Indigenous voices challenge Royal Bank tar sands policies, supported by hundreds at shareholder meeting

Today more than 170 people rallied outside of the Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC’s) Annual General Shareholder meeting (AGM) in Toronto after a series of creative non-violent actions all morning. Inside, First Nations Chiefs and community representatives from four different Nations demanded RBC phase out of its Tar Sands financing and to recognize the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent for Indigenous communities. Afterward, Indigenous leaders lead the crowd in a march to rally outside both RBC Headquarters buildings.

Other cities across Canada supported the First Nations voices inside the AGM as well with solidarity actions from (click on a city for pictures) London, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Victoria and more. Check out photos from those and our events in Toronto. And beautiful photography from Allan Lissner.

And see some preliminary media coverage from the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo.

Since 2007 RBC has backed more than $16.7 billion (USD) in loans to companies operating in the tar sands—more than any other bank. Called, ‘the most destructive project on Earth,’ Alberta’s tar sands projects will eventually transform a Boreal forest the size of England into an industrial sacrifice zone complete with lakes full of toxic waste and man-made volcanoes spewing out clouds of global warming emissions.

Outside the shareholder meeting school children, bank customers of every age, First Nations community representatives joined Rainforest Action Network, Indigenous Environmental Network, No One Is Illegal, and Council of Canadians made their outrage at RBC’s investments heard – to the thumping beats of street Samba band, the crowd shouted “Cultural Genocide: who do we thank? Dirty investments from Royal Bank!

Inside the shareholder meeting, Chief Al Lameman of Beaver Lake First Nation, Alberta,Vice Chief Terry Teegee of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council of BC, Hereditary Chief Warner Naziel of the Wet’suwe’ten First Nation of BC, and Gitz Crazyboy of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation addressed RBC CEO Gordon Nixon directly about the way tar sands extraction projects have jeopardized their health and their rights.

Downstream communities have experienced polluted water, water reductions in rivers and aquifers, declines in wildlife populations such as moose and muskrat, and significant declines in fish populations. Tar sands has all but destroyed the traditional livelihood of First Nations in the northern Athabasca watershed.

RBC is clearly feeling the public pressure over their tar sands financing. They spent half their shareholder meeting addressing the issue. Recently, the bank convened a high-level meeting with more than a dozen international banks for a “day of learning” about the reputational risks associated with the tar sands. In addition, according to information the bank provided to RAN during a February meeting in San Francisco, RBC is currently evaluating new lending criteria that would apply to the oil and gas sector, in particular to the tar sands. However, the bank has been reticent to include Free, Prior and Informed Consent in its policy, which would ensure that First Nations communities are respected in lending practices.

“RBC’s significant financial relationship with companies pursuing tar sands development activities within our traditional territory and without consent warrants close attention,” said Chief Al Lameman of Beaver Lake First Nation. “RBC should update their policies to include a recognition of Free, Prior and Informed consent for Indigenous communities; this globally recognized concept was adopted by TD Bank Financial Group in 2007 and is endorsed by Indigenous communities across the political spectrum.”

activists disrupt the RBC shareholder meeting inside

Internationally, tar sands financing is gaining tremendous negative attention. An increasingly vocal group of shareholders and environmentalists turned last month’s BP, Shell and Royal Bank of Scotland annual meetings into a referendum on the oil extraction projects.

Today’s marches, rallies, and actions were a triumphant roar of grassroots power from across the spectrum. The day concluded with an apt chant to RBC Headquarters, foreshadowing the growing flame of tar sands resistance across Canada, “Native communities under attack! We won’t stop until you act!”

5 Responses to “Indigenous voices challenge Royal Bank tar sands policies, supported by hundreds at shareholder meeting”

  1. 1 Susan Smitten Mar 4th, 2010 at 1:36 am

    The Beaver Lake Cree Nation has launched legal action to stop the expansion of the tar sands – and they are using their Constitutionally guaranteed rights to hunt and trap in their traditional territory to make it happen. This huge lawsuit is being supported by RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs).
    This kind of legal action is a real tar sands stopper because a Supreme Court ruling that this is unconstitutional means the 17,000+ permits that have been issued are illegal. Null and void. But to keep the case going, we have to raise the funds to hire the team of lawyers needed. So if people want to help, they might consider donating. Climate change is the moral dilemma of our time and the Beaver Lake Cree are poised to be the band that can actually hold Canada accountable.

  2. 2 T.B. Mar 4th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Activists from London, Ontario and Lindsay, Ontario came out to join the March 3rd protesting in Toronto. I was there with a delegation from London, Ontario.

    Two of the three activists who went in to disrupt the shareholder meeting were there from London. The photos and video at that action also were taken by two others (including me) who had come out from London.

    The action in the shareholder AGM space started around a corner, at the bottom of the escalator. The activists were shoved and otherwise brought over to the escalator; and there were chanting and yelling, all along.

  3. 3 Joshua Kahn Russell Mar 4th, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    HUGE thanks to London organizers who really made this event amazing!!

  4. 4 James Ploeser Mar 12th, 2010 at 2:26 am

    Great to see the prior informed consent (PIC) demand being discussed at IGHIH.

    If frontline communities don’t have say, and their rights to make autonomous decisions about their land, air, and climate aren’t respected, then all the climate science in the world won’t save us from catastrophe.

    In my mind it’s just another reminder that we have to fight the underlying model of economic globalization that grants corporations still greater power to undermine, overturn and even supersede the rights of local peoples.

    We’ve got to challenge the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank if we’re to win in more than symbolic victories.

  1. 1 During a day of action against tar sands financing | Toban Black Trackback on Mar 26th, 2010 at 10:14 pm
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About Joshua Kahn

Joshua Kahn Russell is an organizer serving movements for social justice and ecological balance. He is an action coordinator, facilitator, & trainer with the Ruckus Society, and has trained thousands of activists. He has helped win campaigns against banks, oil companies, logging corporations, and coal barons; worked with a wide variety of groups in a breadth of arenas, from local resiliency projects, to national coalitions, to the United Nations Climate Negotiations. He has authored chapters for numerous books, most recently The Next Eco-Warriors. His articles have appeared in Yes! magazine, Left Turn, PeaceWork magazine, Upping the Anti, and Z Magazine. His blog is and you can follow him on Twitter at @joshkahnrussell For a full bio see:

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