For Indigenous communities in North America, the links between land and body are powerful and yet often overlooked. Extractive industries have drilled, mined, and fracked on lands on or near resource-rich Indigenous territories for decades. Although the economic gains have been a boon to transnational corporations and the economies of the U.S. and Canada, they come at a frightening cost to Indigenous communities, particularly women and young people. We know that extreme energy extraction causes irreversible damage to the environment, but what is less visible is that every day, people are also experiencing unspeakable human rights abuses as a result.
Many of these communities are sites of chemical manufacturing and waste dumping, while others have seen an introduction of large encampments of men (“man camps”) to work for the gas and oil industry. As a result, there is a growing wave of sexual and domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, murders and disappearances, reproductive illnesses and toxic exposure, threats to culture and Indigenous lifeways, crime, and other social stressors.
Indigenous leaders have begun calling these impacts “environmental violence.”
We are grateful for the leadership of many Indigenous women who have been focusing on these reproductive health impacts of environmental violence for many years.
The work of the International Indian Treaty Council on these issues is extremely important and you can find out more by visiting their website at: http://www.iitc.org/program-areas/environmental-health/indigenous-womens-and-reproductive-health/
The Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies initiative report and toolkit
centers the experiences and resistance efforts of Indigenous women and young people in order to expose and curtail the impacts of extractive industries on their communities and lands. Together, our team traveled to some of the most heavily impacted Indigenous territories in the U.S. and Canada to listen to frontline communities. From the American Southwest to Canada’s tar sands region of Alberta, our team walked with Navajo youth across their sacred lands in New Mexico and witnessed First Nations’ women and young people bravely speaking up in defense of their land, their people, and future generations. Our goal was to detail—through community interviews and research—the environmental violence suffered by community members. We also sought to share their resistance efforts, and provide advocacy tools and strategies to support their work.
In addition to heart-breaking stories, our interviews uncovered two important nuances: 1) healing and ceremony are crucial components to the work being done to respond to environmental violence; and 2) while local, federal, and international laws and policies serve as critical tools, Indigenous peoples are also designing more immediate solutions to reducing harm, which are culturally-safe and community-based.
This report is paired with a toolkit for Indigenous communities that offers workshop templates for environmental violence teach-ins, resources for healing and land-based medicines, and a community health assessment. These and other practical tools aim to help Indigenous communities identify the connections between the way their bodies and lands are being impacted, and it also provides the means to combat the dangers of environmental violence. Most importantly, the toolkit offers both guidance and support for developing and strengthening culturally-rooted, nation-specific responses to the unrelenting traumas Indigenous communities face.
With natural gas and oil extraction intensifying in North America, it is important now more than ever to amplify the voices of those most impacted: the Indigenous people from communities adjacent to the contaminated soil, open-air wastewater pits, and dangerous industry workers’ camps. But engaging a larger audience isn’t enough. This report offers the much needed documentation that policy makers and international bodies need to change the interlocking systems of oppression that make environmental violence in Indigenous communities a grim reality.
What You Can Do
Stand with us alongside Indigenous land/body defenders and all impacted communities during the Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies launch and Week of Action on June 6-10, 2016. Find out how to participate below.
This initiative was built upon a foundation of work begun by generations of Indigenous peoples who have long-recognized the intimate connection between land and body. We recognize that there are many individuals, frontline struggles and movement leaders not included in this report, and acknowledge that this work is not a comprehensive collection of all Indigenous-led environmental defense activities. Rather, it is intended to provide examples of both the issue and community-based strategies to support a larger movement of Indigenous women and young people taking action from a specific lens of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice.
Our hope is that this site offers an opportunity to continue uplifting communities and community members as they resist all forms of environmental violence.