North American Indigenous Divestment Campaign Targets Banks Funding Tar Sands Crude Oil Pipelines

Posted May 24, 2017

MP3 Interview with Matt Remle, member of the Lakota Nation, anti-pipeline activist, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


Earlier this month, a coalition of grassroots indigenous groups from across North America – what they call Turtle Island – joined with more than 100 indigenous nations and tribes in Canada that are members of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, to launch a new, integrated divestment campaign. Their targets are the banks funding the Dakota Access pipeline and four other tar sands crude oil pipelines currently proposed to run from Alberta, Canada to other regions in Canada and to the U.S. The targeted pipelines include the Keystone XL pipeline, which was killed by former President Obama, but revived by Donald Trump.

The campaign grew out of earlier organizing against the Keystone XL and the successful campaign in Seattle to force the city to divest from Wells Fargo bank – a large investor in Dakota Access, other oil pipelines and socially destructive investments such as private prisons. Thus far, the revived KXL pipeline has not secured any project-level loans. Under indigenous leadership, other groups including Rainforest Action Network and a Canadian affiliate of are also supporting the multi-pronged effort.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Matt Remle, a member of the Lakota Nation living in Seattle who worked on the successful City Council divestment resolution and a second resolution that passed prohibiting banks that finance tar sands pipelines from bidding on City of Seattle contracts. Remle, who is a founder and editor of Last Real Indians, an online news site, talks about applying the lessons of previous struggles to this new divestment campaign. [Rush transcript.]

MATT REMLE: One of our strategies with Wells Fargo and the divestment campaign we ran there, was kind of twofold. One, the campaign was never just about stopping with the City of Seattle; we wanted to expand to other cities and tribes in terms of getting them to also do divestment efforts. So, we worked early on with organizers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other parts of the country and internationally to run similar divestment campaigns. So, that was one part of the strategy. The second part, as you know, when Trump issued his executive order, it gave the green light again for the Keystone XL pipeline. We – the folks in Seattle – wanted to be proactive in going after Keystone, and we crafted another resolution to take back to the Seattle city council, that said if any bank gives project-level loans to TransCanada to build the KXL, or any of these other tar sands pipelines, then they would be excluded from bidding on City of Seattle contracts. And that resolution was passed. What I mean about being proactive is, even though Trump gave that green light to build Keystone, TransCanada at this point still does not have project-level loans to build the pipeline. That's what I mean by pro-active: we want to go after and apply pressure on these financial institutions now in hopes that if we can apply enough pressure, they wont give the loans to TransCanada to build the pipeline, and that expanded out to the other tar sands pipelines as well.

Then we linked up with some other organizations, including the Indigenous Environmental Network, Honor the Earth, the International Indigenous Youth Council, and decided to kind of make it a joint effort, which includes tribal communities located in and around the tar sands to make a global effort to run divestment campaigns against those pipelines.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Matt Remle, often when groups start a boycott of soft drinks or cigarettes or whatever, the common wisdom is that you target one, usually the industry leader, and go after them, because if you’re spread too thin you’re less likely to have success with any of them. What do you think about that argument as it relates to your coalition going after all these banks?

MATT REMLE: Actually, I would disagree. Also, a boycott is different than a divestment campaign, especially when you're looking at financial institutions. This is something we thought about strategically when we crafted our ordinance in Seattle to divest from Wells Fargo. So, to us, Wells Fargo is one of the main banks behind DAPL, and they had a number of City of Seattle contracts. What we didn’t want to see happen was for the City of Seattle to divest its $3 billion in Wells Fargo and then re-invest in a Bank of America, or a U.S. bank, or whomever, because that in itself wouldn't be a victory, because all them banks got their hands dirty in their involvement in some of these pipelines. So, when we crafted our ordinance we were very conscious of that. What we crafted was a whole set of criteria we call socially responsible banking practices, which includes things like banks not being involved in predatory lending practices, not being invested in energy intensive fossil fuel projects, private prisons, detention centers, that sort of things. So what that means is that when a bank bids on a City of Seattle contract, like any other contract where people on it, they’re scored, and there’s points associated with it. What we established now is part of that criteria, so banks will be dinged if they’re investing in private prisons or fossil fuel projects, they’re going to be dinged and therefore less likely to be able to bid on City of Seattle contracts.

We strengthened that by passing that next resolution, which excludes any bank from bidding on City of Seattle contracts if they are to give project-level loans or investment into any of these tar sands campaigns. I bring this up because you mentioned targeting one as opposed to many. Well, with two pieces of legislation, we’re able to, at least for the City of Seattle, we’ve effectively gone after every single one of them. Now the banks will have to make a decision whether it’s more lucrative for them to give a loan for a pipeline and whatever return they see for that, and if they do, lose out on the possibility of having a contract with the City of Seattle – that’s their decision to make. So this is the sort of creative ways we can go after financial institutions, and once you start getting a number of other cities passing similar legislation, you can put the squeeze on a whole bunch of financial institutions.

For more information, visit Mazaska Talks at; Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion at and Facebook at

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