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In Fort McMurray, near the Canadian oil fields where mostly men live and work, a phone directory features 10 pages of escorts, including low-cost lovers promising cut- rate service within 20 minutes. There are almost 10,000 men living in man camps. They do 10 week shifts or so, and then get turned loose for a bit. Sometimes they blow their money in Fort McMurray, and then some of them go home. It is always the same with boom towns and oil.
With almost 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, searching for a way to feel safe is a daily reality and something that has been elusive for many Indigenous women.
Just to be fair, Canadian oil fields are not the only place to get murdered. Minnesota does not do so well in the protection of Native women, and it is about to get worse, if Enbridge and the Public Utilities Commission of Minnesota get their way.
The Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) recorded 5,712 cases of murdered or missing Indigenous women or girls in the U.S. in 2016, only 116 of which were logged in a Department of Justice database. Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the UIHI said murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaskan Native women.
Minnesota has the ninth-most murdered or missing Indigenous women or girls cases, the UIHI said in a report held up by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (New Brighton). Kunesh-Podein introduced a bill that would establish a task force to examine the causes of that violence, ways to collect data, plus how to prevent it and lessen the damage it causes. [The bill passed 128-0 in the House and moved to the Senate (S515), sponsored by Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (Minneapolis). As we went to press, it was seeking bipartisan support for funding in the Senate.]
“Five hundred years we’ve been waiting for this,” said Mysti Babineau, a Red Lake Nation member who was first raped when she was nine years old, watched her grandmother’s murder at 12 and, at 20, escaped a kidnapping. “My sisters, my people, have gone missing since European settlers set on Turtle Island. It’s time for justice. It’s time for healing.”
North Dakota just passed similar legislation, ahead of Minnesota. The bill was introduced by first-year North Dakota Representative Ruth Anna Buffalo, and creates a state-level database to track missing and murdered persons, not just Native people.
A national bill, the Violence Against Women Act, was reauthorized by the U.S. House of Representatives this year. One notable Democrat voted against the bill: Minnesota’s Collin Peterson. He was more concerned about gun rights than the protection of women.
A Thousand Miles of Man Camps
A pipeline looks like a thousand miles of man camps — straight out of Fort McMurray. Maybe just for a moment, think of it that way.
It is not just the man camps — the consistently actualized violence against Native women, which occurs at the hands of the fossil fuels industry — but it’s also the metaphor.
“Let me shove this pipeline down your throat.” That’s basically what the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission said to Native people, with the approval of the permits for Enbridge’s Line 3. That’s what $11 million worth of lobbying will buy you in Minnesota. The rape of the north and the rape of Native women.
Consent is consent. Consent is about sex, and consent is about pipelines and mega-projects. In the old days, company men and governments used to just rape and pillage. That was how it went. It is not supposed to be those days now.
Imagine if the international standard of the United Nations was applied: Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. This entitles Indigenous people to determine the outcome of decision-making that affects them, not merely have a right to be involved. That means not coerced consent, and not rape.
Raping Mother Earth is still rape.
You don’t just wake up one day and say, I hate patriarchy. What I do hate is all the decisions the patriarchy has made: the destruction, the thinking, the entitlement, and the abuse. What I hate is the patronizing mansplaining on fossil fuels.
One percent of the population controls way too much wealth. The average CEO makes 150 times what a typical worker does ($7.4 million per person, compared to a $77,000 average for employees); 40 percent of the lakes in Minnesota fail to meet basic health standards; we’ve lost 45 percent of invertebrates, such as insects, and are about to lose that many mammals; and, well, we’ve got 12 years not to bake ourselves with climate change.
We can’t say those decisions were made by women, because they were not: consider the 2017 study of the top management of 16 Fortune 500 companies. Top management is male — 80 percent. Of those, 72 percent are white males. Nearly all lawmakers are male: 89 percent in the House of Representatives, and 93 percent in the Senate.
That is why the Sunrise Movement, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Green New Deal are so exciting. That is what the leadership of women looks like — women of color at that. That is when we begin to have jobs that matter for the quality of life of women and the environment.
Birthing the Next Economy
I want to be a doula to the next economy. It will take many of us to bring on the birth, but it is time. Time to re-matriate our world, our Mother Earth.
The next economy needs to be restorative and regenerative. It needs to not poison people and land. No more “-cides” in the food and in the water. That stuff will kill you. It needs to be compassionate and maternal — looking out for relatives, whether they have hands, paws, roots, claws, or fins.
The next economy has efficiency, organic food, electric trains, restorative justice, renewable energy, and quality support for women and children. That’s the economy I want. Infrastructure for people, not corporations.
That economy has to have less fossil fuels in it. That is just the way it goes. Fossil fuels are bad for the planet, and carbon needs to stay in the ground, not in the air.
The rights of women and the Earth need to be valued over the rights of corporations. A simple but essential idea. At Standing Rock, we saw what $38 million worth of repression for a Texas corporation looked like. We are about to see what Enbridge-financed repression looks like in Minnesota.
On December 31, 2018, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe approved the Rights of Wild Rice as a part of tribal regulatory authority. We believe in our water, our wild rice, and our Mother Earth. I believe in the restoration of the Matriarchy, Mother Earth, and all of us. I have to believe that women are more interested in survival than conquest. No time like the present to figure that out.
Doula the next economy; bring in the beautiful world.