Will Indigenous women survive the Kinder Morgan pipeline? The racist and sexist economics of development

Featured image credit: “Super predators” by Yuxweluptun Lawrence Paul, Coast Salish
As the battle between BC and Alberta escalates with the Kinder Morgan pipeline provoking protests, and opinion pieces in the news weighing up the merits of the economic needs of Canadians against the ethical imperative to protect the environment for future generations, a divergence of conversations becomes imminently clear. What I see is a great chasm between who gets to decide what counts as a measurable impact or benefit, and who does not.
While Canadians rage on, at the very same time, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls is conducting hearings where the families and survivors share their stories – 763 witnesses so far – documenting the horrors of a country that simply will not take responsibility for the ongoing racialized and sexualized violence that women, largely Indigenous women experience within its borders. As a national trend, this is a demographic that is proving unlikely to survive the deep and violent wrath of Canadian men; yet it is this ambiguous, non-descript perpetrator that refuses to be identified and accountable.
A recent study by the Firelight Group, Lake Babine First Nation and Nak’azdli Whut’en in the journal BC Studies Indigenous Communities and Industrial Camps: Promoting Healthy Communities in Settings of Industrial Change and available online here unveils the gendered impacts of industrial camps in the resource extraction industry on Indigenous communities. The study highlights the dangers of “rigger” culture, an identity affiliated with the male demographic working in the camps that have a tendency to ‘blow off steam’ that
creates complex sexual dynamics with women in nearby communities. What is being referred to here is a structural problem associated with the isolation, distance from social and family relationships, tendency to stigmatize self-care or sexually-transmitted infection (STI) checks, and long work hours.
The findings of the study indicate that it is women and children in surrounding communities who shoulder the burden of the impacts of this rigger culture through greater vulnerability to the influx of men, money, drugs and demands of the sex trade industry. This is the same demographic for which the National Inquiry is established and is currently ‘hearing’ in order to find a solution; however, by all accounts in the media and public discourse, these conversations don’t appear to be correlated.
I am an Indigenous woman, and the faceless, nameless perpetrator of Indigenous women and girls threatens my fundamental sense of safety on a daily basis. My grandmother did not survive living in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, and was murdered by a man in 1977. There are measures I take to ensure my safety that I would never dream of when I lived overseas. When I travel for work, I keep my car gas tank full for fear of finding myself stranded on a remote highway. I would rather take inconvenient, yet busy routes to ensure that I am not on remote country roads when driving alone. I am deeply invested in the outcome of the National Inquiry purely for the sake of feeling safe in public spaces, but I don’t think that those in favour of either the economy or the environment regarding the Kinder Morgan pipeline include the Human Right to personal safety and survival in their considered arguments.
The debate about Kinder Morgan is dominated by impassioned concerns for the health and wellbeing of the economy and the environment, but overlooks the most likely threat of all – that if the pipeline proceeds, Indigenous communities must prepare for the inevitable loss of more of our women and children, whether it is through fatalities, or to the exploits of men who need to ‘blow off steam’. The question that I am concerned with, is Will Indigenous women survive the Kinder Morgan pipeline? Our collective national history suggests we won’t.

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