Save the He Sapa (Black Hills)

Lakota Law

For generations, the He Sapa (Black Hills) have been revered by the Oceti Sakowin as sacred grounds. As Indigenous Peoples, we are the original stewards of this land, and we have never relinquished that right. That’s why it’s so important for us to take a stand against harmful extraction in our homelands — like the mining interests currently tearing up and poisoning the He Sapa. 

Will you help us eliminate these threats to our water, treaty territory, and sacred sites? Right now, please join us in asking U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to suspend all new mining claims in the Black Hills until the Lakota’s treaty rights are properly acknowledged and honored.

Click the pic to read our blog, then please take action to protect the Black Hills!

Over the past weeks, I’ve been working closely with the good people of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance to understand and help communicate the scope and urgency of the mining problem in the Black Hills. We collaborated to create a blog for you to read, which explains the situation in more detail, and the action you can take to convince Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Department of the Interior to intervene.

At present, 184,000 acres of mining claims litter the Black Hills, covering 15 percent of our sacred grounds, and water system contamination caused by mining represents the greatest threat to the area. And, of course, the mining companies routinely walk away after tearing up the land and contaminating the water, leaving waste behind — forcing taxpayers to cover the clean up costs. 

It’s long past time to return the sacred by honoring treaty rights with Indigenous nations and treating Unci Maka — our grandmother Earth — with utmost respect. So, please read our blog and then take action to protect the He Sapa. You can help make a huge difference for our homelands and our people.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your action and care!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL)

Lakota Law

We remain 100 percent focused on our ongoing fight to end the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), despite the turmoil in the world around us. As you’ll see in a new video we co-produced with Standing Rock, a strong coalition among South Dakota’s tribal nations has formed to get it done. 

Watch on Standing Rock’s Vimeo page: Standing Rock Chair Janet Alkire is joined by leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin to coordinate the current #NoDAPL strategy.

In the video, you’ll hear from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman Janet Alkire, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier. It’s the first in a planned series that will delve more deeply into the complex issues faced by the tribes in their fight to stop DAPL — a pipeline which continues to operate without a permit for its crossing under Lake Oahe just north of the Standing Rock Nation.

Chairwoman Alkire has been actively relaying tribal concerns directly to Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. She recently returned from a meeting with him, in which she discussed the lack of transparency concerning DAPL’s oil spill response plan for the Missouri River and the terrible safety track record of its parent company, Energy Transfer. As detailed in a press release from the tribe, over a recent 8-year period, nine pipelines owned and controlled by Energy Transfer and its affiliated companies experienced nearly 300 spills — including 50 large ones in vulnerable areas like Lake Oahe.

Until this pipeline has a valid Environmental Impact Statement and federal permit, it is operating in violation of the laws designed to safeguard our people, our delicate water systems, and our sacred homelands. We must keep the pressure on U.S. leaders to do the right thing and shut DAPL down. Please watch our video, stay tuned for the next chapters, and be ready when the time comes to take action together.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and the entire Oceti Sakowin!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

No to Extraction

https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/indigenous-women-say-no-to-extraction-for-sustainable-future

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, Indian Country Today, and High Country News.

Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

At the world’s largest gathering of Indigenous leaders, women are talking about how to hold financial institutions accountable for fueling climate catastrophe through investments in the extractive industry.

Michelle Cook, Navajo, was among those who offered powerful testimonies focused on the women at the frontlines of extractive projects, the boardrooms of financial institutions, and the halls of governments. Speaking at a side event hosted by Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network at the 21st session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, Cook described the work as being part of a sacred obligation.

“That’s what we’re doing, fulfilling a prayer for the world – for nature – with love, compassion, and with courage. No other weapon than that, the truth,” Cook, the founder of Divest Invest Protect, said. “For some, that is so terrifying. Indigenous women will not give up … We will not be intimidated, shamed or be afraid just for being who we are.”

The international forum side events offer participants the opportunity to continue thematic dialogues outside of the forum’s schedule, which is more limited than previous years due to the pandemic and is operating on a hybrid format this year. Summer Blaze Aubrey, Cherokee and Blackfeet, is a staff attorney for the International Indian Treaty Council and also spoke on the panel. She noted that racism and genocide are at the center of human rights violations around the world. Atrocities are ongoing and fueled by the extractive industry, she added, even with “green energy” initiatives moving forward. She pointed to the White House’s rhetoric on Russia and the Defense Production Act, which was enacted to jump start new mines or expand existing ones.

