VIDEO: Anti-DAPL activists protest Bemidji City Council, Wells Fargo
BEMIDJI—A small group of people gathered outside of Bemidji City Hall on Wednesday to protest the City Council's decision to continue to use Wells Fargo accounts to hold city funds.
The activists, who prefer to be called water protectors, had asked the City Council last month to divest from Wells Fargo due to the bank's investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline. Many Native American communities and environmental activists across the country object to the pipeline, saying it would pass through land sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and endanger water sources.
"Wells Fargo funds big oil and DAPL," said Nancy Beaulieu, one of four people protesting as of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. "We'd hope that our City Council would display stewardship and do their part as leaders and help protect our community."
According to Michael Meehlhause, a Bemidji City Council member who represents Ward 1, the council voted Jan. 3 to continue to hold city funds in Wells Fargo. The measure was approved as part of the council's consent agenda, meaning there was no debate.
Beaulieu said the group had a "healthy conversation" with City Manager Nate Mathews asking the city to revisit its decision, and that Matthews said the group was welcome to protest in the meantime. Matthews told the Pioneer he was in the process of asking the City Council whether it would be willing to hold a work session to further discuss the decision.
The group plans to continue its protests and to work with activist Winona LaDuke's environmental group Honor the Earth.
"Today we're small in numbers, but we're just beginning to build awareness," Beaulieu said.
She said she expected more protesters to show up later in the day and that they planned to walk over to Wells Fargo's downtown Bemidji location. Samuel Martire, the downtown branch manager, said the bank hopes to avoid any disruption but does not plan on asking the group to leave.
"We want to be associated to projects that we're invited to be a part of," Martire said. "There's always going to be people that agree and disagree with different things, so we try to just keep an open mind."