On April 21, 2015, a coalition of Native American and women’s organizations filed a submission to the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, requesting UN intervention in the epidemic of sexual violence brought on by extreme fossil fuel extraction in the Great Lakes and Great Plains region. This body was convened in New York from April 20 to May 1, 2015, for the Fourteenth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The submission documents the connection between extreme extraction and sexual violence against Native women in the Bakken oil fields of western North Dakota and eastern Montana, and the Tar Sands region of Alberta, Canada, where vast “man camps” of temporary labor have become lawless hubs of violence and human trafficking. It also contextualizes this epidemic within the history of colonization, genocide, and systemic violence against Indigenous peoples, which has always disproportionately affected women and girls.
The submission was made by Dr. Dawn Memee Harvard of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, also on behalf of Honor the Earth, Brave Heart Society, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, One Billion Rising, Indigenous Women’s Network, and individuals including Tanaya Winder and Prairie Rose Seminole.
“Violence against our earth and water is perpetrated on a daily basis, against those things absolutely vital to our very existence,” said Patina Park, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center. “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.”
“I have been to the Bakken oil fields and witnessed firsthand the extreme extraction being perpetrated against our earth. I have heard the horrific stories of women who are being trafficked and violated simultaneously. I know our fight is here. We must stand with our Indigenous sisters who are on the front lines of this abuse and demand the end of rape of women’s bodies and our earth,” said Eve Ensler, Executive Director of One Billion Rising.
Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth, said, “We are in a time of extreme extraction, as we grasp desperately for the last remaining deposits of fossil fuels to satisfy our addiction. This means extreme violence against Mother Earth, exploding her bedrock, pumping lethal chemicals into the water, removing entire mountaintops, and destroying our own habitat. This violence impacts Indigenous communities the most, especially women. Violence against the land has always been violence against women.”
The submission requests that the UN Special Rapporteur hold hearings in the cities and indigenous territories of Minnesota and North Dakota to address the epidemic of sexual violence against Native women. In the coming months, the coalition will be working to organize those hearings.