“Engaging in the extractive industry isn’t moving forward, it’s not going to help in the long run. It’s part of capitalism,” Aubrey said. “It is not helpful…We see throughout the extractive industry on Turtle Island it’s linked to violence against women. It’s so nuanced and interconnected that you cannot speak on one without speaking on the other.”

Women on the panel maintained that due diligence must occur continuously through development projects, not just during the initial phases. But ultimately, they say, society needs to divest from the extractive industry altogether.

“Indigenous people are providing the answers,” Aubrey said, referencing traditional knowledge and science. “We understand how to live symbiotically with the environment. How to feed people. We already have systems in place that will protect us and the world.”

She added that corporations and financiers need to recognize that and be engaged in those principles and strategies. The panel called out BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, saying the investment company has an insatiable appetite for feeding its bottom line. BlackRock presently does not have an Indigenous rights policy, a shortcoming that Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network founder Osprey Orielle Lake said should change immediately.

Like countless others during the first week of the Permanent Forum, the panel consistently returned to the matter of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). FPIC specifies that developers must engage with impacted Indigenous communities to ensure their participation and consultation. However, despite the international human rights principle being widely adopted by U.N. member states via the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, many experts and leaders have identified that the articles are not being recognized or applied effectively, leaving the land and people vulnerable to exploitation. Among the other solutions highlighted, included investing in climate justice frameworks that center traditional ecological knowledge.

Watch: ICT reporter Carina Dominguez talks UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on ‘ICT Newscast with Aliyah Chavez’ 

For women like Maria Violet Medina Quiscue, from Pueblo Nasa in Colombia, it takes courage to speak out on these issues – especially on a global scale – because land and human rights defenders are being murdered, meaning that publicly criticizing the institutions, corporations and nations behind them places her life on the line. Quiscue described the deeply entrenched racism against Indigenous people in Colombia, which has been on full display as of late.

For the last seven months, roughly 2,000 Indigenous people have been living at an encampment at Bogota National Park after being displaced by extractive industries and paramilitary groups. Anti-Indigenous rhetoric from Colombian politicians has created a hostile environment for Indigenous people, with grocers and store owners refusing to serve Indigenous people. Quiscue says racism in Bogota ramped up after Mayor Claudia Lopez Hernandez unleashed a slew of attacks against Indigenous people at the encampment.

Quiscue says the discrimination they are currently facing is rooted in colonization. Maria and the other panelists made it clear that Indigenous people maintain both the legal right to say “no” to extraction as well as a sacred obligation to stand up against current and future developments. At an event featuring numerous policy solutions and calls to action, this was the line that the women seeking to hold financial institutions accountable consistently returned to: you cannot be a climate leader when you expand extraction.

grist-ict-hcn logo - un forum collab

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter

21st UNPFIIUnited NationsColombia

Carina Dominguez

By

Carina Dominguez

Carina Dominguez, Pascua Yaqui, is a correspondent and producer for Indian Country Today. Previously she worked for CBS Television Network. Carina’s work has appeared in news outlets like The Arizona Republic, The Billings Gazette, Casper Star-Tribune, The Tucson Sentinel, Navajo-Hopi Observer and CBS News. CarinaDominguez@indiancountrytoday.com, Twitter: @Carinad7, Instagram: @CarinaNicole7

Fighting Big Oil

Lakota Law

I wish you a happy Earth Day! Here’s an anniversary (unlike some others) that I think we can all celebrate. We all care deeply about Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, and when I joined the Lakota Law staff a couple months back, part of the reason was because this organization is never afraid to take on the biggest environmental issues in Indian Country and beyond. Big Oil — which has been knowingly killing this world and lying about it to the public for decades — must be held accountable. Our methodology to make that happen doesn’t stop at resisting pipelines. We mean to end harmful extraction entirely.

