OPINION: CMC trustees must divest from the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Drawing of the Kravis Center on top of a pipeline and a very polluted environment.
(Laura Jaramillo • The Student Life)

My organic chemistry class takes place at the Kravis Center, one of the numerous resources at Claremont McKenna College named after trustee Henry Kravis CM ’67. His name also graces a leadership institute and an opportunity fund for CMC first-years on financial aid, among other things. His cousin’s name, George Roberts CM ’66, similarly appears often at CMC, such as on the Roberts Pavilion and two other academic buildings. Donating millions of dollars to CMC’s endowment, the cousins are arguably CMC’s most influential trustees.

They also co-founded KKR & Co., a private equity firm that in June 2020 acquired 65 percent equity interest in the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, which crosses unceded Wet’suwet’en Nation land in British Columbia, Canada. The pipeline gained mainstream notoriety in 2020, when Wet’suwet’en activists began protesting its construction, citing concerns about its potential to destroy natural resources and culturally significant sites.

As environmental damage from fossil fuel use progresses worldwide, CMC’s prevailing silence on the pipeline is unacceptable. CMC must fight climate change and support Indigenous peoples by pushing Kravis and Roberts to divest from the CGL pipeline.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who maintain authority over the lands, said they never consented to pipeline construction. “We need [CGL] to understand that what they are doing is destroying our land, our ecological sites, our burial sites,” hereditary chief Na’Moks said to Canadian media.

On Sept. 22, CGL workers cleared Ts’elkay Kwe, a culturally significant site to the Wet’suwet’en, destroying its archaeological heritage without consulting them.

Workers are now trying to drill under the Wedzin Kwa River, an important source of sustenance central to Wet’suwet’en identity. CGL claimed they are using the most environmentally responsible drilling method, but Wet’suwet’en activists maintain that building the pipeline will threaten their water and food supply. If the pipeline leaks, it will contaminate the water and salmon, making them unsafe for consumption.

I recognize that Wet’suwet’en people are divided on the matter; all elected Wet’suwet’en councils along the pipeline route approved the CGL pipeline. Former elected chief Karen Ogen-Toews argued that it would help Wet’suwet’en people overcome poverty by providing opportunities for employment and education. In an affidavit filed in the BC Supreme Court, pipeline supporter Theresa Tait-Day said, “A few house chiefs cannot make decisions for our nation. Everyone in our nation … has a voice that deserves to be heard.”

It is not my place to tell Wet’suwet’en individuals how to react to issues affecting them. However, hereditary chiefs have responsibility over the Wet’suwet’en who don’t inhabit the areas governed by elected councils. Elected councils don’t represent these Wet’suwet’en people. Furthermore, non-Indigenous people should know that the Canadian government established and enforced elected councils, in an attempt to assimilate Indigenous people into Western styles of governance and eliminate hereditary chiefs, who represent a governance system that predates colonization.

A project proceeding with consent from people holding offices established by colonial forces — and not people in traditional governance — upholds colonialism. Intentionally or not, it suggests that input only matters if it comes from positions satisfying colonial values. It does not always suffice to simply seek majority approval for an initiative from people in authority. Practicing cultural sensitivity entails examining whose voices are and aren’t being acknowledged and why. 

The pipeline also doesn’t just affect the Wet’suwet’en. It will transport natural gas to a facility owned by industrial energy project LNG Canada, which will be among Canada’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters once completed. During its first phase of operation, it will emit four megatons of carbon emissions annually, rising to 9.6 megatons in its second phase in 2050. 

Supporting the pipeline means upholding LNG Canada, whose emissions will contribute to climate change. This impacts everyone globally. Living in Southern California, I’ve noticed increasing wildfires, fearing that the smoke would trigger my severe asthma.

Currently, I favor the divestment solution proposed by former CMC first-year class presidential candidate Peter Dien CM ’25.

“Before we automatically ask [Kravis and Roberts] to leave [the Board of Trustees], which will drain the endowment and is idealistic, we should advocate [through] our position at the school to make sure they don’t invest in these practices anymore,” Dien said in an interview with TSL. 

He asserted that the CMC administration should make a statement against fossil fuels. If KKR refuses to engage in dialogue regarding divestment, Dien believes that Kravis and Roberts should be removed as trustees.

Acknowledging that Kravis’ and Roberts’ donations have helped CMC provide support to first-generation low-income students like himself, Dien stressed that removal should be the very last resort. 7C community members must first focus on spreading awareness and publicly pressuring CMC to take a stance against fossil fuel investment. 

Although he didn’t win, Dien said his advocacy for divestment — an integral component of his campaign — increased voter turnout to 81 percent, the highest in 5C election history. With student groups Divest Claremont Colleges and KKR Kills, Dien continues to amplify awareness of issues involving KKR. Indeed, outside the Roberts Pavilion, a protest organized by the two groups against KKR’s pipeline investments garnered monumental attendance on Oct. 5.

A famous quote from Kravis reads, “You can have all the money in the world, but if you are not a moral and ethical person, you really have nothing.” Kravis and Roberts should follow these words and divest from the CGL pipeline.

Luciénne Reyes PZ ’24 is from Los Angeles, California, where starting in high school, she and her classmates had school-sanctioned days off from school due to the unsafe air quality caused by wildfires.

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