Yellowhead Institute report highlights Canadian banks financing of companies that violate rights of Indigenous land defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

In August 2022, the Toronto-based Yellowhead Institute released a 25-page report titled Redwashing Extraction: Indigenous Relations at Canada’s Big Five Banks.

Robert Houle, a member of the Wapsewsipi (Swan River) community on Treaty 8 territory, is the lead author of the report.

Excerpts from it include:

The “Redwashing Extraction” research team analyzed the role that the Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto Dominion, Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal, and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce have played financing resource extraction against the backdrop of their approaches to Indigenous relations more generally.

From 2016 to 2020, the total amount the Big Five Banks — RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO, and CIBC — invested into the resource extraction industry was $558 billion.

This is an industry — and an investment — that has a tremendous impact on Indigenous territories and people.

Scotiabank, like RBC and TD, is heavily invested in the resource economy; between 2016-2020, they invested $113 billion, in fact, including partnering with Enbridge Inc. and the much-maligned Transmountain Expansion Project [on unceded Secwepemc territory in British Columbia] headed by Kinder Morgan.

[In 2020, Scotiabank rejected a proposal by Harrington Investments that called on it to] fully respect all Human Rights, particularly the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including rights to water and lands and the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, as articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [and] prohibit all financing for projects and companies that abuse Human and Indigenous Rights.

Between 2016 and 2020, BMO invested just over $97 billion in resource extraction, notably, TC Energy Ltd. and Enbridge Inc. ($22 billion and $10 billion, respectively). These funds connect BMO to projects that rank among the most aggressive regarding Indigenous rights violations and conflicts. Namely, the Coastal Gas Link natural gas project in Wet’suwet’en territory and the Line 3 expansion into Northern Minnesota Anishinaabeg lands. These conflicts captured international headlines and drew attention to policing practices and how readily government and corporations take action to quell Indigenous opposition.

CIBC has reportedly contributed over $66 billion in financing to resource extraction companies.28 The largest recipients of CIBC funding were Enbridge Inc. and Suncor Energy Ltd. This places CIBC in step with the actions of the other Big Five and raises serious questions about the impact of these projects in Indigenous territories like Secwepemcúl’ecw and Wet’suwet’en.

Misdirection and misinformation continue to be the main tools for resource extraction companies and their funders to distract from how their projects may negatively impact Indigenous traditional territories.

Adding to these tactics is the sheer volume of resources and money at their disposal, those which far outweigh Indigenous land protectors and communities.

So, what tools exist to aid those on the front lines?

For the Big Five Banks, [the Thomas and Saik’uz First Nation v. Rio Tinto Alcan Inc court ruling] should signal to them that their past practices of relying on corporations who receive loans and governments who don’t adequately consult are potentially liability for engagement failures; and this liability is carried by all project proponents.

The proposal put forward to Scotiabank shareholders by Harrington Investments outlines one of the clearest examples of new avenues to evaluate projects, assessing risk, and safeguards to mitigate risk, for the Big Five Banks.

In reality, the Big Five Banks’ problematic lending practices and the lack of realistic re-examination of loans supports the ongoing violations of Indigenous peoples rights at places like Standing Rock, Wet’suwet’en yintah, and along the Transmountain Expansion.

To read the full report, click on Redwashing Extraction.

Additional reading: Colombian environmental defenders express concerns about suspected links between Scotiabank-financed Ecopetrol and paramilitary groups.

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