Extractive industries have been clearcutting, drilling, and mining on or near Indigenous lands for generations, doing massive harm to the environment and Indigenous communities.
When these industries arrive, they bring in an influx of transient, mostly male workers with little connection to the land or local communities. In order to house these workers, companies set up temporary “man camps” which lead to an increase in sexual violence, trafficking, murders, and disappearances.
The targeting of Indigenous lands and Indigenous women are both the result of generations of colonial violence. This violence must end.
Environmental destruction Leads to Violence Against Women
In 2009, the Tar Sands in northern Alberta, site of one of the largest industrial oil projects in North America, had the country’s highest rate of domestic violence. Local women’s shelters were unable to keep up with the demand from women who were fleeing violence.
This kind of gender-based violence has been seen at similar industrial and extractive projects all across Canada (such as in northeast British Columbia) and the United States (e.g., during the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota).
But the harm doesn’t end there. In addition to the constant threat of physical violence while industrial projects are active, women face threats from toxic pollution even long after mining, drilling, and industrial activity stop. For example, in Grassy Narrows, mercury has been found in mothers’ umbilical cords, so newborns continue to suffer the neurological impacts of mercury poisoning decades after industrial waste dumping in their river system ended.
Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Reclaiming Power and Place, a report issued in 2019 by the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, estimates that thousands of Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been murdered in the last few decades alone.
Reclaiming Power and Place calls ongoing violence a “race-based genocide."
- Indigenous women and girls are 12X more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other women in Canada.
- Indigenous women and girls are 16X more likely to be murdered or go missing than white women.
- Indigenous women and girls made up almost 25% of all female homicide victims in Canada between 2001 and 2015.
The government accepted the report’s findings. The prime minister said, "To the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada, to their families, and to survivors—we have failed you. But we will fail you no longer." Powerful words. But the question now is, what is being done to stop the violence?
Bias in Policing and Media Coverage
So far, not much has changed. Even in the face of this unrelenting violence, police put nowhere near as many resources into cases involving Indigenous women as they do into cases where a white woman is involved.
There’s a similar bias when it comes to media coverage of these cases. Stories about missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls rarely make headlines.
Despite fierce and principled resistance from Indigenous communities, extractive industries continue to exploit Indigenous land and resources and gender-based violence continues to trail those industries into local communities. Years after the release of Reclaiming Power and Place, police across Canada still do not have a plan to coordinate their approach to stopping and investigating that violence.
Indigenous Women on the Frontlines
Despite the decades of damage done to their land and communities, and despite the ever-present threat of violence, Indigenous women still stand on the frontlines, protecting their homes and families, protecting their land and water.
We have to stand with them.
What We Can Do
Indigeneous women, families, and communities are calling for answers, accountability, and action.
Violence against women and violence against the land must stop. Here are some things you can do to better understand the issue and push for necessary and long-overdue change.
- Search for an event near you using #MMIWG or #NoMoreStolenSisters and help spread the word.
- Check out MMIWhoismissing, a 100% Indigenous-led organization that educates, advocates, and works with families, communities, and other grassroots organizations to end the violence.
- Reclaiming Power and Place issued 231 “Calls for Justice”: We hope you’ll join us in pushing leaders at every level to make sure this restorative plan is implemented.
The prime minister said, "You have my word that my government will turn the inquiry's calls for justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action ... we must continue to decolonize our existing structures." Let’s make sure he keeps his promise.