Back in 2009, when I was an undergraduate student, I went to a talk given by Eriel Tchekwie Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation which had a significant impact on my understanding of environmental justice.
This was the first time I had been awoken to the devastation of the tar sands in Canada. I knew that massive fossil fuel projects were bad news for the climate but what stuck with me was the impact of the tar sands on the people and their land.
Why wasn’t something being done to stop it? Aside from the relentless march of fossil fuel extraction and consumption, there’s money to be made and the people in the way are poor and not white.
From Nigeria to North America, many of the people on the frontline of struggles against extraction projects are black, brown or from indigenous communities. Recently one of these, the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has been making headlines.
The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline travels 1,168 miles from North Dakota to Illinois, where it will join up with a second 774 mile pipeline to Texas. It will carry up to 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day once it is up and running, which could be within weeks. Oil has already been placed into the pipeline as part of the commissioning process.
If the pipeline, which is laid underneath the Missouri River, fails it will pollute a vital water source for the Standing Rock Sioux people and thousands of others. This threat is very real. Sunoco Logistics, one of the companies behind DAPL has had more than 200 leaks since 2010, according to Reuters.
DAPL was re-routed away from Bismarck, a mostly white community, partly because of water pollution fears.
Not just a protest, but a movement!
People of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been joined in their resistance by thousands of other indigenous people from across the region, as well as allies. At its peak, an estimated 10,000 people joined the water protectors at spiritual camps: Sacred Stone, Oceti Sakowin and others.
Water protectors were subjected to extreme violence from police and private security. There were mass arrests and hundreds were injured with the use of water cannons, tasers, pepper spray and many other weapons.
one of the companies hired to suppress water protectors, most of whom have now left the camps.
Earlier this month, a federal judge rejected the request of the Cheyenne River Sioux and Standing Rock Sioux tribes to stop construction of the DAPL. The Standing Rock Sioux are now waiting for the result of another lawsuit due in April, which calls for a full environmental impact statement and careful consideration of the Tribe’s treaties before a permit is issued by a government agency.
On 10th March, thousands of people marched on Washington DC to demand respect of treaty rights and for Donald Trump to meet with tribal leaders. The Native Nations Rise protest also highlighted the global movement of indigenous nations and their right to protect their lands and environment.
There were actions across North America and further afield. In the UK this included a protest outside a branch of Barclays in Newcastle, one of the financial institutions linked with DAPL.
Follow the money … all the way to London
The divestment movement around DAPL is growing and its targets include the British companies bankrolling the project through its major corporate players – Energy Transfer Partners and their subsidiary, Sunoco Logistics, along with Enbridge, Philipps 66 and Marathon Petroleum Corporation.
According to Food & Water Watch, 35 banks have provide $10.25 billion in loans and credit facilities to support the companies building the pipeline.
Barclays, HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland have lent $800 million to Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidaries, according to analysis by Greenpeace’s Energy Desk. International Commercial Bank of China, a Chinese bank with headquarters in London has given $120 million in a DAPL project level loan.
The Royal Bank of Scotland, which lent over $250 million to Energy Transfer Partners and Energy Transfer Equity, has stated that it no longer has a relationship with DAPL companies. Norway’s local authority pension fund has also divested from the project following representations from the country’s Sami Parliament, selling $58 million of shares.
Desmog UK found that Barclays has invested over $151.6 million in the pipeline companies whereas HSBC’s total investment value is $229.9 million. Barclay’s shares in Phillips 66 are valued at $54 million while HSBC has $59.14 million in shares invested.
The London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA) has around £393,000 holdings in three companies involved in DAPL, including Energy Transfer Partners. LPFA is the biggest Local Government Pension Scheme provider in London and is worth £4.6 billion.
Mayor Sadiq Khan included divestment from the fossil fuel industry in his election manifesto and campaigners are calling on him to stick to his word.
This is about way more than climate change
It’s important to remember that the push for divestment is about more than climate change – it’s also part of the fight for the rights and needs of people on the land. There are also questions to ask about where the money will be reinvested. Will it be done in a way that does not continue to harm frontline and marginalised communities?
“The investors and financiers will not move forward if the projects are deemed financially unfavorable”, Melanie Yazzie of The Red Nation, told Counterpunch. “We must continue to deny settlers their desired profits, profits they reap from colonizing our non-human relatives – the land and water.”
The indigenous communities at Standing Rock are battling to protect the water and ecosystems for future generations. They are doing this in a context of oppression and marginalisation in which Britain, a colonial power, is complicit. It is a battle firmly rooted in history as highlighted by Julian Brave NoiseCat and Anne Spice in Jacobin magazine:
“At Standing Rock and across indigenous territories, indigenous peoples are resisting hundreds of years of dispossession, subjugation, and elimination committed in the name of capitalist accumulation and white possession …
“The people who have endured centuries of dispossession and attempted elimination – the poorest of the poor, the most likely to be killed by law enforcement, the most easily forgotten – are still here and still fighting. They have built alternatives within and beyond capitalism for hundreds of years.”
The struggle against DAPL could accelerate the growth of the international movement that has been working in solidarity with indigenous communities against extraction projects for many years. As Suzanne Dhaliwal, director of the UK Tar Sands Network points out, this energy needs to stay within the wider movement against settler colonialism.
She also highlights the importance of allies assessing their place within the movement. “As you join the movement to lift up indigenous rights and climate justice think about history and what is your place, commit to unpacking your settler colonial privilege, understanding the power you hold and how to take an appropriate role. How are you stepping into this movement that has been on-going for hundreds of years?”
Whatever happens with DAPL, indigenous communities across North America are continuing to fight many environmental battles. As we work to be allies of the movement, this is an important question for all of us to ask ourselves.
Amy Hall is a freelance journalist based in Brighton and a columnist for openDemocracyUK, writing about the environment, democracy, corporate power and the British state in the wake of Brexit.
This article was originally published by openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.