During the multi-year media melee around the Keystone XL, many issues have been raised by those fighting the pipeline. Potential effects on the climate have galvanized a movement around Bill McKibben’s 350, and the potential for spills has put rural communities throughout the heart of “North America” into a limelight they do not often enjoy. Often, the sensationalism surrounding the pipeline on both sides glosses over the real effects felt by those most affected by these industries. Ecosystems like the Boreal Forest in Northern “Alberta”, which is the largest temperate rainforest on Turtle Island, are being decimated to clear the way for Tar Sands m and pipelines. Places like the Athabasca River Delta and the Sand Hills in “Nebraska” are important habitat for many migrating bird populations. The KXL stands to cut a swath through the Northern Plains that has never seen an oil pipeline of any kind, threatening some of the last pieces of native prairie as well as slicing through sites of cultural importance to many of the plains tribes.
Also largely missed in the mainstream discourse around the Tar sands are communities such as the Beaver Lake Cree and Athabasca Chepewyan near the Tar Sands extraction complex in “Alberta”, and the Lakota, Dakota, Ponca, Osage, Omaha, Caddo, and many other native communities standing squarely in the way of the pipeline through the plains of the “United States”. Tar Sands extraction and transportation, taken in the larger context of North American industrial extraction, serve to further the colonization and attempted subjugation and assimilation of the indigenous people of Turtle Island. This continued colonization is still accompanied by violence and terror, including sexual violence and abuse. This sexual violence is directly correlated to the boom and bust cycle of industrial extraction and the communities it occurs in, and culturally correlated to the way of thinking that allows our culture to perpetuate violence against the earth.
Extreme energy extraction and pipeline construction not only bring devastation of the earth but increased violence against women. In order to build and extract on a large scale there is a need for large amounts of man power. Thousands of people are needed in order to extract oil from the Bakken oil fields in “North Dakota” and to build pipelines such as the Keystone XL. Men come from all over the country to sites of construction and extraction for these projects and stay for months to years. In order to house these numbers, “man camps” are constructed, resembling army barracks or large mobile home complexes. In one man camp outside so-called Tioga, “North Dakota” in the Bakken oil fields, almost all of the 1,238 people are men.
The recent Protect the Sacred II conference at the Ft. Randall Casino on the Yankton reservation in “South Dakota” highlighted that connection, with two days of presentations and talks bridging the divide between veteran’s groups, those fighting for environmental justice and groups that run shelters and advocacy centers. The immediate issue at hand was the siting of three “man camps” for TransCanada’s Keystone XL in “South Dakota” and at least one in “Nebraska”. As pointed out by women from the Ft. Berthold reservation in “North Dakota”, these camps bring a rash of drugs, sexual violence and sex trafficking to the communities they are sited near. In fact, communities that are experiencing a boom of industrial extraction, like communities in the Bakken as well as those around the Tar Sands extraction complex, experience vastly disproportionate levels of drug use, sexual violence, and general violence, due to the large influx of workers. The siting of these extraction industries near marginalized indigenous communities and communities of color is not a coincidence. It is far easier for corporations and the corporate state to repress local populations and force their way into an area when those populations do not hold power in society, and have no one in government who will fight for them. This has been repeated over and over again in “North America”, from the Coal Mines of Appalachia, to the Uranium and coal mines on traditional Dineh territory in the Southwest, and includes urban communities of color struggling with the many refining complexes throughout “North America”; such as Chevron’s Richmond Oil Refinery, located in a community that is primarily African-American, Latino, and Laotian, and “Canada’s” Chemical Valley, located around Sarnia “Ontario” and right next to the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Reserve.
The Fort Berthold Reservation located in western “North Dakota” is home to the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations. The Fort Berthold Reservation is in the middle of the Bakken oil boom, and because of the large influx of men, violence against native women on the reservation has increased exponentially. “In 2012, the tribal police department reported more murders, fatal accidents, sexual assaults, domestic disputes, drug busts, gun threats, and human trafficking cases than in any year before. The surrounding counties offer similar reports. But there is one essential difference between Fort Berthold and the rest of North Dakota: The reservation’s population has more than doubled with an influx of non-Indian oil workers—over whom the tribe has little legal control.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/on-indian-land-criminals-can-get-away-with-almost-anything/273391/) Tribal police cannot prosecute non-natives for crimes that are committed on reservations. The 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish stripped tribes the right to prosecute non-natives who commit crimes on reservations. Tribal police are helpless to hold these men accountable because they have no legal authority. The oil companies that employ these scum bags protect them from any legal ramifications and are complicit in the exploitation and violence against native women.
Sadie Young Bird of the Fort Berthold Coalition Against Domestic Violence spoke at the conference about the increased violence against women she has seen at Fort Berthold and the increase of drug use. The men that come to work in the oil fields bring money and drugs onto the reservation and exploit vulnerable women. But it’s not just vulnerable women who are at risk. There are also cases of women being abducted, raped and left on the side of the road or murdered. This increase of drugs, sexual assaults, domestic violence, and sex trafficking puts a huge strain on shelters and advocates that already have limited resources
The conference, organized largely by Faith Spotted Eagle and the Brave Heart Society of the Ihanktonwan Dakota, not only plainly colored these connections, but allowed time for these groups to get to know one another, and collectively strategize about effective ways to fight back, and reduce the potential harm. Presentations by groups such as the White Buffalo Calf Women’s Society, that run shelters and do sexual assault prevention and survivor advocacy work, drove home the fact that reservation populations are already dealing with disproportionately high rates of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and human trafficking, and that these affect people across the gender spectrum. The collective understanding of the intersections of these issues as symptoms of a dominant patriarchal, settler society was not a source of defeatism. Rather it contextualized this struggle within a 500 year resistance to colonization on Turtle Island, and provided for creativity in thinking not only about defeating the KXL, but using those connections to continue fighting colonization and oppression on the Plains.
The White Buffalo Calf Woman Society provides assistance to Native American women who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The group has been based out of the Rosebud reservation for 35 years. Now the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society must prepare for man camps that will be within 66 miles of the Rosebud Reservation. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe already faces the problem of predators preying on young native girls for sex trafficking. If the KXL pipeline is approved this exploitation will increase.
The Rosebud Sioux are not the only people at risk. There is a man camp planned to be within 10 miles of the Cheyenne River Reservation in “South Dakota,” an area that is 71% Native American and the fourth poorest county in the so-called United States. Poverty and limited resources leave the area at particular risk. In “Montana” a man camp will be 25 miles from the Fort Peck Reservation. In so-called Nebraska, man camps will be 50 miles from the Santee Reservation and 60 miles from the Yankton Reservation. The federal government has proven countless times that it does not care about Native Americans, which makes it easy for pipeliners to commit violence and prey on Native women with no repercussions. Government complicity in violence against women is a manifestation of continued colonization: dominant society violently repressing native populations by preying on those seen as most vulnerable.
As anti-extraction activists trying to be good allies and in solidarity with indigenous peoples it is important for us to target man camps in our messaging, dialogue and actions. Native American Women advocating for survivors of sexual assaults on their reservations already have their hands full. As white settler allies, it is important for us to draw the connections and include in our dialogue the increased violence against women, specifically Native American women, that results from these extreme energy projects. If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, settler allies need to be on the front lines to confront the man camps.
Further readings/articles on Man Camps and Resistance: