Pipeline construction leads to scarce housing. Scarce housing leads to man camps. And man camps lead to sexual violence, especially against Native women.
So said demonstrators who gathered in Washington, D.C. last week to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as part of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, a coalition of Native and other groups that oppose the 800,000-barrels-per-day project.
“They are going to build a 600-man camp next to our land,” Rosebud Sioux President Cyril Scott said to BuzzFeed during the protests, which ran from April 22 through 26. “I am very concerned these transient workers are going to come onto our land and violate our people.”
The transient workers that the Bakken oil fields attract, combined with the lack of decent housing for them, have brought such concerns to the fore in North Dakota. Now these concerns are spilling over into the Keystone XL pipeline construction, which could create similar circumstances.
Keystone XL would run for 1,700 miles through Nebraska, Oklahoma and other Midwestern states, skirting or crossing Indian country for much of it. Opponents have repeatedly raised the alarm on the damage that such jobs can bring to the communities nearby, although as one expert pointed out to BuzzFeed, Keystone XL may mark the first time that this has been raised as an objection to a pipeline project.
“I’ve not heard this one before as an argument against the expansion of commerce,” Scott Berkowitz, president of Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, told BuzzFeed. “Workplace-related violence is not terribly unusual, but I think that as an argument for or against a pipeline it’s a little unusual.”
In highlighting this link between pipeline and oil field construction jobs and violence against women, BuzzFeed brings to the fore a concern that until now has mostly been voiced among Native groups. The website also notes that these worries have been brought to the table in D.C., but that they are dwarfed by the objections related to environmental damage.
“Though the Native leaders brought their concerns over sexual assaults and Keystone XL to the nation’s capital this week as part of the coordinated anti-pipeline protest, it’s not clear if the concerns will ever rise above a footnote in the national debate over the pipeline,” BuzzFeed noted. “Environmentalists, while sympathetic, say that the sexual assault issue means most to those who live near the proposed Keystone path and note that it’s not a concern unique to Keystone specifically.”
Read Native American Activists Argue Feds Building Keystone Will Lead To Rape on BuzzFeed.