The Gwich’in Steering Committee in Alaska is setting its sights on a small number of major U.S. banks that could ultimately determine whether fossil companies drill for oil in the exquisitely sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The steering committee is calling on investment banks Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley to follow the example set by Goldman Sachs last month, with the announcement  that it would decline future investment in Arctic oil and gas development, Executive Director Bernadette Demientieff writes  for The Guardian,
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“The Trump administration has made it clear that they’re willing to pull out all the stops to sell off the coastal plain to oil companies,” Demientieff states. “They’ve rushed through the environmental review process, suppressed concerns from scientists, dismissed Indigenous voices, and ignored the fact that the vast majority of Americans do not want to see the Arctic refuge spoiled by drilling.”
So now, the Gwich’in— building on a campaign that began in May 2018, and backed by institutional investors with assets above US$2.5 trillion—are warning the banks to stay out.
“We know we can’t count on Trump to do the right thing, so it’s more important than ever that we hold financial institutions accountable for their role in helping destroy this sacred place or keeping it intact,” she writes. “Drilling in a place as remote as the Arctic refuge isn’t cheap, and there’s still a chance we can stop it if we cut off the money that would fund it.”
Deminentieff notes that Goldman Sachs is only the latest global bank to step away from future Arctic oil and gas investment. “More and more, banks are recognizing that investing in a project that would threaten human rights and worsen the climate crisis is an expensive risk that’s not worth taking,” she says. “The public is watching them more closely than ever before, and if they facilitate the destruction of our homelands, they’ll have the Gwich’in Nation and the millions of Americans who stand with us to answer to.”
With the tide beginning to turn in their favour, she adds, the Gwich’in are ready to keep up the fight on all fronts, and uphold their responsibility to future generations.
“The Arctic refuge is not just a piece of land with oil underneath,” she says. “It’s the heart of our people; our food security, way of life, and very survival depend on its protection.”
Which means “giving up is not an option. So we will continue to be land protectors. We are not activists or environmentalists. We are mothers, fathers, and grandparents who understand that we need clean water, healthy animals, and healthy land to survive. We are not asking for any money, jobs, or schools. We are simply saying that we need to protect these animals that have sustained us for thousands of years.”