I urge you to follow all the work of the Romero Institute — home to both Lakota Law and Let’s Green CA!, a statewide initiative which aims to make California a model of equitable climate action. You’ll see that we have an effective, multipronged approach to winning environmental justice. 

Lakota LawHere’s that all-too-familiar vista of another oil refinery belching toxic filth into the atmosphere. This is why we’re taking polluters to task and working to pass green legislation.

This week, Let’s Green CA! Is celebrating a big victory with the passage of SB 1230 out of the California Senate’s Committee on Environmental Quality. Romero’s staff — in partnership with legendary activist Dolores Huerta and the Dolores Huerta Foundation — has worked very hard to make this clean transportation legislation a reality, from the ground up. Sponsored by State Senator Monique Limón, the bill would rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce toxic air pollution, and support green jobs by accelerating a just transition to clean cars in the largest state in our country and the fifth largest economy in the world. I applaud our sister program!

Meanwhile, the Romero Institute’s legal team is drafting a 300-page Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) criminal complaint against the six major oil companies presently doing business in California. It’s designed to stimulate filings by state attorneys general and U.S. Attorneys against corporations, their CEOs, management officials, principal shareholders and financiers, and the American Petroleum Institute, which conspired with the oil leaders to lie to the American public about the known dangers of fossil fuel emissions causing climate change. I encourage you to watch this excellent, new documentary by PBS Frontline to learn more.

As you can see, we’re not taking our responsibilities to Unci Maka lightly. Our Lakota way is not to look at what we can do for ourselves, but to ask how we can be of service to our relatives — including this beautiful world that holds us all in her embrace. So, today, let’s celebrate her. Then, every day from here on, let’s make sure we’re doing better by her.

Wopila tanka — thank you for fighting for environmental justice!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Water

The key to life and liberty is access to water, Water is Life. The clue to what is happening across the world as a certain class seeks to totally control is what is being done in Standing Rock. There, in 2016, the government was able to try out their new military-grade weapons to control the peaceful protest. There in Standing Rock, we witnessed a rehearsal for complete control and domination. Now, the water is being confiscated.

This is environmental warfare.

Lakota Law

The Dakota Access pipeline’s threat level is at an all time high for the people of the Standing Rock Nation. In a new video we made in partnership with Standing Rock, you’ll see the distressingly low water levels in the Mni Sose, our sacred Missouri River. You’ll also hear Chairwoman Janet Alkire address the oil company’s lack of adequate emergency response planning for the pipeline’s inevitable spill. It’s critical you stay with us and be ready to assist as soon as the Army Corps of Engineers releases DAPL’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire addresses DAPL’s inadequate emergency plan, the Missouri River’s low water levels, and the elevated threat to her people.

As you heard a few weeks back, an Army representative came to Standing Rock to meet with tribal leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin. He listened to presidents and chairpersons, elders and community members, and he told us he heard our concerns. We hope that’s true. But since that day, it’s been a game of wait and see, with no movement from the Army and no release of the EIS — which, of course, was prepared by a pro-oil firm. It’s almost as if they know we’re not going to be happy unless the pipeline is shut down, and that we have a legion of supporters ready to engage in favor of an honest process.

In my dual capacities as Lakota Law’s co-director and a special consultant to the chairwoman’s office, I’m here to amplify your voices and those of my people. Lakota Law’s communications and technical teams have been hard at work for months helping the Alkire administration upgrade the tribe’s digital infrastructure and outreach capabilities. As part of that, we also collaborated with the tribe’s Game and Fish Department to access remote areas of the reservation and film 30 miles of the river, capturing first-of-its-kind, comprehensive drone footage near DAPL’s crossing. As you’ll see, the footage shows clearly that water levels are dangerously low, and that any spill would pose a special threat right now.

We will continue to do whatever we can to support Standing Rock and all those within the Great Sioux Nation to push back against Big Extraction. And, of course, we’ll keep you updated on developments. Please stay tuned and ready to take action!

Wopila tanka — thank you for always standing with Standing Rock.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

SB 181

Lakota Law

In 2016 and ‘17, when tens of thousands of people showed up at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access pipeline, our rallying cry was “mni wiconi” — water is life. Many of us hail from river tribes, and this saying isn’t just some trite slogan for us; it is our reality as Lakota People. We’re all connected by our ties as human beings, just as water systems are connected above and underground. That’s why, in February — in the same spirit as NoDAPL — representatives from many Great Plains tribes gathered together to bring one voice to the halls of power in South Dakota in support of SB 181. 

