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Indigenous Women of Standing Rock Resistance Movement Speak Out on Divestment

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Indigenous Women's Divestment delegates outside of Credit Suisse in Zurich, Switzerland before their meeting with the bank. (L-R) Michelle Cook, Tara Houska, Autumn Chacon, Wasté Win Young and Dr. Sarah Jumping Eagle. Photo credit: Osprey Orielle Lake / WECAN

By Osprey Orielle Lake

Despite the termination of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) by the U.S. Trump administration and the oil now filling the pipeline beneath the Standing Rock Sioux people's sacred Lake Oahe—Indigenous women leaders and their global allies remain unyielding in their quest for justice and healing regarding the violations of Indigenous rights and human rights being carried out through the development of DAPL and other fossil fuel projects across North America.


With determination and courage, a delegation of Indigenous women from Standing Rock and their allies who observed and experienced rights violations in North Dakota due to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, recently traveled to Norway and Switzerland to share their on-the-ground experiences as Indigenous women who are living and working in communities directly impacted by fossil fuel development and infrastructure.

Norway and Switzerland are home to some of the largest financial institutions investing in DAPL and in corporations that orchestrate pipeline projects, despite global and national reputations as countries with high ethical standards and respect for human rights.

Seeking to make known the impacts being felt in North Dakota as a direct result of the European investments, members of the Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation engaged with representatives of financial institutions and government leaders, civil society groups and public forums to provide first-hand testimony on the impacts of extractive industries, oil spills and contamination in their homelands—as well as to raise urgent calls for international solidarity, justice, divestment from dirty energy and a transition to renewable energy.

"Making Indigenous human rights abuses visible is critical in ending human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples. Indigenous women deserve spaces where they can share their personal testimonies regarding the impacts of extractive industries on their lands, lives, bodies and human rights," Michelle Cook, Diné human rights lawyer and a founding member of the of the Water Protector Legal Collective at Standing Rock, explained in advance of the divestment trip, "this delegation provides the rare opportunity for Indigenous women to meet face to face with the international banks who fund DAPL and oil and gas extraction in their traditional territories."

In Norway, the delegation met with Den Norske Bank (DNB); the Council on Ethics for the Government Pension Fund Global, commonly known as the Norwegian Oil Fund; the Norwegian Parliament; a delegation of Sami Indigenous peoples of the region; and with Norway's Sami President, Vibeke Larsen.

Police use tear gas against peaceful protectors standing in freezing temperatures to protect the water.Honor the Earth

The delegation members provided compelling and graphic testimony during each of their meetings, calling for full divestment and withdrawal of support by international financiers of DAPL and conveying in detail the militarization and abuses of law enforcement at Standing Rock, which include the use of attack dogs, mace, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, intrusive surveillance, water cannons and other physical violence against those involved in nonviolent direct actions based in traditional prayer, freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

"The inevitable pipeline break on the river will result in catastrophic contamination of the water supply for 17 million people downstream, including our people. This sends a direct message that our people are expendable," explained Standing Rock Sioux leader and former tribal historic preservation officer, Waste' Win Young, making known to the banks that her people would not be deterred in their work to maintain "a physical and spiritual presence on our ancestral lands."

"This movement has and always will be guided by prayer and love. Wóčhekiye. Wóthehila. Wówauŋšila. Prayer. Love. Compassion." Young explained.

In their testimonies the women called for justice and rule of law, drawing upon the recent report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which confirms that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had been the subject of violation of international Indigenous and human rights law due to the failure of processes of consultation and consent affirmed and recognized by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been adopted by both the governments of Norway and Switzerland.

The delegation advocated for the Norwegian Oil Fund to change their guidelines and standards to properly address Indigenous and human rights abuses and, while the women were in Norway, DNB bank fully divested its $331 million USD credit line to DAPL. Through inputs from diverse groups and an independent investigation, DNB had confirmed the lack of consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux and the violation of Indigenous rights.

The presence of the Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation in Norway helped tipped the scales for the DNB divestment and during the delegation meeting with the bank, the women spoke out to encourage the bank to advocate for the other 15 international banks engaged in DAPL and the Norwegian Oil Fund to follow their example.

When the DNB representatives were asked by delegation members if they would invest in the controversial Keystone XL pipeline resurrected under the Trump administration, they flatly stated that after their experience with Standing Rock, they would not touch Keystone.

Indeed, the movement to pull funding from the Dakota Access Pipeline is gaining traction, with cities, tribes and individuals across the world removing over five billion dollars of DAPL investments, according to public statistics collected by the DeFundDAPL collective.

