Native American Women Target European Banks to Block Big Oil

Shannan Stoll October 27, 2017

Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegates (left to right), Michelle Cook, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Tara Houska, and Jackie Fielder.

Last Decem­ber, calls to defund the Dako­ta Access pipeline and Stand with Stand­ing Rock” led indi­vid­u­als to divest mil­lions of dol­lars from banks extend­ing cred­it to that project. As cities and tribes got involved, that amount increased to now more than $4 billion.

Seat­tle was the first, then more cities fol­lowed, and the move­ment to defund Big Oil is still grow­ing. In May, Indige­nous lead­ers launched a new cam­paign, the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expan­sion, tar­get­ing four pro­posed tar sands pipelines. The strat­e­gy is to stop banks’ finan­cial com­mit­ment before ground is bro­ken. One of these projects — TransCanada’s Ener­gy East Pipeline — was ter­mi­nat­ed ear­li­er this month.

Now, the move­ment that began at Stand­ing Rock has gone glob­al, since much of the DAPL fund­ing came from over­seas banks. Some Euro­pean banks such as BNP Paribas have tak­en steps to stop fund­ing fos­sil fuel projects that tram­ple Native peo­ples’ rights. Oth­ers such as Norway’s DNB and ING have done some divesting. 

Last week, a del­e­ga­tion of Indige­nous women returned from a trip to Europe where they met with lead­ers of finan­cial insti­tu­tions in Nor­way, Switzer­land, and Ger­many, the home bases for sev­er­al of the world’s largest finan­cial and insur­ance insti­tu­tions sup­port­ing dan­ger­ous extrac­tion devel­op­ments,” accord­ing to the news release. The del­e­ga­tion was orga­nized by Indige­nous women lead­ers in part­ner­ship with the Women’s Earth and Cli­mate Action Network.

Jack­ie Field­er, who is Mni­cou­jou Lako­ta and Man­dan-Hidat­sa, was a mem­ber of that women’s del­e­ga­tion. Field­er is an enrolled mem­ber of the Three Affil­i­at­ed Tribes and a cam­paign coor­di­na­tor of Lako­ta People’s Law Project as well as an orga­niz­er with Maza­s­ka Talks. Oth­ers in the del­e­ga­tion includ­ed LaDon­na Brave Bull Allard, Michelle Cook, and Tara Houska.

In this inter­view, Field­er talks about divest­ment, the delegation’s trip to Europe, and what’s next for the move­ment to defund fos­sil fuel projects that threat­en Indige­nous peo­ples. The inter­view has been light­ly edit­ed for clar­i­ty and length.

Shan­nan Stoll: One thing con­nect­ing the del­e­ga­tion of women that went to Europe was that you were all involved in the Stand­ing Rock move­ment. Could you tell me about your involve­ment with Stand­ing Rock and the divest­ment movement?

Jack­ie Field­er: I have a con­nec­tion to the Dako­ta Access pipeline specif­i­cal­ly because Mni­cou­jou is a band with­in the Cheyenne Riv­er [Sioux] Tribe, and Cheyenne Riv­er is, along­side Stand­ing Rock, suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers over the ille­gal approval of the Dako­ta Access pipeline.

I got involved because I am the result of what hap­pens when you pro­tect water — my grand­par­ents grew up along the Mis­souri Riv­er — and I have had a pas­sion for fol­low­ing the mon­ey when it comes to injus­tices like these.

At the end of DAPL, I was try­ing to find a way to get involved or sup­port the move­ment from afar. I was in San Fran­cis­co at the time of the camp and was real­ly com­mit­ted to my work in the Bay Area and didn’t want to tear away from it.

In late Jan­u­ary, I saw Seat­tle com­mit to mov­ing its mon­ey away from Wells Far­go. This was a result of Indige­nous-led ground actions and a four-month-long pres­sure cam­paign led by Matt Rem­le and Rachel Heaton, who are the co-founders of Maza­s­ka Talks. I was inspired by [their] work, and I said this has to hap­pen in San Fran­cis­co.” Over the course of a month I start­ed a cam­paign and made a Face­book page called San Fran­cis­co Defund DAPL Coali­tion. … We want­ed to put San Francisco’s mon­ey where their sol­i­dar­i­ty was. … We got a res­o­lu­tion on the table [of the city coun­cil], and it passed unan­i­mous­ly.

How has the divest­ment move­ment grown since Stand­ing Rock? Is divest­ment working?

