Arizona Law Student Takes Divestment Campaign to Pope Francis

Jan. 18, 2018

In October, University of Arizona Law Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) candidate Michelle Cook (Diné/Navajo) met with Pope Francis as part of the 2017 Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation (Divestment Delegation). The Divestment Delegation brought together indigenous leaders to urge Europe’s leading financial institutions to divest from fossil fuel projects. Cook was joined on the delegation by indigenous leaders and human rights activists LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, Jackie Fielder, Tara Houska and Osprey Orielle Lake.
As part of the delegation, Cook encouraged Pope Francis to entirely divest the Roman Catholic Church’s assets from fossil fuel projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The team also urged him to protect indigenous peoples’ right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent to developments on their land and to transition the church from using fossil fuels to renewable energy.
While speaking to Pope Francis, Cook delivered a divestment letter which enumerated the delegation’s requests to the Roman Catholic Church. Reflecting on the experience Cook noted that, "Delivering the divestment letter and speaking to Pope Francis was an attempt to create further action, build awareness, and increase attention regarding the global divestment campaign against the banks, financial institutions, and corporations associated with human rights violations at Standing Rock.”
Cook says meeting the Pope was an overwhelming experience.
“Seeing the thousands gathered in the Vatican City at Saint Peter's Square just to hear him speak and knowing I had an opportunity to personally engage with him on these important matters facing indigenous peoples was a humbling responsibility. While the encounter was only moments, I hope it generates attention, intervention, and legal assistance for indigenous peoples and indigenous human rights defenders who are in need of urgent protection in the United States." 
In collaboration with other campaigns, the Divestment Delegation has achieved notable victories. During the delegation’s October visit to Europe, a group of 40 Catholic institutions pledged to divest from fossil fuels entirely. In November, the Norwegian Oil Fund, Norway’s trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund, recommended that the government of Norway divest entirely from oil and gas. Earlier in March 2017, five financial institutions decided not to renew credit lines with Energy Transfer Equity (ETE), the parent company that financed and built DAPL.
Michelle Cook is an indigenous human rights lawyer and SJD candidate at Arizona Law’s Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP) Program. She is writing her dissertation on international law, indigenous people’s human rights, gender, sexuality, and indigenous transnationalism. She is a founding member of the Water Protector Legal Collective, the on-the-ground legal team which provides legal services to those arrested at the Standing Rock encampment.