Indigenous Norwegians Force Bank To Withdraw Support For Dakota Access Pipeline

Breaking News: Army Corps of Engineers Denies Easement For Pipeline

The secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers told Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II Sunday that the current route for the controversial Dakota Access pipeline will be denied. “Although we have had continuing discussions and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, said in a statement Sunday. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”  [Source: NBC News]

It will come as a surprise to some, but Native Americans are not the only indigenous people in the world. In Australia, indigenous people are called Aboriginals. In New Zealand they are known as Maoris. In Canada they are known as First Nation people, Metis, or Inuits. In Norway, they are known as Samis. Regardless of where they are located, they share a common heritage. All have been savagely attacked by white adventurers carrying the mantra of capitalism, colonialism, and commercial exploitation to every corner of the globe.

indigenous people protest Dakota Access pipeline
Sámi artist Sara Marielle Guap Baeska holds the Sámi flag with other Sámi activists and Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault. (Photo: Jeff Schad Imagery)

Today in Standing Rock, North Dakota, a titanic struggle is brewing over the so-called Dakota Access Pipeline. Those who claim Sioux heritage maintain the land belongs to them as the result of treaty signed 150 years ago by the U.S. government. They also assert the land is home to ancestral burial grounds. Most of all, the Sioux insist that the pipeline is a direct threat to the nearby Missouri River, the tribe’s source of drinking water for centuries. They say the pipeline will malfunction one day, sooner or later, and compromise the water supply of the more than 60 million people who live downstream.

Since the first of December, over 3,000 military veterans have traveled to Standing Rock. They say they are committed to protecting the protesters from the violent tactics of the law enforcement community that has been hired by the local sheriff and the pipeline company to disperse them. The Corps of Engineers has let it be known it intends to evict the protesters, with armed force if necessary, starting next week.

A connection to indigenous people in Norway

The resistance of the Sioux people resonates with indigenous people in other nations, including the Sami people in Norway. Their ancestral lands are found in the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

On November 8, 2016, Beaska Niillas, chairman of the Norwegian Sámi Association, walked into a conference room in Oslo, Norway, with his wife, Sara Marielle Gaup Beaska. Both are members of the Sámi Parliament. Together, they convinced the leaders of DNB — Norway’s largest bank — to withdraw its financial support for the Dakota Access Pipeline. “It is natural that we would try to help Standing Rock. It is easy for indigenous people around the world to recognize the struggle. We see what they are going through and we feel it. There is no them, only us,” Niillas said in a Skype interview with Truthout.

DNB is a direct investor and loan provider to the Dakota Access Pipeline. It has loaned $120 million to the Bakken pipeline project and extended $460 million in credit lines to companies with ownership stakes, specifically Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco Logistics, Phillips 66, and Marathon. “I went to that meeting knowing that to succeed, we needed independent documentation of the human rights abuses,” Niillas said. “We needed something to convince the bank that the abuses weren’t just found on social media. Five hours before the meeting, I had the report I needed in my hands.”

That report came to Niillas unexpectedly from law school graduate Michelle Cook, who had worked at the Standing Rock camp to develop a legal infrastructure to support the tribe and its allies. “There [were] four people, big shots in a big company,” Niillas said. “None of us knew what to expect. They seemed confident at the start and then uncomfortable as we started talking about what was happening at Standing Rock. By the end, I could see they realized the severity of the situation that they were in.”

Shortly after that meeting, DNB sold off $3 million in assets. Although the bank is still responsible for offering the pipeline companies hundreds of millions of dollars in credit — about 10 percent of the credit needed for the project — Sámi activists are confident this is just the start of complete divestment of Nordic countries from the pipeline. They recently scored another victory. On November 24, Odin Fund Management, a major fund manager in Norway, also announced that it sold $23.8 million worth of shares that were invested in the companies that are part of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The rise of local activists

Who is Michelle Cook? She is an attorney and trained human rights watcher. She is also a member of the Navajo nation who is a member of the Water Protector Legal Collective. Cook called on her team at the Water Protector Legal Collective and began working on a detailed report documenting the human rights abuses that she and others from the group had witnessed in North Dakota, including every verifiable violation from other legal observers and attorneys at camp.

“I told my friends, ‘I promise you, even if I am not there with you, we are going to come for them, and come for the people that are doing this. I will find a way to give these people a devastating blow. And if there is a way I can do it financially, than that is what I’ll do,'” Cook said.

Cook sees her report as a way to let members of the banking community know what they are supporting. “It is a cry of desperation for the banks to pull out and divest before this results in the loss of life,” Cook said. “I do not want to have another Indian massacre in the U.S. I don’t want to watch people be massacred. We are trying to tell these bankers, you have to stop before this gets to a point where you can’t return from.”

“They need to understand how bad it is. It is life and death right now. They have the power right now to choose life. I want them to understand the weight and consequences of their decisions. Either our people will be safe and live, or someone will die. They can prevent that.”

Ellen Marie Jensen is a Sámi-American whose father emigrated to the United States in 1965. She has been active in Native American sovereignty rights issues for years in Minnesota before returning to Norway to pursue a doctorate degree. “Norwegian and Sámi people settled in North Dakota and settled the lands that the [Sioux] people were removed from,” Jensen told Truthout. “We have a responsibility to help them. My people know their struggle. I am in Norway and can’t fight on the front lines, but I need to do everything I can from here.”

