by Dominic Stephen
Displacement from their native land is not unfamiliar to the Native American Sioux tribe of North Dakota. Beginning in the 1950s, the American government forcibly removed the tribes residing around the Missouri River Basin, clearing land to prepare for the installation of a series of hydroelectric dams. The scars from this relocation, done over sixty years ago, are still deeply felt – the local tribes are said to have suffered severe poverty and unemployment ever since.
The name ‘Dakota’ means “friends” or “allies” in the local Sioux language. Though, events at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota have for the past year been far from amicable. Beginning in 2014, Texas-based energy company Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. announced plans for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to carry petroleum from Illinois to North Dakota. However, the pipe’s route was planned to run near Lake Oahe in North Dakoa, part of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation of the Native American Sioux tribe. Lake Oahe is a prime source of water for the reservation, and the land to be cleared is home to sacred burial ground of the tribe there. This such jeopardising of the tribe’s water, and the undermining of their private spiritual land, sparked an impassioned backlash by native Americans and activists alike.
The protests against the pipeline began in North Dakota in the Spring of 2016, and have since drawn thousands of activists, journalists, and tribespeople to the Standing Rock Reserve. In December, under the tagline “Veterans Stand”, hundreds of US Army Veterans descended on the site, forming a human shield to protect the ‘water protector’ protesters and native people against the police and security forces.
Optimism spread throughout the activists and tribespeople, when in December 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers, under the Obama administration, did not grant a permit for the DAPL to go ahead. In an attempt to resolve the dispute in a way ‘properly attentive to the traditions of first Americans’, the Army Corps had begun to search for alternative routes for the pipeline.
The newly inaugurated Trump administration, however, questioning the ‘politicised science’ of climate change , and in a bid to further domesticate American’s energy supply, gave the executive order in January 2017 for the DAPL to continue. Later in February, Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, addressed the issue in a Press Briefing, saying ‘we feel very confident that we will move forward to get the pipeline moving’, and ‘our team has been in contact with all the parties involved. They have been working and communicating back and forth.’ Despite a more aggressive eviction process recently begun by militarised police and private security forces, a handful of protestors remain at the site.
Dutch banks’ involvement
The international banking sector has also been subject to scrutiny and criticism in recent months. On its website, financial NGO BankTrack exposed the 17 financial institutions who, on August 16th 2016, collectively loaned $2.5 billion to the companies behind the project’s construction. Among them were Dutch banks ING and ABN AMRO.
ABN states on its website that, while not directly involved in the DAPL, it does have financial ties to Energy Transfer Equity (ETE), parent company to Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) tasked with constructing the pipeline itself. ABN AMRO, according to Food & Water Watch, have in total invested $45 million to ETE so far. With reference to their ethical and sustainability policies, ABN points on their website to their ‘desire that an acceptable non-violent solution be found among all parties impacted by the construction of the DAPL, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. If such a solution is not achieved, the ultimate consequence will be discontinuation of the relationship.’
ING is more directly involved in the financing of the DAPL and, in a contract which they say is impossible to withdraw from, bought shares into the pipeline project worth $120 million. Hearing of the protests against the pipeline however, ING sold their shares in the project’s parent companies (worth $220 million), expressed their disapproval of the treatment of the Sioux tribe at Standing Rock, and committed to rejecting any further funding requests related to the oil pipeline project.
Environmental NGO Greenpeace has been active in their criticism of the Dutch bank’s financial support. In February this year, a group of activists dug a mock-up oil pipeline running directly in front of the ING bank headquarters in Amsterdam. ‘We’re giving them a taste of their own medicine’, campaign leader Kim Schoppink said, drawing attention to the destruction and disrespect caused by the installation of new and arguably unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure.