in ,

Exposed: America’s Biggest Bank Is Still Stealing Land From Indigenous Tribes

It’s not a matter of if there will be an oil spill but when. We’re standing with our allies… Let’s not let borders separate us.

– Cedar George-Parker, Tsleil-Waututh Nation (British Columbia)

Big Corporations are Profiting off Indigenous People

It’s 2017, and North America’s most powerful players are still using deceit and violence to steal Indigenous resources for their own obscene profit.

In a world where traditional methods of colonization and violence against Indigenous people are no longer legal, repression has taken on new faces. One of the most sinister is endless miles of oil pipelines.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion is one of those pipelines. a massive expansion of an existing line that would run from Alberta to Vancouver to create the most massive pipe coming out of the Tar Sands to date. It’s a much bigger pipe than the Keystone XL or the Dakota Access, both of which have been bitterly contested in the U.S. for years.

And like DAPL and KXL – and countless other pipelines past, present and future – Trans Mountain is a human rights crisis waiting to happen.

sepia toned photograph showing men at work on an oil pipeline in "Indian Territory" for Sheehan Pipeline Construction Company, early 1900's
Men work on an oil pipeline in “Indian Territory” for Sheehan Pipeline Construction Company, early 1900’s

Pipelines are Still Forced Through Indigenous Land

“The stories are the same no matter where you go around the world with Indigenous people,” Tara Houska, a member of Couchiching First Nation and national campaign director for Honor the Earth, said of DAPL: “It’s always: this extractive project contaminated our drinking water; this industry is preventing us from exercising our rights to hunt and fish; our traditional foods are dying; our children are sick; our elders are sick; we have cancer clusters.”

That link between land and culture, water and tradition, means that the climate implications of pipelines running through Indigenous land are deeply entwined with the Indigenous sovereignty violations they represent. From KXL to Trans Mountain, the permitting processes for these pipelines is characterized by obfuscation and deception.

Over 120 First Nations and tribes have come out against Trans Mountain expansion, many of which cited the fact that they weren’t properly consulted. “Every one of the concerns we put forward was met with vagueness and generalities, and that’s simply not acceptable,” said Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation; Squamish territory is directly threatened by the Trans Mountain expansion. 

Flags of Native American tribes from across the U.S. and Canada line the entrance to a protest encampment near Cannon Ball, N.D. where members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their supporters gathered to voice their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Sept. 3, 2016. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
Flags of Native American tribes from across the U.S. and Canada line the entrance to a DAPL protest encampment near Cannon Ball, N.D.

Human rights and climate threats aside, Trans Mountain and DAPL have one other thing in common: JP Morgan Chase

Chase is one of just a handful of American banks who are bankrolling serious Tar Sands extraction; the mega-bank has provided loans not just for the Trans Mountain Pipeline, but for the three other proposed Tar Sands pipeline projects: the Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 3, and TransCanada’s Energy East pipelines. The bank has become a key target of a major activist battle to starve Trans Mountain of the billions of dollars it needs to break ground. In May, branches all over Seattle were shut down by Indigenous leaders and others calling for the bank to divest from Tar Sands projects. Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, and have also launched initiatives to force Chase to pull its money. “If you stop the flow of dollars,” said Alex Connon of 350 Seattle, “you stop the flow of oil.”

Chase is both critical to these pipelines and, thanks to their own PR stunts, highly vulnerable: they’re on record refusing to provide any money for new coal mines or coal-fired plants due to climate change risks. They also made a big show of donating to a handful of groups to “fight racism” in the aftermath of white supremacist violence this month.

JP Morgan Chase is still dogged by its history of enabling of genocide overseas

The bank is still dogged by its history of enabling of genocide overseas, most notoriously their ties to PetroChina, widely recognized for helping to finance genocide in Sudan. As recently as 2012, Chase was actively petitioning its shareholders to vote against a proposal calling on the bank to stop investing in companies that “substantially contribute to genocide.” Chase is only now bouncing back from years of challenges around their role in the housing crisis, and remains under DOJ investigation for currency manipulation. It has a lot to lose.

Roxanne White, a member of the Yakama Nation, sings during a Trans Mountain protest at a Chase branch
Roxanne White, a member of the Yakama Nation, sings during a Trans Mountain protest at a Chase branch

Bringing the heat to banks is a proven strategy for fighting pipelines

Dutch Bank ING, one of the other banks financing Tar Sands pipelines, pulled their money out of all four Tar Sands projects in July, a move that represented over $137 million worth of lost funds for the projects. And this year alone, 17 different banks pulled tens of millions of dollars out of the Dakota Access Pipeline following weeks of sustained pressure from activists. U.S. Bank went further, pulling all pipeline funding and saying they wouldn’t finance any pipelines going forward.

Trans Mountain itself is also on extremely thin ice. Not only are Indigenous groups and climate justice forces aligning against it, but the newly sworn-in government of British Columbia vowed this month to use “every tool” they have to defeat it. Crucially, Kinder Morgan still hasn’t met five of eight conditions that the previous government laid out in an environmental assessment; B.C.’s new environment minister says that until they do, the company can’t even break ground on public lands.

Image of the tar sands in Alberta Canada
The Alberta Tar Sands; climate experts have called expanding Tar Sands extraction “game over” for our climate

People are fighting back

Since the first arrival of settlers to this continent, Indigenous people here have used every tool in the box to hang onto land, languages, waters, families and sovereignty.

With a few notable exceptions (the occupation of Alcatraz, the Battle of Greasy Grass), those battles were waged outside of the consciousness of most Americans. DAPL marked a sea change, in the Indigenous struggle for self-determination and there is no going back. The Indigenous movement against these pipelines is heating up and Chase is about to get a rude awakening. 

Join the movement: send a letter to Chase CEO Jamie Dimon demanding the bank divest from all Tar Sands pipeline projects.

Written by Caitlyn McClure

Caitlyn is a rabble-rouser and writer based in Olympia, WA. She is a copywriter and logistics specialist for Tiny Pixel Collective, a web shop providing activists and artists with the tools they need to tell stories that inspire change.