Another activist who got involved is Mike Scott, a coal organizer for the Sierra Club in the Powder River Basin in Montana. Scott is of Sámi descent as well. His family emigrated from Norway and homesteaded in North Dakota in the early 20th century. “I couldn’t leave my farm, but I needed to do something,” Scott told Truthout. “I thought, what can I do? I realized there were Norwegian money connections to the DAPL and I had community in Norway. That is where I could make a difference.”

Scott sent a message out to the Sámi-American Facebook group and forwarded the idea of organizing protests at Norwegian embassies in America. Jensen responded immediately and connected Scott with Niillas, whom she knew was meeting with DNB in the next couple of days. Niillas told Scott he needed an independent report documenting the human rights abuses happening at the camp. Scott called a friend who had been working with Cook at the Standing Rock camp with the legal team.

“Mike Scott called me and said they needed a factual, independent document detailing the human rights abuses for DNB. I couldn’t believe it. I had just finished it. I told him it’s done! It’s done!” Cook said. Scott connected Niillas and Cook, and Niillas received the report just in time for his meeting. It documented not only the human rights violations but also the legal obligations of DNB. It also documented the international human rights laws that were being broken in North Dakota and clearly laid out DNB’s role in the human rights violations occurring in North Dakota. “I had only dreamed that we could get this type of documentation,” said Niillas.

One mosquito will not bother a snake

Reflecting on the sequence of events that led up to the meeting in Oslo, Niillas said he believes in the power of connecting indigenous peoples all over the globe. “One mosquito will not bother a snake. But a thousand mosquitoes will kill it,” Niillas said.

Niillas, Cook, Jensen, and Scott all believe that this first divestment is only the beginning of financial institutions pulling out of the pipeline project. They are planning to keep working together to keep the pressure on DNB and other Nordic banks that are invested in the pipeline and to force them to pull their lines of credit as well. “When [the bank] divested, they committed themselves to a path. We will give them a little room to make the right decision and pull the credit line, but we will not back down,” Niillas said. He and his wife plan to travel to Standing Rock on December 12.

“This isn’t just an issue in the U.S. There are a bunch of international banks invested in this thing, and they need to be held accountable for what they are doing,” Scott said. “What happened in Norway with DNB can provide a model for others. Whatever community you are in, there is power in it. We need to connect with each other.”

Jensen says the connections between people in the U.S. with Sámi heritage and the Sámi in Norway allow for a powerful alliance that will continue to grow, supporting efforts in North Dakota and elsewhere. “We have a profound obligation to fight with the Native Americans,” Jensen said. “The cross-Atlantic connections are being mobilized. The Nordic countries hate to look bad internationally. This is the result of dedicated work of the grassroots on the ground.”

The power of public pressure

Cook also sees this as a winning strategy and is hoping that activists, organizations, and those that can’t be on the front lines will learn from what happened. Public pressure is important and sets the stage for divestment, but she recognizes that banks have internal procedures and that legal documentation is necessary to get them to begin the process. “They have to have hard evidence that will compel their own internal structures, their own internal policies to question and raise the suspicions enough so we can compel them to do an independent investigation. We need to provide the factual information that they need.”

Cook isn’t backing down, and she believes the work is even more important now, after watching Protectors get blasted with water in freezing temperatures this Sunday. One woman in Standing Rock was so severely injured by police that she may have to have her arm amputated. “I want all of those bankers to know that we are going to come after you,” Cook said. “I will chase them to the ends of the Earth. We will hold them accountable. This is on them.”

What’s next?

While writing this story,  I learned the news that the Army Corps of Engineers will deny an easement across the land that the Sioux Nation claims belongs to it. The Corps says it will seek an alternate route for the pipeline. Bear in mind that the original route went close to the city of Bismark, North Dakota, but the lily white residents of that community didn’t want the pipeline because they feared damage to their own drinking water if the pipeline should burst.

70% of  voters in the county where Bismark is located voted for Donald Trump. As much as they worried about their own environment, they were completely content to have the pipeline shoved down the throats of the Sioux, who enjoy relatively little political power.

The battle is not yet won. The Corps of Engineers are still planning to get the pipeline done. Within a few weeks, Donald J. Trump will be president. He has a financial stake in the pipeline and will use his office to push the project forward, since he is nigh bright enough to understand the corruption is illegal. Trump has already threatened to revive the Keystone XL pipeline. There is every reason to believe he will use every tool at his disposal to keep the pipeline alive.

Protect out water resources

No matter what route is chosen for the pipeline, the Missouri River will be threatened. Political protest is all well and good, and if it makes you feel better to “like” something on Facebook or sign an online petition, good for you. But if you want to protect America’s precious rivers, it takes more. It takes money, and it takes confronting those who are funding the Dakota Access pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that endanger the environment.

Trump doesn’t care a flying fig about the environment. All he cares about is enriching himself by any means fair or foul. But you are not powerless. Contact American Rivers for information about how you can help in the fight to keep our rivers free of pollution. Your President-elect won’t lift a finger to help. We have to do the heavy lifting, so please get involved today.

It wasn’t political pressure that defeated apartheid. It was economic sanctions. Attack the source of the funding for projects like the Dakota Access pipeline. Historically, that is how to win battles where the odds seem to be stacked against the interests of humanity and a healthy environment.

Many of America’s largest banks and financial funds are supporting the fossil fuel industries. Add your voice to the thousands of citizens who are calling for an end to the “profits over people” mentality that threatens the very existence of a civil society in America.

Source: Truth Out


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