Why is Bank of America still open to funding the destruction of our homelands in the Arctic?

  • Published on September 22nd, 2020

Bank of America’s customers may have noticed that recently the bank has been standing out from the rest of its peers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been in a good way. Right now, Bank of America is the only major American bank that has not yet ruled out funding for destructive drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Common Dreams

Over the last year, every other major American bank—Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Chase, Citi, and Morgan Stanleyhave joined more than two dozen financial institutions worldwide in updating their lending policies to exclude funding for new drilling in the Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge. Indigenous human rights are being upheld in these new policies and pave the way towards a just transition into a sustainable economy.

For thousands of years, the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge has sustained life for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and other relatives on and off the land, that sustain the food security and ways of life of the Iñupiat and Gwich’in people as well as other Alaska Native Tribes. Any disruption of this area would pose an existential threat to not just food security, but our identity as Iñupiat and Gwich’in People. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would also pose an increased public health threat to communities on Alaska’s North Slope that already experience severe health disparities directly tied to the oil production surrounding their community.

Drilling in the Arctic Refuge violates Indigenous rights, and is a threat to the bottom line of any bank that funds this destructive activity. As the world increasingly recognizes the urgent need to move away from polluting fossil fuels, investments in expensive new drilling projects are growing riskier. By ruling out support for Arctic drilling, banks have recognized that investing in a project that would threaten human rights and worsen the climate crisis is a risk that’s not worth taking.

Pro-drilling politicians that have long sought to sell off the coastal plain for drilling have predictably pushed back on this growing trend, even going so far as to point to support from corporations like Arctic Slope Regional Corporation to claim that Alaska Native people support drilling, or that the Gwich’in are alone in their opposition to drilling while the Iñupiat people or members of other Tribes support it. We recently had the opportunity to meet with Bank of America executives to correct the record and explain that these claims couldn’t be further from the truth.

We let them know that both Gwich’in and Iñupiat Peoples have made official resolutions to protect the Arctic Refuge, and that Alaska Native corporations are just that: corporations. They are not accountable to Tribal members, and they do not speak for us. Neither does Alaska’s Congressional delegation, whose push for drilling and disingenuous claims that the destruction of the Arctic Refuge would help Native communities have made it clear that they care more about corporate profits than our health or human rights.

We know that we can’t count on these politicians to do the right thing to defend our land and our communities, and the Trump administration is pushing ahead to try to sell off the coastal plain for drilling by the end of the year. That’s why it’s more important than ever that financial institutions like Bank of America recognize the role they play in helping destroy this sacred place or keeping it intact.

As a growing number of major banks are making the right decision, all eyes are on Bank of America to see whether they will follow their peers or continue to stand out in their disregard for the rights of Alaska’s Indigenous people. We stand together, the Iñupiat and the Gwich’in, in calling on Bank of America to listen to Indigenous people, protect our homelands, and stay out of the Arctic Refuge.

Bernadette Demientieff is the Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

Siqiñiq Maupin is a co-founder of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic. 

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