Follow Up: About That Big Award to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for Clean Energy

The fight to halt the Dakota access pipeline was one of the most inspiring examples of grassroots activism in recent years. Demonstrators put themselves at great risk for months during 2016 and early 2017, winning a big, if temporary, victory during the Obama administration, and uniting a rare intersectional movement in the process. 

But one of the biggest takeaways from that time, especially in terms of philanthropy, is that the DAPL resistance was just a microcosm of many issues facing Native American communities daily, and an eye-opener to the lack of attention and funding they receive. It also demonstrated the potential of turning to such communities to lead on environmental and energy issues.

As Nick Tilsen, an organizer and the founder and executive director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation told us at the time, “This movement is like casting a stone in a pond, and the ripple effect of what happens here at Standing Rock is going to transform America and transform Indian Country.” 


While the pipeline has since become operational under Trump administration orders, legal and financial resistance continue, along with ongoing sustainability efforts in the region. So it’s encouraging to see a chunk of support recently coming from influential liberal grantmaker the Wallace Global Fund. The funder announced last week that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is the first recipient of its new Henry A. Wallace Award, along with a $250,000 prize, and up to $1 million in investments toward the transition to renewable energy.

Wallace Global Fund created the prize, named for its founder and former U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace, to reward courage in standing up to corporate and political power. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is a natural pick, given the fund’s concerns over unchecked corporate power and threats to the environment, along with its commitment to movement-building strategies. Wallace is also a leader in mission investing, having incubated the Divest-Invest movement, which has since drawn more than 150 foundations to commit to dropping fossil fuel industry stocks. 

Related: As the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Gains Steam, It's Getting Harder for Foundations to Ignore

The finance front is a less recognized, but powerful part of the DAPL story—both divestment and investment have been part of this movement from the beginning. There’s a big, ongoing push to pull money out of banks financing oil and gas pipelines, and to draw investment that will allow Native American communities energy independence through renewables. 

That $1 million in investment potential adds a compelling dimension to the Wallace Global Fund announcement. As the movement that started with Standing Rock continues, supporting a vision for the future is just as important as opposing looming threats. Funders interested in Standing Rock, and the larger issues of water and climate, will need to support communities ready to take the lead that vision.