On September 13, just days after returning from volunteering as a legal observer at the NODAPL encampments in Standing Rock, North Dakota, attorney Mariel Nanasi executive director of New Energy Economy was in the streets of Santa Fe saying the words she carried back from the Sioux reservation: Water is Life.
Water is Life was also the cri de coeur of the more than a hundred urban water protectors who took to the streets with her outside of Bank of America, calling for an end to the risky business of building an oil pipeline underneath the Missouri River, the source of clean drinking water for 20,000,000 Americans. Nanasi warned Bank of America against extending $350,000,000 of credit to the pipeline’s operators in a project where $3.75 of the $3.8 billion is on credit.
“With so much money leveraged,” she said, “the pipeline investors are at risk that their money will amount to nothing but losses. The level of uncertainty for Dakota Access Pipeline is mounting: the pipeline cannot be joined without access to federal land, the winter is quickly approaching and Bank of America and the other banks are at risk of their investment being stranded. If the bank would have done their due diligence which includes regulatory risk, legal risk and climate risk then they would have realized that the only infrastructure projects worth investing in are projects that support life, not threaten it.”
Research conducted by Food and Water Watch shows that 38 banks are involved in funding the pipeline and related projects. According to their calculations, $10.25 billion in loans and credit facilities from 38 banks are directly supporting the companies building the pipeline.
Barbara Grothus of Albuquerque said that she’d come to Santa Fe to take the NO DAPL pipeline message to the bank itself because “they are the ones who benefit at the expense of Native people, but really all people. There’s only a finite amount of clean water, on the Earth, we can’t fix it once we’ve messed it up.”
In a phone call with Kelly Sapp, BOA’s Environment point person on the Corporate Responsibility team, Ms. Sapp said she was unaware of BOA’s investment in the pipeline, or any controversy around the pipeline, or that there was a national movement to stop the pipeline.
Bypassing the political structure to take their grievances about “the Black Snake” directly to one of its bankrollers, the protectors talked turkey about the pipeline’s many foreign investors.
“There are banks from Japan, Germany, Switzerland, all over the world. This is a global beast,” said Liz Wallace, a Santa Fean who identifies as part Maidu, Washoe and Navajo.
In December 2015 the ban on exporting oil in place for more than 40 years was lifted by the U.S. Congress, making oil produced in the U.S. available to low-oil producing countries like Japan for the first time in decades.
Nanasi told the crowd that building the pipeline was “an insane proposition.”
“The pipeline is proposed to go under 209 tributaries, creeks and rivers, and to think that it won’t leak, or there won’t be an explosion, is crazy. In New Mexico we had over 1,800 oil and gas spills in 2015 alone. We’re talking about devastation and it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”
Earlier that day, 20 more North Dakota protectors were arrested in lockdown actions to halt DAPL construction; some have since been charged with felonies for “reckless endangerment.” Law enforcement arrived in full riot gear, in what some were calling an escalating militarization of law enforcement.
“The time is now to step in line behind Native peoples in frontline communities who are leading the fight,” said Bianca Sopoci-Belknap, Program Director of New Energy Economy addressing the crowd, while holding her baby in her arms.
Evelyn Naranjo, a co-founder of Tewa Women United, a co-sponsoring organization of the day’s event, first spoke in the soft susurrations of her Indigenous language “to bring the spirits here to protect us.”
Naranjo’s concern is for the future.
“We may be a different color, but we’re all the same inside,” she said, “and we have to unite. We’re here for the little ones, for the generations.”
Her niece, Aspen Vallo, 18, had just returned from the prayer camps in Standing Rock, and was feeling empowered.
“It’s the youth who are getting out there, not just the elders,” she said. “It humbled me. I come from San Ildefonso Pueblo where we lost a battle with our land.”
She hopes for a more successful outcome for this struggle.
“I’d love to see NO DAPL end in a success, but even if it doesn’t happen, at least there’s a movement behind us. Now, there’s more power to us.”