BANGOR, Maine — Less than a week after President Donald Trump signed an executive order clearing the way for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, more than 250 Mainers from Greater Bangor and beyond lined the drive leading to TD Bank’s branch on Stillwater Avenue to protest the corporate office’s role in financing the project.
TD Bank was targeted because it is one of 17 banks financing the project, but the only one with a local presence, according to Karen Marysdaughter of the Peace & Justice of Eastern Maine, which organized the protest along with members of Maine’s Native American tribes, the Land Peace Foundation, the Bangor Racial and Economic Justice Coalition, Community Water Justice and others opposed to the project.
“As a proponent of responsible energy development, TD works closely with clients, local communities and environmental groups to enhance our understanding of key issues and promote informed dialogue,” TD Bank spokeswoman Judith Schmidt said in a statement. “We support efforts to ensure the sustainability and safety of the Dakota Access Pipeline site. And we respect the rights of those who wish to voice their opinions in peaceful protest.”
The 1,172-mile pipeline being built by a group of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners LP would offer the fastest and most direct route to bring Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
Supporters say it would be safer and more cost-effective than transporting the oil by road or rail, but the pipeline has drawn the ire of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and environmental activists who say it threatens the tribe’s water supply and sacred tribal sites. They have been protesting for several months, and dozens have been arrested.
“It’s very concerning how violent the law enforcement was at Standing Rock even before the Trump presidency and the Trump support of the pipeline,” Marysdaughter said Saturday. “Around here the police have been very respectful and the demonstrations as at Standing Rock have been very peaceful but we need to stop this pipeline. It needs to be stopped.”
Several Bangor police officers were at the bank during the protest, but they had little interaction with the crowd other than to make sure protesters stayed off the bank’s property and didn’t block the roadway leading up to it.
Laurie Cartier of Bangor was among those who have withdrawn their money from TD Bank in protest over its role in the pipeline, especially since it would pass through sacred tribal land.
Shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday, she went into the Stillwater Avenue branch and took out all but the minimum balance she needs to keep her account open until all of her dealings with TD are fully transferred to another bank.
“I knew this was happening and I knew this was something I should do,” she said.
When she withdrew her money — a total she said was between $10,000 and $20,000 — she told staff there that while she had no issue with them, she did have a problem with the bank’s policies at the national level.
June Sapiel, a Penobscot Nation member, is getting ready to make her fourth trip since August to Standing Rock on Thursday. Her two sons have been there for the long haul.
“We’re here to speak with people to divest from TD Bank, which supports the Dakota Access Pipeline and fossil fuels and we’re also standing in solidarity with [the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe],” she said during Saturday’s protest.
“My boys are still out there,” she said. “They are saying that they’re beginning the process of the drilling. They say they can hear it going. They’re just still in prayer and there’s a lot of uncertainty on what’s going to happen so everybody is just praying and trying to keep it together. I’m looking forward to going back out there and bringing some donations and standing with my people.”
Trump’s election is proving to be a game changer for pipeline opponents, who successfully pushed the Obama administration to deny in December a necessary permit for the pipeline. A tense situation became tenser on Tuesday when Trump signed the order to allow construction to continue.
“I think that that was Trump throwing the gauntlet down. He was throwing it down saying, ‘Listen, I’m the person in charge and we’re going to go by my rules’ and that’s definitely a slap in our face, with all the fights we’ve been doing for our environment,” Sapiel said.
Sheri Mitchell, a Penobscot indigenous rights attorney and activist, asked for prayers for those working to protect water and for healing those actions that would pollute it.
“We have to recognise that unity doesn’t always mean that we get our way. Sometimes unity means that we have to work with others to find a middle ground and we are willing to do that on a lot of issues but this is not one,” she said. “On this issue, there is no middle ground. It’s life or it’s death.”