“It is because of a Native American woman’s sex that she is hunted down and slaughtered, in fact, singled out, because she has the potential through childbirth to assure the continuation of the people.” Professor Inés Hernández-Avila articulated in the Violence on the Land, Violence On Our Bodies report.
“So if you destroy the women, you destroy the nations, and then you get access to the land,” said Iako’tsira:reh Amanda Lickers, a member of the Seneca Turtle Clan.
The report illuminates the dark tales of how extractive fossil fuel and mining companies have destroyed the lands and bodies of indigenous peoples, especially women, for centuries. On Monday, the Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network launched a weeklong social media campaign using the hashtag #LandBodyDefense to heighten global understanding about these unacceptable atrocities.
Business activities of the aforementioned industries increasingly occur on indigenous peoples’ land. As The Global Oil and Gas Industry Association for Environmental and Social Issues highlights, “developing opportunities for them to participate in training, employment and business relationships is likely to benefit both the company and the indigenous peoples.”
It is true that oil, gas and mining industries employ a substantial portion of indigenous people; however, some of the worst consequences associated with these industries often go unreported.
The impact of mining operations like Alberta Tar Sands, which has devastated myriad First Nations and Métis peoples, not only destroys the environment but harms communities by contributing to increased drug use, crime, sexual violence and other horrors, the report states.
The burden of environmental violence is carried by indigenous women who are threatened with rape, sexually transmitted diseases and abduction near mining and other extractive operations, partially due to the magnitude of transient workers coming in and out of their communities.
The women also endure chemical exposure, which leads to higher rates of non-communicable diseases like cancer and reproductive health problems. For example, a 2004-2005 study of women in the Aamjiwnaang valley (southwest of Ontario), known as “chemical valley” due to the exorbitant rates of pollution from adjacent extractive corporations, found that nearly 40 percent of women endured a minimum of one stillbirth or miscarriage.
“If we were to…focus on having strong and supported women in our communities, and having men who are down to support that and learn from all of this pain and shit, there’d be a lot more people on the frontline of our struggles. We would have a healthier nation,” Amanda of the Turtle Clan shared.
That is what the #LandBodyDefense movement is all about. In addition to spreading awareness through the report and social media campaign, the movement’s creators included a toolkit (page 73) for survivors of environmental and physical harm to protect themselves and their communities from the violence that is largely overlooked by law enforcement.
“What comes first is ceremony,” explains Chrissy Swain of the Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation. “Through these ceremonies, people are reminded of the sacredness of their bodies,” the reports authors wrote, “which in turn offers them a deeper understanding of the sacredness of their lands.”