Silence and colonial violence:The connection between DAPL and the College

On Feb. 7, the Army Corps of Engineers, under the Trump Administration, announced that it will cancel environmental impact assessment and grant the final easement for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Among other things, DAPL demonstrates the United States federal government’s continued prioritization of corporate profit over indigenous lives. Since the spring of 2016, indigenous protectors and non-native allies have been encamped at Standing Rock, fighting for their sovereign right to land and water and against the persistent logic of settler colonialism that normalizes indigenous dispossession. They have overcome freezing temperatures, police violence and what the United Nations has called “inhumane treatment.”

The DAPL is a microcosm of the global impact of the fossil fuel economy – land dispossession of indigenous people, poisoning of marginalized communities at refinery sites and environmental degradation throughout the supply chain. DAPL also demonstrates the alliance of fossil fuel corporations, financial institutions (who bankroll these projects) and state coercion (police power and eminent domain) as the main enforcement agents of continued colonial violence and climate devastation.

This is the reality of our political system. The only recourse to stop an illegal and immoral pipeline is for indigenous people to literally put their bodies in the path of the triple alliance of state, corporate and financial power. Other than the request for people to come to Standing Rock to stand with the water protectors, indigenous organizers have requested that individuals and institutions #DefundDAPL.

The strategy of defunding DAPL comes from a recognition by indigenous organizers that the police beatings of their relatives, the bulldozing of sacred sites, the denial of treaties and the poisoning of water is a project made possible by people in glass towers in New York and Washington. The billions of dollars required to construct this pipeline come from banks that either don’t care about how they profit or don’t understand that they are bankrolling a genocidal project. Organizers have asked that individuals and institutions take their money out of banks and investment strategies that fund this pipeline, and over 64 million dollars have been withdrawn to date. The Seattle City Council recently voted to take its three billion dollars out of Wells Fargo because of the bank’s role in funding the DAPL.       

At this point, it’s critical to make clear that talking about divestment and DAPL is not an attempt to leverage the colonial violence experienced by indigenous people to advance a white environmentalist project. Instead, it is important to recognize that divestment is a tactic that is being called for by indigenous people in a de-colonial effort that seeks to assert indigenous sovereignty as well as health of land and water.

The College has not answered the call of those putting their bodies on the line. The College has either decided that it has a better understanding of what the Standing Rock Sioux need in terms of support than they do or that it is not interested in opposing human rights abuse and colonialism. The call from Standing Rock to the College is “stop funding our destruction, move your money elsewhere.”  The response the College gives is “we put up solar panels, and our library is LEED certified!”

In the fall of 2017, students on campus mobilized in support of the fight against DAPL. On December 2, 2016, College Council (CC) put out a single-issue survey to the entire student body asking, “Should Williams stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline?” The response of the student body was overwhelming, with 92 percent of those who participated agreeing that the College should support Standing Rock. President Falk refused to come out publicly in support of the water protectors.  In the spring of 2015, over 70 percent of voters in the CC election supported divestment of the College’s endowment from fossil fuel companies.  However, the Board of Trustees decided to reject divestment and now finds itself complicit in a neo-colonial project.

At best, the College is an institution of wealth and power that stands silent as fossil fuel companies and financial institutions perpetuate colonial violence; at worst, the College is funding the DAPL with our three billion dollar endowment. In addition to the Board of Trustees rejecting divestment proposals from the majority of students, it has also now ignored the calls of indigenous people fighting for their lives. The institutional response, of course, includes the fact that our endowment cannot be flexibly moved, that our billions of dollars are locked into co-mingled funds that provide excellent rates of return. This is not a counterargument, but an example of the immoral logic of the College’s investment strategy in the context of structural oppression. It makes it very clear what this institution does and does not stands for.

Max Harmon ’18.5 is a critical geography contract major from Los Angeles.