That is what has happened in Norway, where the Sami Parliament might have been instrumental in pushing KLP, the second largest pension fund, to divest from the controversial Dakota Access Pipe Line project in the USA.

Vibeke Larsen, president of the Sami parliament, told The Guardian “We feel a strong solidarity with other indigenous people in other parts of the world, so we are doing our part in Norway by putting pressure on the pension funds”.

Representatives of the Sami Parliament in Norway for the period 2013-2017. President Vibeke Larsen stands in the centre of the front row. Photograph: Kenneth Haetta. Source: The Guardian

Larsen maintains that KLP might have realised how serious the plea was when the Sami parliament wrote to them.

Divestment at last

The pension fund’s move does not seem to be linked to the type of energy involved with the project (unconventional oil). Initially, KLP had assessed the situation in terms of human rights and environment in December 2016, and had not found any reason to divest.

In early 2017, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, concluded the tribes affected by the pipeline had not been consulted sufficiently. A further concerning point was that a broader environmental impact statement was meant to be carried out, and the new Trump administration decided to go ahead without it.

As of early March KLP become aware of the UN special rapporteur’s statement of 3 March, and it decided to divest. A KLP statement clarified this was due to a reassessment of the case, rather than pressure from the Sami parliament.

In any case, divestment will lead to the sale of shares worth $58m in companies engaged with construction of the pipeline.

There are still some Norwegian governmental bodies who haven’t divested from the Dakota Access project, in particular the country’s giant sovereign wealth fund Government Pension Fund Global (GFPG). GFPG has nearly $1.2bn of investments in the pipeline companies, according to Friends of the Earth Norway.

A lesson for Murujuga?

All of this points to the fact that when Indigenous people join their voices and present their cases in a united manner they are more likely to be heard.

What could happen if those Aboriginal people who look after Murujuga’s country did what the Scandinavian people do? For instance, they could present their plea to the Sami Parliament and ask them to lobby the Norwegian government, who is said to own about 35% of YARA’s shares, while another 5% is held by a Government owned pension fund (much as with the Dakota Access case).

Or perhaps solidarity among Indigenous people could result in better air quality control measures, by means of installing appropriate filters and/or emissions sequestering devices at YARA Pilbara. The industrial site lies in the middle of rock art which is estimated to be some 30,000 years old. It is also located in the vicinity and up wind of a number of towns, and some locals have reported worsened health conditions.

Vibeke Larsen admitted to The Guardian that “It is not easy to understand if you are not indigenous, and I understand companies sometimes miss it,” referring, among others, to the central importance that sacred land holds for First Nations.

Solidarity in protecting invaluable heritage could go a long way.