Nunavut's TD scholarship recipient to TD: Stop funding the Dakota Access Pipeline

Along with some 70 other TD scholarship recipients, Shelby Angalik from Arviat, Nunavut, is calling for TD to stop paying for the pipeline and to 'break their silence.'

‘It goes against what TD says they stand for,' says Shelby Angalik

Shelby Angalik at an award ceremony in Ottawa where received one of this year's TD Scholarships for Community Leadership, valued at $70,000. (TD Canada Trust)

A TD scholar from Arviat, Nunavut, says she was "shocked and disappointed" when she found out her benefactor — TD Canada Trust, which is paying $70,000 for her school tuition — was also funding the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in the U.S.

And now, along with some 70 other TD scholarship recipients, Shelby Angalik is calling for TD to stop paying for the pipeline and to "break their silence" in an open letter addressed to the heads of TD Bank Group and TD Securities.

"What's happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline right now is a violation of human rights," said Angalik, a first year humanities student at Brock University.

The contested $3.8-billion pipeline will carry crude oil across four states to Illinois. Protesters are concerned it threatens the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation. TD, along with other major Canadian banks like RBC and Scotiabank, has invested millions into parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the pipeline.

"As an Indigenous person representing TD, it felt a bit wrong for me to be a part of the TD community," said Angalik.

An aspiring librarian

Angalik was 14 when she noticed her community needed help.

She spearheaded a new program for children, reading to them in English and in Inuktitut at the local library. Her dream is to be a librarian, but she said she's open to other work like advocacy in order to help her community.

Shelby Angalik reads to children in both English and Inuktitut. She created this reading program in Arviat, Nunavut to combat the low literacy rates in her community. (submitted by Shelby Angalik)

On the TD scholarship website, TD writes that they recognize youth like Angalik who are committed "to make their community — and our world — a better place" through activities like "cleaning up the environment, promoting social justice, or fighting child poverty."

"We're representing an institution that goes against the very thing that we were recognized for trying to do," said Angalik. 

Angalik was the flag-bearer for Team Nunavut at the 2016 Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, Greenland. (CBC)

Situation 'heartbreaking,' says drafter of letter

When Selin Jessa, a 2013 TD scholarship recipient, watched protesters in a Montreal rally cancelling their bank accounts with some banks financing the pipeline, she realized she was in a "unique position" to have a dialogue with TD.

"I'm very proud to be supported by TD and grateful for their support, but it's really heartbreaking to think about all the values they recognized us for, and to see them involved in a project like this," said Jessa.

Demonstrators outside a TD bank earlier this fall in Bronx, N.Y. (submitted by @StopMotionsolo)

Jessa, along with two other scholars began drafting a letter, while reviewing it with other scholars through Facebook.

"It was a really great process to revise and think about what exactly we're saying in collaboration with the scholars," said Jessa. 

The letter, dated Nov. 24, 2016, reads in part: "We cannot reconcile TD's commitment to empower and celebrate young people for leadership in our communities… with TD's financial support for a project that undermines the sovereignty of Indigenous communities and has proven unjust from its very beginning."

TD's internal response

According to Jessa, TD responded to the letter in an email letter marked "internal."

"Although we've received a response and acknowledgement of our letter, we're all a bit disappointed that we haven't yet seen any movement from TD," said Jessa.

Jessa said they couldn't share the details of the response, but expressed that TD "indicated that they really value our voices."

"We respect the rights of those who wish to voice their opinions in peaceful protest," said a TD representative in an email response when approached by CBC News.

"TD continues to engage in discussions with key stakeholders and Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. And we support efforts to ensure environmental sustainability and the safety of this site."

TD said they will "encourage" future dialogues between ETP and the community members at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

A question of giving up the scholarship

When asked if given the choice to give up the $70,000 scholarship should TD continue its investment into the Dakota Access Pipeline, Angalik clarified that she was grateful for the funding to pursue her education.

Angalik presenting in front of the senate at Parliament in Ottawa for National Aboriginal Day. (submitted by Shelby Angalik)

"I think I would keep my scholarship because... I can use my education for many more opportunities to give back to my community," she said.

"If I withdraw my scholarship, then I would just make a point but I would be less likely to pursue education and that would disrupt my passion for giving back."

with files from Jordan Konek