In a Montana Greyhound station, Annita Lucchesi, a 24-year-old Southern Cheyenne woman, noticed an entire wall filled with photos of missing women. “The majority of them were native women and it broke my heart,” she says.
Lucchesi works for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Council. Because of her job, she knew that human trafficking around North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields was on the rise. But this wall was a visualization of the numbers she and her colleagues dealt with every day. In her office they were statistics; here they were her sisters.
Lucchesi pulled out her phone and began snapping photos of the posters to share on social media. As she worked, a group of oil rig workers stepped off a bus from North Dakota and started talking behind her.
Boomtowns are rarely safe spaces for women. “All of a sudden you get three men for every woman in a community. And all these guys are rich, they’re making 100,000 bucks, they’re 20 years old, they’re happy, they’re drunk.”
“They were saying, ‘Oh yeah, North Dakota is the fucking best; in North Dakota you can take whatever pretty little Indian girl that you like and you can do whatever you want and police don’t give a fuck about it,’” Lucchesi says. “To hear something like that—he was literally talking about kidnapping and raping girls in public at three in the afternoon—that is how bad it is. That is when it really sunk in that this is the nightmare landscape we are living in—when men can talk openly about raping women and there are no consequences. It’s like I’m not safe here; my sisters are not safe here.”
That nightmare landscape may be about to grow. If approved on its current route, the Keystone XL Pipeline will bisect the heart of Indian country. TransCanada boasts that the project will create “9,000 well-paying construction jobs.” And that’s exactly what tribal activists are worried about.
Man camps, which will hold 1,000 transient pipeline workers, are being planned just miles from reservation lands. If what’s happening in the Bakken oil fields is any indication, Keystone XL could be a disaster for the native women along its route.
American Indian women face some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the nation. More than a quarter of all native women have been raped, and almost 50 percent have experienced some other sort of sexual violence, according to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Compared to other races, American Indian and Alaskan Native women are more than two times more likely to experience rape or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Even more horrifying, according to the Department of Justice, 67 percent of these acts of violence are committed by non-native men—although another study has put this number closer to 86 percent.
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