The Nation Builder: Jason Campbell Gives All his Energy to Advancing Spokane Sovereignty

Jason Campbell, CEO of Sovereign Power, is a Native Business Top 30 CEO.

“If Jason Campbell were a chess player, he would be a grandmaster,” says Mike Tedesco, Executive Director of the Spokane Tribe of Indians. “Whether he’s testifying in front of the United Nations, in a corporate boardroom negotiating with a Fortune 500 company, or building a Nation by establishing partnerships with external governmental jurisdictions, Jason sees five moves ahead of the game while most don’t even know they’re on the board. Jason’s leadership style is one of patient coaching, which includes everybody from individual Tribal members to CEOs of large corporations. He exercises the same patient, humble leadership to all who interface with him. Because of Jason’s subtle guidance and tutelage, I’m a better leader, a better person, and far better equipped to confront the challenges that face Indian Country on both macro and micro levels with a perspective that aims for nothing less than systemic, sustainable solutions.” 

That’s quite an endorsement. But it’s the kind of feedback we’ve received from more than a couple of Campbell’s colleagues. 

In Campbell’s own words, he always knew he wanted to engage in meaningful work that inspired people — or a Nation — to fulfill their highest potential. His path to leading Sovereign Power, which works to maximize renewable energy opportunities and promote energy independence for the Spokane Tribe of Indians, was anything but linear. 

Among his first professional roles, the citizen of the Spokane Tribe of Indians started a division within a literacy company to work specifically with Tribes across the country — from Bethel, Alaska, to the Seminole Tribe of Florida. During that time, Campbell earned his MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship from Gonzaga University, and later completed the Certified Financial Planner course at the College for Financial Planning. 

It was through volunteering for the Washington, D.C.-based Social Investment Forum and its Indigenous Peoples Working Group that he got turned on to socially responsible investing. When he landed a job at a Boston-based asset management company, he got to thinking: “How do I engage with individual Tribal citizens on financial tools as a means for wealth creation and wealth preservation? And simultaneously, how do I [influence] how Tribal Nations invest their financial capital? I knew that it was going to be a value-based approach,” he says. 

That’s just how Campbell’s mind works — he’s always circling back to how he can empower Tribal citizens and Tribal Nations. It’s that mindset that led Campbell to launch his consulting business, Areté Development Group, in 2008. 

Through Areté, Campbell was approached by the then-Chairman of the Spokane Tribe to advise the Tribal Council on social responsibility and sustainability. That’s when Campbell learned about the Tribal entity Sovereign Power. “It was developed in the late 90s as a power marketing company, and it was the first of its kind for any Tribe in the country,” Campbell says. But the once impactful company essentially only existed on paper. “Instantly, I see the necessity for Sovereign Power to be a vertically integrated company that ultimately creates energy sovereignty for the Spokane Tribe of Indians,” Campbell tells Native Business. 

So, with that vision as the foundation of Sovereign Power, the Chairman at the time asked Campbell to lead the Tribal enterprise as its CEO. While Campbell had just built Areté Development Group “to the size and scope that I wanted,” he made the decision to “let off the gas pedal on my own company,” he says. “I decided that the energy sector is so significant to Tribal Nations, self-determination and sovereignty, that really that was the higher calling between those two choices.” 

Campbell’s formal position as CEO of Sovereign Power started in 2015. Soon after, Sovereign Power began to establish partnerships across Tribal, public, private and nonprofit sectors to grow capacity in power marketing, power production and power distribution. For instance, Sovereign Power has partnered with Solar Energy International (SEI), a nonprofit that provides technical training and expertise in renewable energy, and GRID Alternatives, a solar installer and capacity developer, to deploy solar panels to deliver an efficient energy source to low-income communities in Washington State. 

Sovereign Power’s layered approach to renewable energy technology will also lead to the development of residential, community and utility scale solar, and community-scale biomass heat on the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington State. 

“We have timeline goals around our vision for utility-scale solar. We would like to have utility scale construction completed by the end of construction season of 2020,” Campbell says. “Our goal is to have the Spokane Tribal Utility Authority chartered and built by the end of the calendar year 2019. Then in 2020, we can start the implementation — delivering the service to end users, meaning internal Tribal customers.” 

The benefits of asserting energy sovereignty are enormous — reservation jobs created and lowered cost of monthly utility bills for the Spokane Tribe, to list a couple of advantages. “It’s really exciting to be able to engage in these businesses that are also satisfying other Tribal needs, like reducing unemployment and under-employment rates and increasing the labor participation rate,” Campbell says. 

Naturally, building a Tribal utility authority, utility-scale solar project, and a biomass heat district are no easy feats. Fortunately, Campbell is a networker by nature. He enjoys engaging with others, and isn’t afraid to ask for guidance. “Tribal organizations are very transparent Tribal to Tribal,” Campbell says. “If I have questions, I can call up the CEO of Energy Keepers, Inc., which is an entity of the Salish & Kootenai, or I can call up the general manager of Yakama Power, or the director of Warm Springs Power. Those folks are more than willing to share whatever part of their story is relevant to what I need direct input on in the moment.” 

While his hands may seem full with Sovereign Power, Campbell is committed to “Nation building” — a term he frequently throws around — and, for him, that means moving the needle forward on various Tribal projects. 

The biomass heat district, for instance, is more than just a power generator. Campbell is the visionary behind the mixed-use facility in the heart of the Spokane Indian Reservation, featuring “a brand new grocery store to help us address our food sovereignty issues,” a food distribution program and a post office. This project is the first node in the Spokane Tribe’s Sustainable Community Master Plan with a vision to catalyze long-term physical, mental, spiritual and economic wellbeing for Tribal citizens.

To turn the Tribal grocery store into a source of health and vitality, Sovereign Power and Spokane Tribal Enterprises identified companies that reflect their cultural values. That led to a strategic partnership with Whole Foods. 

Joe Rogoff, the former President of Whole Foods Market for the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, shares his thoughts on Campbell’s leadership with Native Business: “Jason is a pragmatic visionary, singularly focused on attaining sovereignty for the Spokane. He’s able to translate his vision into logical yet challenging projects, and to actualize those projects by inspiring supporters, allies and participants. Jason has the rare talent to translate philosophy to action, and his integrity ensures that those actions are replicable and that his network continues to grow.” 

As far as we can tell, Campbell’s network will only continue to increase, as he continues to blaze trails for Nation building. 

Jason Campbell was named a Top 30 CEO in Indian Country by Native Business Magazine. His profile originally appeared in our 2019 Leadership issue