The Seattle City Council received praise from Native American activists and grassroots organizers ahead of its unanimous vote Tuesday to divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo bank for its financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline and past corrupt business practices.
The Socially Responsible Banking Ordinance was passed unanimously out of the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods & Finance Committee last Wednesday, Feb. 1, and was preceded by a DAPL opposition rally outside city hall.
Tuesday’s vote makes Seattle the first major metropolitan city to end its relationship with a business that supports the proposed 1,200-mile oil pipeline expected to run through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota.
The Socially Responsible Banking Ordinance removes Wells Fargo from management of the city’s $3 billion operating account. The mayor and city finance director are directed not to renew the city’s contract for deposit services and refrain from making investments in Wells Fargo securities for three years.
Wells Fargo is one of 17 financial institutions lending $2.5 billion to Dakota Access LLC for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Wells Fargo’s share is $120 million of lending, less than 5 percent, according to a statement from the company issued Jan. 30.
The Seattle City Council’s adoption of the ordinance came on the heels of a filing in U.S. District Court by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating it will cancel its environmental study into the pipeline project and grant the final permit to tunnel under Lake Oahe, a reservoir connected to the Missouri River.
This came after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 24 directing the Corps to move ahead with the issuance of a permit to move the pipeline forward as currently routed. The order contradicted former President Barack Obama’s direction to the Corps in November to look at the possibility of rerouting the $3.8 billion project.
“Today the people at Standing Rock, our warriors, are awaiting this decision,” said Raymond Kingfisher of Federal Way regarding the Seattle ordinance. “They’re patiently awaiting this decision in 15-degree weather.”
A protest of Wells Fargo, Trump and the Dakota Access Pipeline is planned for noon Saturday at the Capitol Hill branch of Wells Fargo at Broadway and Republican.
People speaking in support of the responsible banking ordinance acknowledged the Corps’ decision, but lauded the council for taking action that is expected to reverberate with municipalities across the nation.
“This is a victory to be standing up here with each of you,” said Rachel Heaton, a Muckleshoot Tribal Member, member of the Native American Leadership Council and #NoDAPL organizer in Seattle, to the council.
Prior to the vote, councilmembers were treated to a tribal song honoring them and gift bundles that included water, a rock from tribal mountains and rivers, lavender for calming and sage and cedar, which are commonly used in honor and blessing ceremonies, Heaton said.
The Muckleshoot Indian Tribal Council voted Friday, Feb. 3, to also divest from Wells Fargo.
Lakota Tribal Member Matt Remle has been a part of the Standing Rock protests from the start. The Lakota are part of a confederation of seven related Sioux tribes.
“It’s going to be a mixed blessing and timely at the same time,” Remle said of the ordinance in the wake of the Corps' decision.
“In a time where greed and money are motivators, we’re saying, ‘No, they’re not,’” Heaton said, adding activists will not stop fighting to protect “Mother Earth” and this country’s indigenous people. “The ripple effect will continue to go through the nation, and you will be the example.”
Local #DefundDAPL organizer Millie Kennedy said indigenous people have resisted 500 years of attempted genocide, small pox and, more currently, racial inequity, substance abuse and suicide. She said the pipeline route is a result of Bismarck residents not wanting it running through their backyards.
“This is spatial and racial inequality. Water is life,” Kennedy said.
The Socially Responsible Banking Ordinance also cites a list of grievances with Wells Fargo, including the 2016 revelation that bank employees had created phony bank and credit card accounts for customers without their knowledge.
Mary Patterson with the No New Jim Crow Coalition was one of several speakers to advocate for the city creating its own municipal bank. The council had considered this back in 2014.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien said Washington needs a state bank, noting 11th District Sen. Bob Hasegawa has such a bill coming up for review on Thursday. Until such an institution exists, O’Brien said the city should look at credit unions and other not-for-profit financial organizations.
“We are taking a bold policy step today which is reflective of what this movement wanted to see and asked to see.”
Daniel Nash, editor for City Living and the Madison Park Times, contributed to this story.