Native Americans Target Banks in Multi-Pronged Attack on Dakota Access

Lee Stewart applies crime scene tape to TD Bank branch door./Photo by Elisabeth Hoffman

Lee Stewart applies crime scene tape to TD Bank branch door./Photo by Elisabeth Hoffman

Native Americans and environmentalists are targeting the financial institutions providing Energy Transfer Partners with loans to build its proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil transportation system designed to carry Bakken crude near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

The odds are slim the banks will choose to back out of their financial agreements with Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. But the activists are preparing to settle in for the long haul and are planning to make the protests against the financial institutions part of a multipronged attack on the pipeline project.

“People think that everybody is going to leave when winter comes. I have a secret to tell you. We’re not leaving,” Jasilyn Charger, a 20-year-old activist from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said at a Sept. 13 rally across the street from the White House in Washington, D.C. A camp outside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has become the focal point of resistance to the pipeline project.

Construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline would not be possible without major financial institutions, such as Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and TD Securities, providing project loans to the company. “We are up against the usual suspects. I’m talking Citibank. I’m talking Wells Fargo. I’m talking JPMorgan Chase,” Chase Iron Eyes, an American Indian activist and attorney from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said at the rally.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is worried the pipeline will negatively impact water quality on its reservation and imperil cultural heritage sites. The Dakota Access Pipeline would cross under the Missouri River, the source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The pipeline also would cross some of the tribe’s burial grounds. On Sept. 3, pipeline company security dogs with dogs and mace attacked people trying to protect the burial grounds from pipeline construction.

“It’s also good business to protect our water resources because we don’t have energy security unless we have water security. We don’t have food security unless we have water security. We don’t have national security unless we have water security. I say that with the truest of intentions,” Iron Eyes said at the rally. “We have been here since time immemorial and we have been telling you that you can get by love what you have taken by force.”

Protesters March on TD Bank

According to a new Food & Water Watch report, 17 financial institutions have loaned ETP subsidiary Dakota Access LLC $2.5 billion to construct the pipeline. Native Americans and other activists on Sept. 14 marched from Lafayette Square across from the White House to a nearby TD Bank branch. TD Securities, part of the Canada-based TD Bank Group, is contributing $365 million to the pipeline project, according to the Food & Water Watch report.

The activists drafted a letter to deliver to the bank’s branch manager. “Your bank may be one of the ‘most convenient’ for customers in Washington, D.C., but TD Securities’ funding of the Dakota Access pipeline is not ‘convenient’ for the members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe through whose land it passes, and whose water source — the Missouri River — is threatened,” the letter, dated Sept. 14, said.

Protester hold a sign depicting dogs deployed by Dakota Access security attacking Native Americans near a pipeline construction site./Photo by Elisabeth Hoffman

Sign depicts dogs deployed by Dakota Access security attacking Native Americans near a pipeline construction site./Photo by Elisabeth Hoffman

In an emailed statement, TD Bank said it supports “responsible energy development” and that it employs “due diligence in our leading and investing activities relating to energy production.”

“We work with our customers, community and environment groups, and energy clients to better understand key issues of concern, and to promote informed dialogue,” TD Bank said in the Sept. 14 statement. “We also respect the rights of people to voice their opinions and protest in a peaceful way. Our oil and gas sector lending represents less than 1% of our total lending portfolio.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline project is a proposed 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline designed to connect the Bakken production area in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline would transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels per day or more, which could represent approximately half of Bakken current daily crude oil production.

At the Aug. 13 rally at the White House, May Boeve, executive director of environmental group 350.org, compared the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline to the years-long anti-Keystone XL battle. During the fight against Keystone XL, “People said, ‘You may as well give up. They may as well go home. Pick another fight. You’re too late. You’re too weak as a movement,’” Boeve recalled. “Well, guess what. We didn’t take no for an answer. We organized. We rallied, we went to jail. And last November, President Obama stood at a podium at the White House and cancelled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.”

In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved many of the final permits necessary to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline. On Sept. 9, the U.S. government issued a statement stating it would temporarily not allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline underneath a section of the Missouri River that has become the main battleground of dispute over the project. The statement came on the same day that a federal judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to halt construction of the pipeline in North Dakota.

Earlier this week, ETP CEO Kelcy Warren issued a letter defending the safety of the pipeline and insisting the company is committed to finishing the job over the objections of Native Americans.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told the hundreds of people gathered at the Sept. 13 rally that “it’s vitally important that we show our solidarity with the Native American people.” Sanders criticized ETP for its refusal to hold off on construction of the pipeline. “In absence of the pipeline company’s compliance, further administration action is needed. That is why I am calling on President Obama today to ensure that this pipeline gets a full environmental and cultural impact analysis,” Sanders said. “When that analysis takes place, this pipeline will not continue.”

This article was originally published in Counterpunch.