"In the 21st century, an investment in dated, entrenched, dirty fossil fuels is an investment against our children and our future. Indigenous peoples bear the brunt of the many harms associated with extractive industry, our communities are impacted first and worst. We must break the cycle of oil dependency and justly transition to a green economy," urged delegation member Tara Houska, an Anishinaabe tribal attorney, national campaigns director of Honor the Earth and former advisor on Native American affairs to Bernie Sanders.

The delegation meets with members of the Norwegian Parliament. Also pictured with the Indigenous women delegates and Parliamentarians: Tanyette Colon (documentarian and delegation supporter) and Osprey Orielle Lake (delegation organizer, Women's Earth and Climate Action Network).

In their meetings, delegation members also spoke about the traditional role women hold as protectors of water in their communities and the responsibility each person has to care for the web of life. Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, Oglala Lakota and Mdewakantonwan Dakota living and working on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, elucidated on this point:

"The connections between who we are as Lakota Oyate—our health, our lands and water, our spirituality, our self-empowerment and self-esteem—are deeply rooted; the actions we take to protect our land and water, our future and our children's water can only help us all. We all have the power—wowasake—within us to make a difference in this world."

Following strong advocacy in Norway, the delegation received requests to travel to Switzerland to continue work to highlight human rights and Indigenous rights violations and demand pipeline divestment, arranging meetings with Credit Suisse bank and UBS, a Swiss global financial services company.

In Norway the 'Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation: Experiences From Standing Rock' members (left to right) Dr. Sarah Jumping Eagle, Tara Houska, Michelle Cook, Autumn Chacon and Wasté Win YoungOsprey Orielle Lake/WECAN

"The meeting with Credit Suisse fulfilled all my expectations of a bank that tries to pretend it is removed from the atrocities happening on the ground," explained Tara Houska, "that said, I think it was very powerful for them to see our faces first hand and to hear the experiences of people at Standing Rock and to know that their money is invested in the company that is creating this pipeline project and causing destruction to real people. We are in the era of renewable energy; we have alternatives to the fossil fuel industry. We are asking the Swiss people to stand with us and to recognize that the actions they take affect others around the world and that simply because it's out of sight and out of mind does not mean that this is not actually happening. Divestment is the next wave of direct action against these corporations."

Autumn Chacon, a Diné artist, water protector and divestment delegate commented further:

"Here we have one of the most powerful banks in the world, doing business with unethical corporations in the U.S. who have undermined the law and human rights. Credit Swiss bank wants to relinquish any direct tie to genocide of American Indians, however in this case, we all see the bank as the enabler of the abuser."

Delegates hold a press conference in the center of the financial district in Zurich, Switzerland.

Credit Suisse bank has agreed to a follow-up communication with the delegation in two months time after an internal discussion process for reviewing and applying their respective guidelines.

As delegate Dr. Sarah Jumping Eagle reported:

"Credit Swiss was receptive to our description of the human rights abuses that occurred during the protests. Yet, they are still in denial about their direct financing of the corrupt Energy Transfer Partner Corporation and its role in the Dakota Access pipeline project. Credit Swiss is attempting to distance themselves from these violations of Indigenous rights and human rights abuses. On a positive note, they said that they would review their internal policies and procedures to take into account Indigenous and human rights."

Waste' Win Young (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) is interviewed by the Swiss press during the delegation.Osprey Orielle Lake / WECAN

The Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation was organized and facilitated by the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International in response to the leadership and request of frontline Indigenous women seeking financial divestment from DAPL and other fossil fuel developments which threaten the lives, rights and cultural survival of their nations and peoples.

As has been demonstrated everyday on-the-ground at Standing Rock and during the divestment delegation—Indigenous women are the backbone and future of their tribal nations and now more than ever, it is essential that we stand with frontline women as they act for protection of water and land, a transition to clean energy and a halt to escalating climate change.

The various bank and government representatives who heard the women speak will not be the same again after hearing first-hand experiences of rights violations and the women's demands for no more fossil fuel extraction on their lands, respect for Indigenous rights and sovereignty, human rights and the rights of nature.

Globally, it is time for financial institutions to listen to the voices of Indigenous women leaders and their allies as they call for accountability to people and planet. Delegation members, WECAN and diverse leaders across the U.S. and around the world will continue divestment advocacy and actions until there are genuine results founded in justice and care for the futures of all of our children. Together, we must fight to restore the health of our communities, divest from dirty energy, invest and transition to renewable energy and build the just world we seek.

Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and serves on the Executive Committee for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. She was asked to organize and facilitate the Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation and is the author of the award-winning book Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature. Follow on Twitter @WECAN_INTL.

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