Protests by Indigenous activists across the USA on Wednesday coincided with the press launch of a new exhibition, Arctic: culture and climate, at the British Museum. President Trump is trying to rush through a new bill before election which will open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, putting Indigenous sacred lands under threat. Two groups, Native Movement and Defend the Sacred AK, organised more than a dozen banner drops in cities across the nation, using the slogan ‘Sacred lands are not for sale. Stop Arctic oil exploration.’

In solidarity, UK protest group BP or not BP? smuggled banners into the British Museum and held a small Covid-aware protest right in front of the press welcoming desk. Their main banner was a copy of the ones designed by the Indigenous groups in America, but they also brought in two smaller banners to highlight to journalists the museum’s long and ongoing partnership with BP (the biggest operator in the Alaskan Arctic over 60 years), and the sponsorship of the Arctic exhibition by Citi, (a bank which is the third biggest funder of fossil fuels in the world).

Journalists couldn’t miss the three banners as they approached the exhibition, and several stopped to speak with the activists, as did some visitors.

BP have extracted around 13 billion barrels of oil from the Arctic over 60 years, causing several oil spills there, and inflicting air pollution on nearby Indigenous communities. Their global carbon emissions have caused Arctic temperatures in particular to rise dramatically, and scientists are warning that this makes runaway climate change increasingly likely due both to the Albedo effect, and the melting permafrost which is releasing the underground methane, an even worse global warming gas than CO2.

Siqiñiq Maupin, Community Organizer for Native Movement and Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA) has previously said:

“The attack on Alaska as a whole has been overwhelming. Our food, water, and air has been contaminated to the point of serious health impacts to humans and our relatives on the land and in the sea, We are seeing warming of the land that sustains all life at two times the rate of the rest of the world, endangering basic needs as the climate crisis worsens. In the midst of a pandemic that disproportionately affects BIPOC communities, we must take a stance against any further fossil fuel extraction and continued harm against our People. We are experiencing a shift in global consciousness from a system rooted in white supremacy into systems rooted in Indigenous ways and values. We must transition into an equitable and sustainable future for all beings.”

Although BP has officially sold its Alaskan interests to Hilcorp, before doing so it actively lobbied Trump to allow high-risk drilling in offshore Arctic waters and grant the Wildlife Refuge lease, so has profited handsomely while escaping responsibility.

Citi is using its sponsorship of this exhibition to promote its claim to have a strong stance on Indigenous rights and climate change, and its UK Officer James Bardrick says that the company finances sustainable economy and supports Indigenous rights. In the exhibition’s press release he is quoted as saying: “We are committed to financing and facilitating clean energy, infrastructure and technology projects that support environmental solutions and reduce the impacts of climate change, on rich and diverse communities such as those that inhabit the circumpolar Arctic.”

But in reality, Citi has backed many projects opposed by Indigenous communities, including the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines as well as crude oil extraction in the Amazon. And although in response to powerful campaigns it has offered an undertaking to stop directly funding Arctic drilling, it still funds many of the biggest oil companies, so will likely end up backing some of those firms bidding for Trump’s new Arctic licenses.

The size of this week’s protest at the museum was in stark contrast to BP or not BP?’s last visit – a three-day occupation involving an actual Trojan horse and around 1500 participants. The protest ‘actor-vists’ have run a long campaign at the British Museum to shine a critical light on BP sponsorship and support Indigenous communities around the world.

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