Linking MMIWG2S Report to Wet’suwet’en legal challenges

The Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirits produced a Final Report in 2019 which specifically linked “man camps” (worker camps for resource projects in remote areas) to increased risk of violence against Indigenous women and girls. This finding was based on the testimony of expert witnesses as well as community members.

Here’s a quote from the Report:

“Expert Witnesses told the National Inquiry that resource extraction can drive violence against Indigenous women and girls in several ways, including issues related to transient workers, harassment and assault in the workplace, rotational shift work, substance abuse/addictions, and economic insecurity. They argued that resource extraction can lead to increased violence against Indigenous women at the hands of non-Indigenous men, as well as increased violence within First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities.”

MMIWG2S Report

As a result, the Inquiry made a recommendation that the safety of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women should be considered in all stages of planning, assessment, management, and monitoring of resource projects. This includes gender-based analyses in socio-economic assessments and monitoring reports and provisions to address impacts. (emphasis ours)

How does this relate to the Wet’suwet’en application for a Judicial Review of the Coastal GasLink (CGL)project​?

The Wet’suwet’en argue that, in granting CGL a 5-year extension on their permit in 2019, after the Inquiry released its Final Report, the BC Environmental Assessment Office should have examined new evidence of potential harms caused by the project, contained in the Final Report. This is based on BC legislation and regulations governing the work of BC EAO. The Wet’suwet’en argue that EAO acted improperly in granting the extension because they didn’t examine new evidence of harms.

On a recent webinar, we heard from Wet’suwet’en matriarch Lisa DeWit, who works as a senior auditor with the Canadian Department of National Defence.

Here is Lisa’s statement in full, edited for clarity:

“I raise my hands up in gratitude for welcoming me. I’ve been asked to introduce you to the final report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The MMIWG2S and its findings regarding resource extraction projects the report titled “Reclaiming Power and Place” was released June 3rd 2019.

It consists of two volumes and twelve hundred pages. I will begin by quoting from page 592: Social and Cultural Effects and Industrial Camps: “The focus on environmental assessment must change to ensure women do not shoulder the burden of impacts of industrial camps.”

Before we get into the details, I want to take us on a little journey to understand violence in all its forms. I recommend you bookmark page 77 and 78 to read at your leisure. These pages in the report lay a foundational understanding of the process of colonialism and the types of resulting violence it produces.

The report states that colonization is based on the practice of cultural violence: that is a fact. But the next paragraph is of particular note:

“Systemic patterns of thinking such as racism, sexism, and colonialism also result in institutional violence. Institutional violence perpetrated by institutions such as the military, health systems, and justice systems.

Because these institutions are generally well regarded within a society and operate on specific rules, institutional violence can easily become the status quo. This makes them more difficult to challenge and change.”

In this context the institutional violence, I will go further to add that regulatory bodies act could be added to this list as well. We have an environmental review process that perpetuates the status quo and it does not hold Indigenous inherent rights in the context of the Judicial Review.

We are asserting that resource extraction projects harm women. An intersectional approach has not been undertaken in the environmental review process. The MMIWG2S report does a really good job of explaining the concept of intersectional analysis on Page 103 and 104. It’s also worth the read; it’s “an examination of the intersection of systems that hold power.”

And in Wet’suwet’en’s case on Indigenous women and girls, this leads us to the understanding that we cannot examine something like an environmental assessment in isolation: there are other intersecting systems that are vital and should be examined in an environmental review, including what systems produce harmful outcomes to Indigenous women and girls. The case cannot be without a good understanding of intersectionality and various forms of colonial violence.

Finally a report comes along that corroborates that, yes it is happening: and yet systems and resource extraction projects need to take this into consideration. What is easy to see are the outcomes: we see the harm in our communities. It appears as alcoholism, suicide, poverty, diabetes, homicide, food insecurity: to name a few.

These are all the physical manifestations of colonial violence against Indigenous People. The MMIWG report states on page one 11 that the intersectional approach puts the person’s individual lived experience in context to reveal systemic or underlying causes of discrimination.

Understanding the connections in systems, institutions, and people and how they can create either further harm or help to keep people safe, is vitally important to find a way forward through concrete solutions to address violence. I’m going to take you into some details on pages 584 to 594, titled The deeper dive resource extraction projects and violence against Indigenous women.

In the report, “the National Inquiry heard testimony and examined evidence that suggested that resource extraction projects can exasperate the problem of violence against Indigenous women and girls. The report states they all point to the same conclusion.

“Federal, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments as well as mining and oil and gas companies should do a more thorough job of considering the safety of Indigenous women and children when making decisions about resource extraction on or near Indigenous territories.

As Wet’suwet’en we are taking steps to ensure the safety of our women. We are doing so by raising this point in the judicial review. We are challenging that status quo.

We are pushing for an intersectional analysis that includes gender. We are seeking to change a system that currently perpetuates institutional violence in the judicial review. We also assert that the environmental assessment process has not done enough to understand that it is not just drug and alcohol policies that meet this requirement to satisfy status quo. The report goes into detail about transient workers, violence, harassment, and assault in the workplace, rotational shift work, substance abuse, addictions and economic insecurity.

If you get a chance to look at the report, out of the 231 calls for justice, 13.1 to 13.5 speaks specifically to resource extraction projects.

I’ll read 13.2:

“We call upon all governments and bodies mandated to evaluate, approve or monitor development projects to complete gender based socio economic impacts assessments on all projects as part of their decision making and ongoing monitoring projects.”

We so often have spent years — some of us decades — outlining every injustice, every angle, every infringement. We now have other frameworks that corroborate our experiences: in the TRC, UNDRIP and the MMIWG2S.

Explore the contents of the MMIWG report to understand that violence takes many forms. Colonial violence is perpetuated against us on a daily basis. It not only harms us physically but culturally when we are not able to fully gather, hunt, and are excluded from our own lands. It harms us because we while we are healing from colonial violence have to, as well, tediously raise awareness and educate on institutional violence.

Further: we challenge the judicial review that institutional violence is no longer acceptable and has not been considered in the existing approval. “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” Well we Wet’suwet’en matriarchs are seeking to break the status quo as we assert that this system does not operate in a manner that upholds Indigenous rights.

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