The president of Norway’s Sami Parliament (Sametinget) accompanied women from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to a meeting in Oslo this week, where they appealed to the Ethics Council that oversees the investments of Norway’s huge Oil Fund. They want the Oil Fund, which is under coal scrutiny as well, to dump its stakes in the three companies behind the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in the US.
Norway’s Sami have a history of solidarity with other indigenous peoples around the world, and have opposed construction of the disputed pipeline for months. Backed by public opposition to the pipeline in Norway, because of the threat it poses to sacred Sioux Nation land and drinking water supplies, the Sami initiative led to several Norwegian financiers pulling out their funding. DNB, Norway’s biggest bank, announced over the weekend that it, too, has now sold off its stakes and loans in the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Only Norway’s Oil Fund remains involved, through its investments in the three companies developing the pipeline: Sunoco Logistics, Phillips 66 and Energy Transfer Partners. All told they amount to nearly NOK 7 billion, and that’s not popular with either the Sami or other Norwegian critics of the pipeline.
“I expect the Oil Fund to pull out of these investments,” Sametinget President Vibeke Larsen told newspaper Aftenposten, “and that they will avoid violating indigenous peoples’ rights in the future.”
The Sami Parliament got involved in the pipeline protests last year, when it sent a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at Fort Yates in North Dakota “to convey our solidarity to the affected indigenous people” in the territory of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations. Various members of the Sami Parliament have also traveled to the area to take part in demonstrations against the pipeline that was halted late last year by former US President Barack Obama. His successor, Donald Trump, later opted to disregard the indigenous peoples’ protests and allow pipeline construction to resume.
On Tuesday their fight came to Oslo, where Lakota representatives met with three employees of the Oil Fund’s Ethics Council’s secretariat and a representative from Norway’s central bank (Norges Bank), which manages the Oil Fund. The Ethics Council itself, which is appointed by the Finance Ministry, makes its recommendations on investments to Norges Bank, which decides whether they’ll be followed.
Sara Jumping Eagle, a member of the Lakota delegation, called the meeting “very productive.” She said they shared information with the Ethics Council’s representatives about “violations of human rights made by the Dakota Access companies. We asked the Oil Fund to pull out its investments in the companies involved in the pipeline.”
She told Aftenposten that Trump’s election as president has posed another challenge, “but as Lakota people, we have always had to fight to protect our people and their lifestyles. Trump is nothing new for us. We have suffered under American authorities for generations, so we are used to fighting to protect our children.”
Jumping Eagle wants the Norwegian people to know that their Oil Fund is involved in a project that’s “dirty,” and in companies “that put profits before people’s lives.” If the pipeline is built, she said, “it will create pollution that will hinder our access to clean drinking water. It will make it difficult for us to live where we have lived for thousands of years. Our relatives are buried there.”
Thomas Sevand, communications chief for the Oil Fund, has earlier refused to comment on its investments in specific companies. He has said, however, that “we expect that companies respect human rights and take them into consideration in their operations.” He said the Oil Fund’s expectations are directed at the boards of the companies and provide a “starting point for dialogue.”
Coal critics also appeal to the Oil Fund
The Oil Fund, meanwhile, remains under pressure from a variety of other interests, not least environmental organizations that note how its much-hyped divestment of interests in coal companies remains far from complete. Greenpeace, the German NGO urgewald and Framtiden i våre hender (The Future in Our Hands) have all complained that the Oil Fund still has investments totalling more than NOK 26 billion (USD 3 billion) in 32 companies that own coal mines and coal-fired plants.
In addition, they claim, the Oil Fund still holds investments amounting to more than NOK 2 billion in 15 companies that transport coal or build coal power station. Among them is Harbin Electric, which they describe as the world’s biggest manufacturer of new coal plants.
As new US President Trump also strives to re-start coal operations in the US, Greenpeace Norway leader Truls Gulowsen said that Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), the entity that manages the Oil Fund, “needs to explain why they have not come further in their divestment from coal, more than a year-and-a-half after the Norwegian Parliament made the decision to divest from coal.” He called it “distressing” to see that companies including RWE of Germany, Power Finance Corp of India and Shanghai Electric Group of China are still in the Oil Fund’s portfolio.