Our Bodies Are the Front Lines: Responding to Land-Based Gender Violence

It has long been acknowledged by Indigenous peoples that violence against our lands is deeply tied to violence against Indigenous people (especially women and girls)

Our Bodies Are the Front Lines: Responding to Land-based Gender Violence

By Annita Lucchesi

This article is the third in a series of articles published by NPQ, in partnership with the First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), that lift up Native American voices to highlight issues concerning environmental justice in Indian Country and identify ways that philanthropy might more effectively support this work.

When a South Dakota court gave a green light to the Keystone XL pipeline last January, it also opened the door to further abuse, rape, trafficking, disappearances and murdering of American Indian women. Often philanthropy likes to create defined categories such as “environmental justice” or “gender justice.” But the real world of American Indians is not so neatly arranged.

In December 2019, I testified against TC Energy (formerly known as TransCanada) in South Dakota water board hearings on permits for the company’s use of water to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Although I do identify as a water protector, environmentalist and land defender, I was testifying as something else—as an Indigenous survivor of trafficking.

Why? Because the pipeline’s “temporary” work camps (also known as man camps) are certain to bring a rise in violent crime, and gender and sexual violence, to the neighboring areas, which include several American Indian communities throughout South Dakota and Montana. While the water board sought to make decisions about water use, ultimately it was making decisions about human lives—and whether or not a pipeline was worth widespread abuse, rape, trafficking, disappearances and routine deaths of Indigenous women and children. In January 2020, it decided it was.