This legislation, proposed by Lakota State Senator Red Dawn Foster, would require our Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources to assemble a task force to study the adoption of a comprehensive and sustainable watershed ecosystems management approach. Please watch our new video, a co-production by Lakota Law and Uniting Resilience, the nonprofit I run with my partner, Felipa De Leon. It depicts highlights from our presentations and the real impression we made on the senators.

Watch: Lakota Law’s Chase Iron Eyes joined a host of Lakota leaders in addressing the SD State Senate about the importance of SB 181. 

The day was a victory, though the legislation didn’t pass this go-round. The senators listened closely and showed real appreciation for our dedication to achieving environmental justice through legislative channels. Tamar Stands And Looks Back made a presentation in Lakota; Chief John Spotted Tail impressed with his words and ceremonial headdress; Lakota Law’s Madonna Thunder Hawk and Chase Iron Eyes made key points that shook the room; and we also heard from the new Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman, Janet Alkire, and many others. In the end, senators from both parties spoke in favor of Red Dawn’s legislation and encouraged us to come back with the bill next session.

That’s exactly what we’ll do. We’re ready to show the power of tribal unity until the bill passes. This legislation is important, because the groundwater and aquifers that connect Lakota Country must be protected. As a study I did in cooperation with Lakota Law shows, the long history of uranium mining throughout South Dakota means our people often rely on toxic water. That’s not acceptable, and we will change it. I invite you to stay connected with us. Only by working and showing up together can we make the right impressions, overcome historical barriers, and improve the health and safety of our communities.

Wopila tanka — thank you for helping us protect our homelands and water!
Monique “Muffie” Mousseau
Via the Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Protect Thacker Pass

Lakota Law

In January, a fellow LGBTQ2S person who had taken a trip to California contacted me and my partner, Felipa. On her way back to the Dakotas, she’d stopped at Winnemucca in Nevada, where she realized the battle over the lithium mine at Thacker Pass was making life extremely hard for Native populations. She asked us, “Can you and Felipa help these tribes? Everything is in despair.”

If you’ve been receiving Lakota Law newsletters for some time, you know that Felipa and I take our responsibilities as Native Two-Spirit and environmental advocates seriously. When our friend asked us to help at Thacker Pass, we knew we had to take action. We contacted Lakota Law and other friends and planned a roadtrip to deepen our understanding and see what we could do to bring attention to the plight of the Winnemucca and other relatives on Paiute and Shoshone homelands in Nevada.

Today, I urge you to act with us. Tell U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to revoke the permits for the Thacker Pass lithium mine, and ask House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva to investigate the crimes being committed at Thacker Pass against Native American tribes.

Above: a protest camp set up to protect Thacker Pass. Please watch our interview with our new friend, Daranda, who told us about the Native-led resistance to safeguard this beautiful place, then take action to protect Thacker Pass!

Like so many other Native communities on the frontlines of environmental racism, our relatives near Thacker Pass have been ignored and railroaded in the name of Big Extraction. Because the area is home to the largest lithium deposit in the U.S., mining companies are coming for it fast. And despite resistance led by local tribes, the government has given the go-ahead to rip this beautiful place apart.

In February, the Winnemucca Colony joined a lawsuit against federal agencies — including the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the land. Of course, at no point did these agencies properly consult Native communities before moving ahead with the mine, which will almost certainly contaminate groundwater essential for the survival of both the region’s people and its diversity of animal life. 
 
As a key component of batteries that power solar arrays and electric vehicles, lithium may be essential to the transition to a clean energy economy. Still, we must make that transition responsibly — with input from all affected populations. A recent study found that, just like fossil fuel extraction, mining lithium and other metals has an outsized negative impact on Native communities. It should come as no surprise that in the U.S., 97% of nickel, 89% of copper, 79% percent of lithium and 68% of cobalt mines are located within just 35 miles of Indian reservations.

