On Friday, February 17, an independent group of concerned citizens came together in Tokyo with indigenous Ainu of Japan and Maori of New Zealand to deliver 11,300 signatures demanding that the three major Japanese banks involved in financing the DAPL to divest from the project: Mizuho Bank, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group.

The petition delivery action in Tokyo coincided with an international solidarity effort involving numerous grassroots groups, which delivered similar letters to 17 U.S. and international banks urging their divestiture from DAPL.

To date, the battle to stop DAPL has encountered a dire set of circumstances. In early February, under an Executive Order announced by the Trump administration calling for expedited construction of DAPL and Keystone XL Pipeline, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced its plans to approve the final easement for both projects. This Wednesday, February 22 was the deadline for protesters in Standing Rock — the front lines of the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL — to vacate their encampments there. Some protesters had left before this deadline, but the authorities have started to move in to arrest those who remain to resist.

Against the backdrop of these events, investors have shown support for the people of Standing Rock and their right to clean water. Notably, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), one of the largest public pension funds in the United States, has called on major U.S. and international banks to get behind the effort to reroute the DAPL, along with other investors representing $653 billion in assets under management. CalPERS’s embrace of this important movement provided hope for supporters engaged in the ongoing fight.IMG_0324

ABOVE: Messages of Indigenous solidarity and divestment displayed in front of Mizuho Bank’s Tokyo headquarters. (Yasuhiro Iguchi)

Akemi Shimada, chair of the Aotearoa Ainumosir Exchange Program, was one participant in the Tokyo petition delivery. Upon delivering the petitions, Shimada reiterated the importance of access to clean water, which is the main issue at hand in the fight against DAPL. “[Water] is why we requested that the three Japanese banks divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline,” she stated. Furthermore, if the people “continue this work another opportunity might present itself, so I would like to keep up our efforts.

Taka Okazaki, highlighted the role media plays in keeping these banks accountable. Media needs “to get in contact with the public relations department of Mizuho, Mitsui Sumitomo and Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ and ask the simple question of what they are planning to do with those petitions,” he said.

IMG_0334ABOVE: Supporters in front of Mizuho Bank’s Tokyo headquarters. (Yasuhiro Iguchi)

It was beautiful to see people from different backgrounds coming together in Tokyo to express citizens’ deep concerns about the pipeline’s humanitarian and environmental consequences. It reinforced the strong belief in the power of an informed public to effect change.

Personalizing and localizing the impact of controversial projects financed by the big banks and our pension funds and raising our voices to stop unethical investment is one way we can contribute to the battles being fought to stem climate change and to make progress on other issues around the world. These projects affect each of us individually and collectively. At a time of escalating crisis — environmental, humanitarian and social — no one can afford to be innocent. It is our duty to  connect the dots, and encourage others to think about what they can do about the problems that degrade our basic rights to survival.

The action that took place in Tokyo on February 17 is just the beginning. The banks accepted the petitions, but did not indicate how its signatures will be reviewed. The Standing Rock  might be half a world away, but human rights violations against the Standing Rock Sioux tribe are directly connected to investment practices by Japanese banks. All Japanese private banks that fund DAPL have signed the Equator Principles, a risk management framework adopted by financial institutions for determining, assessing, and managing environmental and social risk in project finance. Funding a project with a significant risk of damaging indigenous peoples’ way of life is contrary to the Equator Principles, as is turning a blind eye to the struggle of the people at Standing Rock.

Connecting the action in Tokyo with the struggle in Standing Rock feeds into the kind of energy and compassion that helps us all raise our voices for real change.

There are some things that we can do to support this movement. We can easily send a message to the banks by going to their website. We can even call or directly write to the banks to ask them to stop funding DAPL. Numbers add up. Spread the message of #NoDAPL to the banks today.


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