Washington Commissioner Asking Insurers to Craft Consent Policies with Tribes

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is urging the insurance industry in his state to work with Native Americans on adopting policies of consent on environmental projects that affect Tribal nations.

According to Kreidler, policies that he’s endorsing would help strengthen the sovereign rights of tribes over environmentally sensitive projects that threaten their lands and traditional economies. The commissioner expressed support for a resolution the National Congress of American Indians passed in November 2020 that called on the insurance industry to adopt, as part of its underwriting policies, a requirement to “obtain and document the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of impacted Tribal Nations.”

This requirement, called FPIC, would allow tribes to give or withhold consent to a project that affects their lands, rights or sacred sites. FPIC enables tribes to negotiate the conditions under which a project will be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated.

“For too long, many Tribal nations have been given little to no consideration when industrial projects threaten native lands,” Kreidler said. “Native Americans have sovereign rights that all industries – including the insurance industry – should respect. Collaboration and cooperation, not conflict and confrontation, are needed now more than ever to achieve mutual goals.”

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington state, welcomed Kreidler’s support for FPIC.

“‘Free, prior, and informed consent’ is the simple but powerful concept that sovereign Tribal nations have a right to say ‘yes or no’ to projects that impact them. Commissioner Kreidler is being a civil rights pioneer by advocating for insurance companies to comply with that standard,” Sharp said.

Sharp is also the nationally elected president of the National Congress of American Indians, the nonprofit organization that represents more than 500 Tribal nations across the United States.

Under state law, Kreidler has no authority to determine what risks an insurer may underwrite. But he said he would support a legislative effort to grant such power.

Kreidler said his support for FPIC aligns with his longtime work on climate concerns and their relationship to the insurance industry and Native Americans.

The announcement comes in the midst of mounting pressure from Indigenous communities on the insurers behind fossil fuel projects that environmental groups not only see as environmentally destructive, but often in opposition to Tribal rights.

Indigenous communities in Canada and Washington have recently took action demanding that insurers to cut ties with the Trans Mountain pipeline when its current insurance policy expires this summer, and the Gwich’in Steering Committee has written to major insurers urging them to rule out support for oil and gas drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.