Citizens Bank Target of Boycott and Divestment Protest

Julie Richards, a Standing Rock Sioux protester, recently led a demonstration outside Citizens Bank in Providence. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

Julie Richards, a Standing Rock Sioux protester, recently led a demonstration outside Citizens Bank in Providence. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

Rhode Island-based bank has extended line of credit to three other fossil-fuel projects

Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The call has been sounded across the country to halt the last stage of the Dakota Access Pipeline. At a recent downtown protest, Citizens Bank was targeted for helping finance the $3.78 billion oil-transmission project that would travel underneath the Missouri River, the primary drinking-water source for the Standing Rock Sioux, a tribe with a reservation in the central part of North and South Dakota.

At the Feb. 8 rush-hour event, protesters, including Native Americans from the frontlines of the recent standoffs in North Dakota, gathered outside Citizens Bank headquarters to demand the financial institution drop its $72.5 million line of credit to the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas.

Simultaneously, City Council member Seth Yurdin introduced an ordinance calling for the city to divest its holdings from Citizens Bank until the bank stops doing business with Sunoco Logistics Partners, one of the principal pipeline developers.

On Feb, 7, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the final easement for the 1,172-mile pipeline that will deliver crude oil drilled in North Dakota to southern Illinois. The approval came after President Trump signed off on an expedited approval of the pipeline.

Shortly after the Army Corps announcement, the Camp of the Scared Stone called for protesters to travel to North Dakota and, with the Standing Rock Sioux, resist the final phase of the fossil-fuel project.

“If you are able and you are ready to put your body on the line, go back there. Go back to the camp,” said Julie Richards of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Richards, known as “Mama Jules,” made the remarks on the steps of the Citizens Bank building in front of some 100 protesters. Many were there, including many college students, as a result of a nationwide call to action from the environmental activist group The FANG Collective, based in Pawtucket, organized the Providence event.

Richards and other Standing Rock “water protectors” spoke at a FANG Collective event Feb. 4. Richards spent six months at the Sacred Stone Camp in 2016 engaging in multiple protests. She was the first Native American woman to lock herself to excavating equipment, and she endured rubber-bullet and tear-gas encounters with police and private security forces.

Richards founded the group Mothers Against Meth Alliance (MAMA) six years ago to take on the meth dealers and drug epidemic on her reservation. The group also fights against sex trafficking and drug abuse at the “man camps” formed to service workers at the nearby oil and natural-gas extraction sites. She and her daughters are traveling the Northeast speaking about the societal destruction caused by the fossil-fuel industry. She plans to return to the Sacred Stones Camp after the tour.

“If it’s in your heart to do it, just go there,” Richards said. “It’s not only natives, its everybody’s land and water that is being desecrated.”

Randy Noka, a council member for the Narragansett Indian tribe, said there’s a big reason why businesses are causing harm to people and disrespecting land and water.

“Corporate greed cannot come at the expense of the environment and certainly cannot come at the expense of the aboriginal people,” Noka said.

The FANG Collective is calling for customers to close their accounts at Citizens Bank until the bank terminates its line of credit to Energy Transfer Partners. Citizens has similar financing agreements with other fossil-fuel projects, such as the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, Trans-Pecos Pipeline in Mexico and Texas and Sunoco Logistics Mariner East pipeline in Pennsylvania.

The bank didn't reply to a request for comment.

Yurdin’s ordinance would prohibit Providence from doing business with Citizens Bank and other banks that profit from the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ordinance is expected to be discussed at the City Council meeting scheduled for Feb. 16.

“The new federal administration is pushing DAPL ahead, ignoring both the concerns of Native Americans and the pipeline’s serious impact on climate change,” Yurdin said. “Now more than ever, local governments need to support important issues like the opposition to DAPL.”