Yes. Since Stand­ing Rock, more than a dozen cities have tak­en some form of action to move their mon­ey out of Wall Street. These include Los Ange­les, San Fran­cis­co, Seat­tle, Eugene, Mis­soula, San­ta Fe, Den­ver, Col­orado Springs, Min­neapo­lis, Chica­go, D.C., Char­lotte, and others.

We know divest­ment is work­ing because Ener­gy Trans­fer sued our part­ner Green­peace, and oth­er part­ners, … and their SLAPP [strate­gic law­suit against pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion] suit includ­ed a quote that says:

The dam­age to our rela­tion­ships with the cap­i­tal mar­kets has been sub­stan­tial, impair­ing access to financ­ing and increas­ing their cost of cap­i­tal and abil­i­ty to fund future projects.

So it’s work­ing to the extent that they’re hav­ing a tough time with cap­i­tal mar­kets and hav­ing a tough time fund­ing future projects. And that’s exact­ly what we want.

What was the pur­pose of this trip?

The pur­pose was to demand Euro­pean banks divest from fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies that vio­late Indige­nous peo­ples’ right to Free, Pri­or, and Informed Con­sent, as out­lined in the Unit­ed Nations dec­la­ra­tion of the rights of Indige­nous peoples.

We met with [major banks] and asked them to exclude Ener­gy Trans­fer, Enbridge, Kinder Mor­gan, and oth­er fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies that have vio­lat­ed Indige­nous peo­ples’ rights to deny or grant per­mis­sion for projects on their ter­ri­to­ries and that fund tar sands pipeline expansion.

Why was it impor­tant that women in par­tic­u­lar car­ry this mes­sage to Europe?

I think because Unci Maka, Grand­moth­er Earth, is fem­i­nine. Indige­nous women have been the back­bone of this par­tic­u­lar resis­tance move­ment, but also in gen­er­al, of tiospaye, fam­i­ly units, in Lako­ta nations. And Indige­nous women — as well as [being] tra­di­tion­al­ly the back­bone of their fam­i­lies, they often are the ones to call out injus­tice when they see it imme­di­ate­ly. We saw that at Stand­ing Rock. LaDon­na has a sto­ry in which she describes how there were bull­doz­ers going over the sacred bur­ial sites, and the men were just so in shock that they did­n’t know what to do. And LaDon­na said, Well push [the men] out of the way and tell the women to stop it.” And that’s what hap­pened. Women got arrest­ed: doc­tors, moth­ers, sis­ters. They are a force to reck­on with. And I think that’s why we were meant to car­ry this par­tic­u­lar mes­sage to Europe. 

The spe­cif­ic places you trav­eled were Nor­way, Switzer­land, and Ger­many. Why were those the targets?

These Euro­pean nations and their insti­tu­tions have some of the world’s high­est stan­dards for Indige­nous rights, cre­at­ing an open­ing for del­e­gates to call for firm action by banks and investors of these nations to uphold high stan­dards and become an inter­na­tion­al mod­el for jus­tice and accountability.

What did you learn from the trip?

We got to under­stand how Euro­pean, specif­i­cal­ly Nor­we­gian, Swiss, and Ger­man, peo­ple think about Indige­nous peo­ple, envi­ron­men­tal­ism, and their rela­tion­ships to banks. For exam­ple, Nor­way is laud­ed as the prime exam­ple of a green, pro­gres­sive coun­try. How­ev­er, there is a $1 tril­lion oil fund behind the eco­nom­ic and social equal­i­ty over there. And the Swiss bank, they man­age mon­ey from sketchy lead­ers. You know, they held Nazi mon­ey. They’re a real­ly good exam­ple of show­ing how neu­tral­i­ty in instances of injus­tice helps oppres­sors main­tain their hold on oppressed people.

With respect to Ger­many, there is a lot of poten­tial for peo­ple to hold their banks account­able. For exam­ple, Deutsche Bank is one of, if not the biggest, financers of the com­pa­nies behind the tar sands pipelines that we’re focused on. And they were real­ly inter­est­ed to hear what we had to say.

But they are — like many of the banks — real­ly hes­i­tant to do any­thing rad­i­cal, which in their world means step­ping away from fos­sil fuels. And that’s not what we’re ask­ing. BNP Paribas just set a stan­dard while we were there — right before Tara was going to meet with them — that they would stop financ­ing tar sands, Arc­tic drilling, and frack­ing. That sends a mes­sage to the rest of the banks that it is pos­si­ble to stop fund­ing destruc­tion and cli­mate change. This also fol­lows oth­er banks that pulled out of the Dako­ta Access pipeline funding.

