On April 21, a coalition of Native American and women’s rights organizations made a formal request for the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to intervene in the alarming sexual violence problem occurring around fossil fuel extraction sites in the Great Lakes and Great Plains regions.
Dr. Dawn Memee Harvard of the Native Women’s Association of Canada submitted this call to action on behalf of Honor the Earth, Brave Heart Society, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, One Billion Rising, Indigenous Women’s Network, and others.
Their report focuses on the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana as well as Alberta, Canada’s Tar Sands. Major oil operations attract large “man camps” of uprooted workers that have been known to bring a culture of violence with them. This impermanent influx acts as a huge disturbance to the people who already inhabit the areas–especially women.
Drastically shifting gender ratios in these rural towns can change social dynamics for the worst. Law enforcement have seen intense rises of domestic violence and human trafficking in such zones.
In their report, the group laid out facts of the epidemic and described key aspects of Indigenous history such as genocide, colonization, and systematic oppression that contribute to the violence women and girls are exposed to today.
“Violence against our earth and water is perpetrated on a daily basis, against those things absolutely vital to our very existence,” stated Patina Park, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, to Indian Country Today Media Network, “we can’t be surprised that people who would rape our land are also raping our people. We must do something to stop this from continuing.”
The United Nations discussed the submission at the Fourteenth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held in New York during the last week of April. Part of the coalition’s mission is to facilitate UN Special Rapporteur hearings in the places directly effected by the epidemic–they plan to begin this series as soon as possible.
The disturbing link between sexual violence and fossil fuel operations is undeniable and we hope to see the United Nations and other major forces acknowledge this reality and take due action. The Lakota People’s Law Project applauds the coalition for their push to see this outcome through and will continue to report on the status of this pressing issue.