Content warning: This article mentions violence against women and sexual assault.
The plights and oppression of so many innocent people tend to get overlooked in the conversation around climate change — and one topic that seriously deserves more attention is that of missing and murdered Indigenous women across the U.S.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (better known as AOC) recently spoke at an Oversight Committee Hearing titled "The Neglected Epidemic of Missing BIPOC Women and Girls," where she discussed “the correlation between fossil fuel extraction sites and abductions and murders of Indigenous women across the United States.”
At the hearing, Angel Charley, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, spoke with Ocasio-Cortez as a witness to elaborate on the topic.
Keep reading to learn more about how the fossil fuel industry plays such a big role in this atrocity, as well as a recap of AOC and Charley's conversation at the hearing, which the Congesswoman shared on Instagram, prompting a conversation about violence against Indigenous women.
Indigenous women go missing and getting murdered at alarmingly high rates.
As explained by Greenpeace, violence against Native American women goes back to when Europeans arrived in America and began colonizing land, hundreds of years ago. Colonialists violently stole land from Indigenous tribes by means of force and brutality — and this practice still persists in the U.S. today, especially against Indigenous women, who are murdered 10 times as often as the national average, as per the U.S. Department of Justice.
The fossil fuel industry and its “man camps” are largely responsible for missing and murdered Indigenous women.
So why are Indigenous women going missing and getting murdered at such high rates today? According to Greenpeace, pipelines and plants for many extractive industries (such as oil drilling and mining) are often built near Indigenous Reservations. And when these industries set up new plants, they often also build what are known as “man camps.” As explained by YES Magazine, man camps are big housing units owned by fossil fuel companies that house the men who come to temporarily work on oil fields.
Due to the Bakken oil boom (aka the North Dakota oil boom), more and more man camps have popped up across North Dakota and Montana near Indigenous communities, bringing in thousands of temporary workers. Since the boom began around 2006, there has been an increase in sex trafficking, violent crimes, and cases of rape, as reported by YES Magazine. There were a total of 125 cases of missing Indigenous women in North Dakota during the boom, though it’s likely that many more cases went unreported, according to Greenpeace.
AOC brought attention to the murders of Indigenous women in a recent hearing.
“We know that when these man camps or temporary establishments are created, that there is an increase in violence, and particularly sexual violence, against our native women,” Charley stated during the hearing. “Many tribes do not have tribal jurisdiction over non-native offenders, which [the] majority of these oil workers are.”
Because of that, if these workers “commit violence against Indigenous women … they essentially escape jurisdiction from having a clear path to accountability because of where these sites are,” Ocasio-Cortez explained.
Ocasio-Cortez then asked Charley if it’s correct that oil pipeline companies often encourage violence against protesters; that state legislatures have authorized the use of violence against protesters; and that fossil fuel companies often work directly with — and pay — local police departments to stop protests and instead protect their extraction sites. Charley affirmed that all of this is true.
And to conclude their segment of the hearing, AOC asked Charley what can be done to address the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women near extraction sites.
“Tribal nations need to be able to fully prosecute the crimes … which happen in our communities,” Charley replied. “We need VAWA legislation [the The Violence Against Women Act] passed. We need extractive industries out of our communities. We know that what happens to our land happens to our women and happens to our bodies. It is an injustice on the part of the United States government to have these institutions unregulated in our communities.”