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Vancouverites occupy TD bank in support of Standing Rock pipeline standoff

Attacks on Sioux opponents of a gas pipeline this week have galvanized international solidarity, including in B.C. where pipeline funder TD is under fire.

Jerilynn Webster, pictured, is closing her TD account after learning the Canadian bank is funding a controversial gas pipeline in the U.S. that’s led to violence and arrests against First Nations there. A sit-in of an East Hastings Street branch began at 9:15 a.m. Monday.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

Jerilynn Webster, pictured, is closing her TD account after learning the Canadian bank is funding a controversial gas pipeline in the U.S. that’s led to violence and arrests against First Nations there. A sit-in of an East Hastings Street branch began at 9:15 a.m. Monday.

Vancouver resident Jerilynn Webster is closing her TD account after learning the Canadian bank is funding a controversial gas pipeline in the U.S. that’s led to violence and arrests against First Nations there.

She and other activists launched a protest inside an East Hastings Street TD branch in downtown Vancouver on Monday morning.

“We want to ask directly to shut down our own accounts there,” the Nuxalk and Cayuga First Nations artist, who performs hip hop under the name JB First Lady, told Metro before entering the branch shortly after 9 a.m. “I don’t want to have my money in a place where it's supporting destruction not just of Indigenous people but all people.”

Local Indigenous people and allies were joined by B.C. Interior opponents of mining pollution as well as oil, gas and bitumen pipelines crossing their nations’ territories.

They chose to vent their frustrations at the Canadian financial institution, refusing to leave the branch shortly after 9 a.m., after media reports that its subsidiary TD Securities funded the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to the tune of $360 million, according to Ricochet media.

“The front-liners are actually sacrificing their freedom to stop the machines and take direct action,” Kanuhus Manuel, with the Secwepemc Women Warriors Society, told Metro early Monday morning. “People are finally getting their spirits to go stand with our people at Standing Rock.”

Manuel is a long-time Secwepemc Nation land defender and member of Neskonlith First Nation near Kamloops. Taking action in Vancouver is, for her, not just a chance to “show that Vancouver is in solidarity” — it also crosses generations.

Her father, former Neskonlith chief Art Manuel, traveled to the U.S. to join the Standing Rock protests this week.

First Nations activists who were account holders with TD attempt to close their accounts during a branch occupation on East Hastings street early Monday morning.

David P. Ball / Metro

First Nations activists who were account holders with TD attempt to close their accounts during a branch occupation on East Hastings street early Monday morning.

The standoff over the Dakota Access Pipeline — transporting natural gas from U.S. fracking operations — has riveted attention on social media, especially Facebook. But so far it is not dominated larger media headlines as many had hoped, and in spite of President Obama directly intervening to block the pipeline’s progress, at least temporarily.

Buoying the Indigenous activists at the bank was Solidarity Notes, a 15-member Vancouver choir that uses songs to show their support for social justice and environmental causes.

In an email to Metro, a TD Securities spokeswoman emphasized that oil and gas investments total less than one per cent of the institution's lending portfolio.

"TD is one of several banks and energy companies who are financial lenders for the Dakota Access Pipeline," said Alison Ford. "We support responsible energy development and employ due diligence in our lending and investing activities relating to energy production.

"We also work with our customers, community and environment groups, and energy clients to better understand key issues of concern, and to promote informed dialogue."

She added that the bank respects "the rights of people to voice their opinions and protest in a peaceful way."

On Monday morning, a branch manager told demonstrators that they were disrupting the branch's customers and advised them to instead phone the bank's headquarters to raise their concerns.

One TD customer standing in line as a bullhorn blared behind him said he was "not at all" upset the protesters were disrupting him, and said he was surprised his bank was connected to the Dakota pipeline issue.

"I'm not upset because if stuff like this didn't happen, nothing wouldn't change," Ricardo Pecchenino told Metro. "I'm a little surprised, they're my favourite bank because they're good to people.

"I think we do need pipeline as long as we need oil, but it's not necessary to build it on (these) people's land."

The land defenders are calling for wider public support with a rally being planned for 5 p.m. at the TD bank branch at 700 West Georgia St. Monday evening.

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