I think that Europe is ready — because at this point the Unit­ed States is not going to do this with the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion. Europe is ready to lead the world, if they want to, in a green path and one that upholds Indige­nous peo­ples’ rights and human rights.

What’s next for the divest­ment movement?

Our next move is to meet with insur­ers and cred­it rat­ing agen­cies in order to real­ly under­stand why a com­pa­ny like Enbridge has an A” cred­it rat­ing. But Enbridge has one of the worst, if not the worst, records in the Unit­ed States and Cana­da for oil spills.

Accord­ing to LaDon­na, there are more than 200 camps around the world. We have fos­sil fuel and des­e­cra­tion projects around the world, and there are big financers behind these projects. The next thing for the divest­ment move­ment is to keep grow­ing. … We are going to con­tin­ue build­ing our alliances across the world and we’re going to bring this spe­cif­ic divest­ment move­ment that is Indige­nous led to a lev­el we haven’t seen since South African apartheid.

Maza­s­ka Talks has been orga­niz­ing a Divest the Globe cam­paign. What are you ask­ing peo­ple to do?

On Octo­ber 23 and 24 and 25, 92 banks that belong to the Equa­tor Prin­ci­ples Asso­ci­a­tion are meet­ing in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to dis­cuss Indige­nous peo­ples’ right to free, pri­or, and informed con­sent.” Start­ing on Mon­day, we are call­ing for three days of action around the world that makes the con­nec­tion between banks and des­e­cra­tion projects, whether that’s the tar sands pipelines and the banks that finance those, a defor­esta­tion project, coal mines, or a local refin­ery. We want to raise the pub­lic’s aware­ness and to raise the banks’ aware­ness that we are well aware of who is financ­ing these projects, and —whether it’s a sit-in, vig­il, non­vi­o­lent direct action, art space, or teach-in — we want peo­ple to meet the com­mu­ni­ty where it’s at and edu­cate one anoth­er about the rela­tion­ship between these banks and these fos­sil fuel projects.

Why the focus on mak­ing the cam­paign global?

The financ­ing of fos­sil fuels over green pow­er is a glob­al issue. The events at Stand­ing Rock opened the world’s eyes to the sys­tem that we’re oper­at­ing under. Indige­nous peo­ples are the canaries in the coal mine. There are com­pa­nies that are will­ing­ly financ­ing the destruc­tion of our plan­et — not just Stand­ing Rock’s only source of water. This has always been much big­ger than just a sin­gle tribe or sin­gle people.

I am excit­ed to see peo­ple real­ize that this is going to hap­pen to every­one at some point. Whether that’s in a week, as is hap­pen­ing with these hur­ri­canes and fires and nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, or whether it’s going to hap­pen to their grand­chil­dren who will have to live on a plan­et that is two degrees hot­ter and with fresh­wa­ter as scarce as it [will be]. I’m excit­ed to work with peo­ple on solu­tions that hon­or our role as stew­ards to the Earth and our duty to pro­vide a clean­er, less vio­lent, and cool­er plan­et to the next sev­en generations.

These banks are only mak­ing deci­sions on a quar­ter­ly basis. They’re not mak­ing their pro­jec­tions based on the next sev­en gen­er­a­tions. That’s why they’re hap­pi­ly financ­ing these projects that are so short-sight­ed and not even eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable.

Divest­ment is a way to obtain account­abil­i­ty and do it in a way that also invests in our future. When we take our mon­ey out of Wall Street, we put it into com­mu­ni­ty banks, into green banks, into cred­it unions that … fund growth in the community.

Divest­ment is not the only tac­tic that we, as Indige­nous peo­ple or just peo­ple who care about the plan­et, need to use. But it is cer­tain­ly going to be the engine behind the just tran­si­tion from fos­sil fuels to green energy.

(Why Native Amer­i­can Women Are Going After Europe’s Banks to Divest From Big Oil” was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished by Yes! Mag­a­zine and is repost­ed on Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times in accor­dance with their shar­ing pol­i­cy.)

Shan­nan Stoll wrote this arti­cle for YES! Mag­a­zine. Shan­nan is a senior edi­tor at YES! She cov­ers envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and Native rights issues.
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