May 5th is a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Native women experience the highest rates of violence of any group in the US. In Canada, Indigenous women are more than twice as likely than non-Indigenous women to face violence. Violence manifests in many forms. Violence against the land and violence against Indigenous women are inextricably linked. Today, many around the world will wear red to raise awareness for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and to call for action to end the violence and restore balance to this world. Please join in wearing red today and post to social media using hashtags #NoMoreStolenSisters #MMIWG.
“’The land is our life-giver’ Wet’suwet’en First Nations Hereditary Chiefs have opposed the construction of the pipeline on their traditional territories. Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested and removed Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters from camps along the route of the pipeline.
For Delee, who grew up on the Yintah (the Wet’suwet’en word for land), it was traumatic to watch.
“I was born into Gidumt’en,” she explains during a telephone interview with Al Jazeera from her home in Wiset, approximately 25 minutes east of Smithers.
Gidumt’en is a clan of the Wet’suwet’en peoples, whose territory part of the pipeline will run through.
“There used to be a massive huckleberry patch where they built one of the man camps near the Unist’ot’en healing camp. It’s an area where I and my ancestors harvested our medicines. It’s an amazing terrain, close to the water – now it’s just decimated. This is really hard for people who have grown up there,” she explains.
Over the past few months, Delee has noticed an influx of pipeline workers not only filling up the man camps but overflowing the hotels in Houston, the nearest town to the CGL construction site. She says she feels intimidated by their presence and worries that she and other local Indigenous women are at risk.
“It’s scary because they’re transient workers who have no connection to us, but they have the backing of the police,” she says, referring to how, since the Wet’suwet’en blockades, CGL workers now have police escorts to enter Wet’suwet’en territories.
Even during the coronavirus pandemic, pipeline construction is continuing.
“They (CGL) said they’re slowing down work because of COVID-19, but I saw a hotel packed with about 50 trucks. There were guys standing outside shirtless, drinking beer with each other with Alberta plates on their trucks,” Delee explains.
James Anaya, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told [PDF] the National Inquiry into MMIWG that his research revealed a connection between the influx of transient workers and violence against Indigenous women.
“Over the last several years, I have carried out a study and reported on extractive industries affecting indigenous peoples. It has become evident through information received within the context of the study that extractive industries many times have different and often disproportionately adverse effects on indigenous peoples, and particularly on the health conditions of women,” he said.
“In addition, indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers into indigenous communities as a result of extractive projects also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault.”
Delee is certain that there is a link between violence against Indigenous women and girls and such projects.
“We (Wet’suwet’en) are taught the land is our life-giver, that water is like breast milk – we need it to survive. It’s a continuation of our mothers – the remains and cells of our ancestors are in it. So, when our land is being ripped apart; it’s a huge threat to us. They’re out there killing the land – they’re killing us.”
Just two years ago, Delee’s cousin Frances Brown went missing while harvesting wild mushrooms in a forest area outside Smithers. Although the police have not treated her disappearance as suspicious, Delee does not believe that her cousin, who was experienced in the heavily wooded area, got lost. Friends and family searched for her for weeks after the official search was called off, but never found her.”