effort by environmentalist Bill McKibben and his students. They have worked hard over the last few years to build up a following of people concerned about climate change and asking them to act. 350 has mobilized its followers to petition the US Congress to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, “Connect the Dots” by sharing photos of the impact of climate change on social media, “Do The Math” and pressure universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and most recently to take to the streets in Washington, DC and pressure President Obama to act in climate change. is no less grassroots, but it has a center from which it coordinates its efforts.

With Idle No More and dominating the headlines (at least of Huffington Post), I had the chance to interview Rebecca Adamson, an indigenous leader and founder of First Peoples Worldwide, and Bill McKibben, environmentalists and co-founder of, to find out what makes a movement and what the future holds for Idle No More and the Climate Change movements.

 Rebecca: All we hear about today is that a new exciting movement has started, only to find out that it is a repackaging of something old. What is a movement in your mind and what makes Idle No More and the Climate Change movement any different?

Movements originate from a genuine community concern. Authentic members of society, not our leaders, stand up and take it upon themselves to come together and address an issue. The origins tend to be spontaneous. They don’t come out of academies, businesses, or institutions, which manage the status quo. Movements come out of us, the People, who want to affect change. In that sense, Idle No More is right on. Over the years, the environmental movement has become stale and institutionalized, but is breathing new life into it so it can become relevant again and regain itself as a Peoples movement.

 Bill, you wrote The End of Nature in 1989. What role have indigenous people played in the environmental movement and what role are they playing in 350 today?

The first thing to say is, is rooted in place in every country on earth but North Korea–and in most of those places indigenous people are at the forefront. That’s true from the Andes to the forests of India, and from northern Scandinavia to the boreal forests of Canada. Some of our closest allies in the fight against the tarsands–the people who really started the Keystone XL Pipeline fight–come from the Indigenous Environmental Network. The first person I ever heard about the tarsands in depth from was Melina Laboucan-Massimo and her great colleagues in the White Buffalo area.

Rebecca, you have been an activist for indigenous rights since the 1970s. Why is the Idle No More movement important?

Idle No More is important because it is a genuine movement. It is unique because for the first time in our history as indigenous peoples, members of non-indigenous society are joining us in mass. Peoples like Bill have joined us are waking the public up to the issue of not only climate change, but a peoples’ right to self-determination. Bill tied our movement into a global audience. Indigenous rights and climate change have always been reported on as two separate issues. Now, peoples are seeing them as parts of a larger global issue and movement.

But it is important to remember that Idle No More is not new movement. It is the latest manifestation of our Indigenous Peoples movement that we have been fighting for hundreds of years. It is human kind’s movement that fights for what every human being wants – the right to determine their own destiny and make a better world their children. 

Bill, when did you know that the 350 climate movement was taking off? Did you have a plan or did it just happen?

We had a plan, but we didn’t know it would work. We started with myself and seven undergraduates–since there are seven continents, each one took one and we went to work. And somehow a year later we pulled off a global day of action with 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries, what CNN called ‘the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.’ I think it’s because there was such unrealized demand for climate action

 Bill, you mentioned in a recent Huffington Post piece that indigenous people control the lands where much of the fossils fuels are in Canda and that, “The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet’s future.” What if they choose to exploit the fossil fuels to pay for the development they often need so badly?

Well, if they do, the carbon will have the same effect as if the Koch Brothers pour it into the atmosphere. The good news is these lands are also the prime sources of sun, wind, and geothermal power in the continent.

Rebecca, a critical tenet of First Peoples is to strengthen the voice of native people and ensure they have self-determination and decision making power. An indigenous community may decide developing fossil fuels on their land is their right and the best thing for their people. Bill has a clear point of view that we must keep the fossil fuels in the ground if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change. How do you deal with this dilemma?

All of us want the right to decide their own destiny and that of our children. However, decisions about access to clean water, food security, and the allocation of resources are being made by a small, elitist group. This should concern ALL of us. Who doesn’t want a say in what happens in their neighborhood? On indigenous lands, companies and governments are stripping away our assets, polluting our waters, and selling our land to the highest bidder. Which is why for us, Indigenous Peoples, the issue is the right to self-determination. Idle No More is first a movement to ensure Indigenous Peoples have the right to decide for themselves, which is why it is spreading so rapidly from Canada to around the world.

Indigenous Peoples are the miner’s canary in a development process gone haywire. Indigenous Peoples have a sense of enoughness and equitable distribution. But development takes all of our land, water, food and other life supporting assets away and sends them up market to make iPhones and Big Macs for the consumer society. If we are stripped of our life-sustaining assets, there is not much else we can do but profit from the oil beneath our feet so we can survive.

Personally I feel and intrinsic affinity for the land. It heals me. It sustains me and I am obligated to sustain it. The Indigenous paradigm for conservation is one of protection-production and production-protection. You take care of your place because it produces for you. And it produces for you because you take care of it. Not every indigenous person acts in this way, but I strongly believe that ensuring the right of self-governance for Indigenous Peoples will bring about new, sustainable ways to live in harmony with Mother Earth.

In order to do what Bill is saying, we have to come up with a radical new way on how to distribute benefits and wealth equitably. But the fix is not having indigenous peoples be over-romanticized tree-huggers. Bill and I both agree that the reality of climate change is that if we don’t fix it, we are all going to die. 

Bill, How does work with and support other movements like Idle No More? How do you ensure there is not competition?

We’re not really an organization, we’re more like a campaign. We try to just set up ways for everyone to play together. And we always pay attention to great leaders–like, say, Clayton Thomas-Muller who is one of my absolute favorite allies. Or Tom Goldtooth, or Reuben George, or Bill Erasmus, or Melina Loubacon-Massimo, or any of the other great indigenous leaders we get to work with. There’s no group of people I’ve learned more from.

To learn more about First Peoples Worldwide and, visit and