One of the least talked about effects of oil pipelines relates to Native communities, especially the women living by pipelines and construction of them. The environmental impacts are naturally extremely important, but the focus in this article is on how intersectionality plays out in terms of the consequences of pipelines on the environment and in communities.
One of the biggest disruptions and dangers to these communities come in the form of “man camps,” which is the most common term used, but they are also known as “work camps” and “industrial camps.” Man camps supply the labor necessary to build these pipelines. The companies set up trailers or other forms of mobile transportation, or they can build sort of dorm-like buildings which can either be abandoned once the pipeline is complete in that region, or moved if mobile enough. The people who populate these man camps tend to be nearly all cis-gendered men.
Within these camps, where the mostly male labor force work grueling hours, far from families, and surrounded by strangers, they live in a hyper-masculine culture with little self-care and a lot of disposable income, which creates an environment where drug problems and alcoholism flourish (as found by a study done by The Peace Project funded by the Status of Women Canada). The issue lies in their proximity to Native land and reservations, and the danger lies in the lack of jurisdiction tribal police have over non-Native people. Many studies have shown that where there are man camps, there are skyrocketing rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, and missing women in these communities. The communities I’m focusing on are mainly in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, Montana, and the Dakotas, but these trends exist wherever man camps are built.
For example in Fort Berthold, North Dakota, to quote from The Atlantic, “In 2012, the tribal police department reported more murders, fatal accidents, sexual assaults, domestic disputes, drug busts, gun threats, and human trafficking cases than in any year before. The surrounding counties offer similar reports.” In Fort Berthold, the population doubled with the influx of mostly young male workers working during the oil boom.
In the same state, during the the Bakken oil boom between 2010-2013, according to the Boston Globe, victim advocates from the Hidsta, Mandan and Arikara Nation have all experienced doubling if not tripling in calls related sexual assault, human traficking and domestic violence. In 2018, in northern B.C., First Nations are preparing for two natural gas pipelines by making sure health stations are well stocked with rape kits.
In summary, discussions around pipelines are wholly focused on the environmental impacts, and not enough on the impact on Native communities, especially Native women, and that needs to change. To quote Lisa Brunner, who succinctly explains it, “They treat Mother Earth like they treat women… They think they can own us, buy us, sell us, trade us, rent us, poison us, rape us, destroy us, use us as entertainment and kill us. I’m happy to see that we are talking about the level of violence that is occurring against Mother Earth because it equates to us [women].”