The situation at Winnemucca is particularly scary. Many of its people were afraid to talk to us, or they didn’t want their names revealed. One elder woman told us, “We cannot go on like this.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is leveling their territory, ejecting more than 500 people, and making room for a mancamp to house construction workers. We all know where that will lead: to a new frontier for the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Native Women and People.

It’s also bad in surrounding communities. At the Fort McDermitt tribal nation — whose people are closely related to Winnemucca’s — they have the second highest violent crime rate out of all 576 tribes in the U.S. The BIA is in charge of law enforcement, but the people are suffering at the hands of a constant stream of new, rookie officers. Community elders are subject to routine violence, and most people carry loaded weapons. Many Fort McDermitt youth have been killed by BIA cops. From what I saw, I believe it’s possible that neither Winnemucca nor Fort McDermitt will even exist as communities a year from now.

There is so much more to report from our trip, but for the moment, I believe it’s most important that you know what’s happening at Thacker Pass. Standing Rock’s NoDAPL resistance may have been an inflection point that brought many of us together — but it was not unique. We still have a ton of work to do to hold the government and extractive industry accountable for their many sins against our communities all across Turtle Island. Please start by helping to protect Thacker Pass today!

Wopila tanka — thank you for your friendship. We’re all in this together!
Monique “Muffie” Mousseau
Via the Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

End DAPL

Lakota Law

When you heard from me last week, Standing Rock was about to host tribal representatives and the Assistant Secretary of the Army Civil Works (Michael Connor) for a meeting about the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Today, I’m happy to report that things went about as well as could be expected. I attended the meeting in my capacity as an advisor to Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire, and I can report that Connor paid close attention as leaders from nine nations of the Oceti Sakowin expressed a unity of purpose in our fight to end DAPL once and for all.

Yankton Sioux Tribal Councilman Kip Spotted Eagle addresses the Army, flanked (left to right) by Spirit Lake Chairman Doug Yankton, Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier, and Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire.

As you know, this toxic pipeline, which crosses the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — on Standing Rock’s doorstep, is an existential threat to our homelands and our water. I almost went to prison for peacefully protesting against it in 2017. As Connor sits atop the Army Corps of Engineers — tasked by the courts with creating DAPL’s Environmental Impact Statement — this meeting was critical. Connor listened for many hours, eventually postponing a subsequent meeting with North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum so all our people could speak.

The fact that Chairwoman Alkire was joined by representatives from the Oglala, Cheyenne River, Flandreau, Rosebud, Crow Creek, Yankton, Lower Brule, and Spirit Lake Sioux Nations was an important show of tribal solidarity. And while getting federal officials to take action on our behalf will be an uphill climb at a time when gas prices are rising on account of the Ukraine invasion, this was an important step. 

Left: Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire with Michael Connor. Center: The color guard presents the flags. Right: Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier, Connor, and Spirit Lake Chairman Doug Yankton.

Renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuel throughout the nation, so regardless of what’s happening to oil markets, there is no excuse for failing to go green immediately. And tribal communities should never be forced to bear the risk of noxious infrastructure.

This resistance united us in 2016, and it’s still uniting us today. Now we are being heard by the U.S. Army instead of being shot with water cannons and rubber bullets by TigerSwan, a contracted private army. The fight goes on in a new way — but we still have a long way to go before we can say the Black Snake is defeated. So please stay with us. We’re in this together, and your spirit is always valued in this struggle.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your solidarity!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

#NODAPL

Lakota Law

I hope you’re safe and remaining hopeful despite the horrific world events taking place. The Russian invasion of Ukraine highlights once again how important it is for people everywhere to remain sovereign and free of tyranny. My heart goes out to all who are now suffering through another needless, bloody war.

Perhaps it will lend you some comfort to know that there is good news this week from Standing Rock. This Wednesday, tribal leaders from across the Great Sioux Nation will have an opportunity to sit down with the U.S. Army Civil Works and relay our concerns about the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). After years of our #NoDAPL resistance falling on deaf ears — as highlighted by Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire in our new video, co-produced with the tribe — the Army finally reached out to Standing Rock. This is a potential turning point, though we are keeping our expectations modest. 

Watch: In our new video, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman Janet Alkire discusses the importance of tribal input and gaining our consent for projects like DAPL.

We originally expected the Army Corps of Engineers to release its DAPL Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) earlier this month. But that’s now on hold, pending our coming conversation about this dangerous pipeline. This opportunity to have the appropriate government officials really listen to our concerns is long overdue.

Of course, given the long history of broken promises by the U.S. government to Native People, I take everything with a grain of salt and won’t celebrate prematurely. We must continue to stand ready to protest the EIS, should it eventually be released in any form that doesn’t fully address our concerns. 

Right now, I’m happy to say we have some additional leverage. The meeting with Civil Works will happen against the backdrop of a huge win for Standing Rock in the Supreme Court this past week. Justices shut down DAPL’s attempt to make an end-run around the environmental oversight process. 

Solidarity remains paramount if we are to achieve our goal of ending DAPL once and for all. As people from many nations gathered for our original NoDAPL stand in 2016 and ‘17, Wednesday’s meeting will bring together leaders from throughout the Oceti Sakowin — our Great Sioux Nation. We will, of course, report on the results of that conversation to you. So, please continue to stay with us. We must remain vigilant, united, and ready to act.

Wopila tanka — my deep gratitude to you for your friendship!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project
 

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Climate Accountability

https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/the-economics-of-climate-accountability

Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

Last weekend some 400 Karankawa Kadla and their supporters organized protests across Texas to call attention to the expansion plans for an Enbridge oil terminal. It’s already the largest crude export terminal in North America potentially transporting as much as 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.

“The Enbridge terminal expansion is planned to be constructed in the ancestral settlement and land of the Karankawa Kadla, where thousands of sacred Karankawa artifacts remain and ceremony and prayer have continued for the past 2,000 years,” said a news release from the Indigenous Environmental Network. “If the expansion of the Enbridge terminal on Karankawa land continues, the Karankawa Kadla will lose direct access to their land and ancestral artifacts in addition to the pollution of sacred natural waters.”

The release also included a simple line asking for “accountability from Enbridge and Bank of America, one of the major funders of the expansion, for developing on Indigeneous land without consent and the environmental destruction of the Gulf Coast.”

That word “accountability” shifts the protest to another kind of action, one based on ESG standards; a metric that includes Environment, Social and Governance as well as the planning for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Both Bank of America and Enbridge say they have ESG plans and are on track to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Further reading:
What the heck is Indigenous economics?
Are carbon markets the new gaming for tribes?
Climate change, Indigenous community and ESG

At a conference last year, Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and chief executive officer, called ESG and sustainability the key to an energy transition. “Essentially, this is society’s dual challenge,” he said. “One the one hand, it’s clear that population growth, urbanization and a growing middle class will drive energy demand higher. On the other hand . . . energy supplies need to be developed sustainably, and aligned with climate goals.”

This dual challenge, he said, will lead to “responsible” growth over the next three decades including achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, reducing emissions from operations by 35 percent in eight years and increasing the diversity of its workforce in the next couple of years. That’s a lot of ambition. Enbridge says that existing infrastructure, such as pipelines, is a part of that plan.

So why expand an oil terminal now? How does it move the company forward on its promises of sustainability? And what about Bank of America?

The big picture

Let’s zoom out and look at the big picture.

A new report by the global management and accounting company, McKinsey, outlines the economic challenges of getting to a net-zero economy.

“The net-zero equation remains unsolved: greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated and are not counterbalanced by removals, nor is the world prepared to complete the net-zero transition,” the report warns. “Indeed, even if all net-zero commitments and national climate pledges were fulfilled, research suggests that warming would not be held to 1.5°C above pre industrial levels, increasing the odds of initiating the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, including the risk of biotic feedback loops.”

McKinsey said getting to net zero requires significant changes. Significant is an understatement because the numbers are huge. McKinsey estimates that an investment need of $9.2 trillion per year on average, an annual increase of as much as $3.5 trillion from today. To put this increase in comparative terms, the $3.5 trillion is approximately equivalent, in 2020, to half of global corporate profits, one-quarter of total tax revenue, and 7 percent of household spending. An additional $1 trillion of today’s annual spend would, moreover, need to be reallocated from high-emissions to low-emissions assets.”

Hence the urgency of reducing existing energy investments that do not meet climate change goals.

And there is a difference of opinion here. Some companies, even those claiming an ESG or net-zero plan, say that reductions are necessary but will come down the road.

“Some pathways to net-zero emissions assume that the decline in emissions begins immediately and progresses gradually to 2050, with appropriate measures in place to manage disruptions and limit costs. Others assume that reduction of emissions begins later and progresses more quickly to achieve the same amount of cumulative emissions,” McKinsey reports. “The latter could involve significant and abrupt changes in policy, high carbon prices, and sudden changes to investment practices—along with greater socioeconomic effects and a larger-scale response. Making job transitions would be more challenging, and there could be greater risk of stranded assets.”

The energy companies that are betting on “later” for dramatic emission reductions could be putting at risk significant assets, stranded assets. Enbridge, for example, spent $3 billion on its acquisition of the Moda Midstream Terminal, nearly $10 billion on the line 3 project, and millions more on smaller projects, including a seaport near Houston.

169 indigenous economics

What about Bank of America?

A report last year by the Rainforest Action Network said that “until the banks prove otherwise, the ‘net’ in ‘net zero’ leaves room for emissions targets that fall short of what the science demands, based on copious offsetting or absurd assumptions about future carbon-capture schemes, as well as the rights violations and fraud that often come hand in hand with offsetting and carbon markets.”

That reported Bank of America’s at number four for the “dirty dozen” banks that finance fossil fuel development.

“These ‘Dirty Dozen’ banks have very different policies regarding restriction and phase-out of coal, oil, and gas, but none are sufficient. Among the world’s largest banks, strong coal policies are rare, and even the strongest oil and gas policies are sorely lacking,” the Rainforest Action Network said.

Bank of America says it’s goal is “to rebalance our portfolios away from more carbon emission intensive fossil fuel extraction, power generation, transportation and other consumption … toward low-carbon business models.”

The bank says it’s committed to “industry-leading disclosures” on its environmental progress, including a metric called “emission intensity.” That metric is different from overall carbon emission reduction because it’s based on a connection with the larger economy. So if the economy grows, so can total emissions.

Of course all of this economic and investment framework misses another leverage point, consent from Indigenous communities.

The company outlines its Indigenous People’s Policy that includes a commitment “to pursuing sustainable relationships with Indigenous Nations and groups in proximity to where Enbridge conducts business.”

Yet there has been no communication with Indigenous groups in Texas.

The Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, the Karankawa Kadla Tribe of the Texas Gulf Coast, and Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association filed a lawsuit in August against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its approval of permits for the Texas project.

“Members of the Indigenous Peoples and of the Karankawa Kadla tribe travel regularly to Ingleside on the Bay in San Patricio County, Texas to enjoy the natural beauty of the land and the ocean, to observe wildlife in the area, and to find spiritual joy and fulfillment through their connections to the land, water, wildlife, and their ancestors who lived in the area,” according to the lawsuit. “This undeveloped space between the Moda facility and Ingleside on the Bay is the only remaining undeveloped area in this part of the Bay. This undeveloped space represents the last remaining vestige of the landscape and ecosystems that once occupied the area.”

The dredging of the bay “will destroy the McGloin’s Bluff site and the surrounding area. The increase in ship traffic and the associated increase in noise, industrial activity, and pollution will destroy their ability to pray and find spiritual joy and fulfillment in observing their ancestral lands and waters.”

This leads to even more questions about ESG, and especially its connection to Indigenous communities. Enbridge and other companies’ Indigenous Peoples Policies support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Yet that protocol explicitly calls for Free, Prior and Informed Consent on projects.

This is why many critics dismiss ESG as “greenwashing,” giving companies cover to continue business as usual. On the other hand, companies see the growing value of being favored as ESG-compliant. Last year more than $120 billion flowed from investors into sustainable projects (more than double from 2020) and a regulatory structure is being added. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is nearing completion of guidelines for companies to disclose climate-related risks.

There are three climate tests ahead: Transparent. Sustainable. And accountable.

Indian Country Today - bridge logo

Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor-at-large for Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. The Indigenous Economics Project is funded with a major grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.