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Indigenous Women's Divestment delegates outside of Credit Suisse in Zurich, Switzerland before their meeting with the bank. (L-R) Michelle Cook, Tara Houska, Autumn Chacon, Wasté Win Young and Dr. Sarah Jumping Eagle. Photo credit: Osprey Orielle Lake / WECAN

By Osprey Orielle Lake

Despite the termination of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) by the U.S. Trump administration and the oil now filling the pipeline beneath the Standing Rock Sioux people's sacred Lake Oahe—Indigenous women leaders and their global allies remain unyielding in their quest for justice and healing regarding the violations of Indigenous rights and human rights being carried out through the development of DAPL and other fossil fuel projects across North America.

By Osprey Orielle Lake

Despite the termination of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) by the U.S. Trump administration and the oil now filling the pipeline beneath the Standing Rock Sioux people’s sacred Lake Oahe—Indigenous women leaders and their global allies remain unyielding in their quest for justice and healing regarding the violations of Indigenous rights and human rights being carried out through the development of DAPL and other fossil fuel projects across North America.


With determination and courage, a delegation of Indigenous women from Standing Rock and their allies who observed and experienced rights violations in North Dakota due to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, recently traveled to Norway and Switzerland to share their on-the-ground experiences as Indigenous women who are living and working in communities directly impacted by fossil fuel development and infrastructure.

Norway and Switzerland are home to some of the largest financial institutions investing in DAPL and in corporations that orchestrate pipeline projects, despite global and national reputations as countries with high ethical standards and respect for human rights.

Seeking to make known the impacts being felt in North Dakota as a direct result of the European investments, members of the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation engaged with representatives of financial institutions and government leaders, civil society groups and public forums to provide first-hand testimony on the impacts of extractive industries, oil spills and contamination in their homelands—as well as to raise urgent calls for international solidarity, justice, divestment from dirty energy and a transition to renewable energy.

“Making Indigenous human rights abuses visible is critical in ending human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples. Indigenous women deserve spaces where they can share their personal testimonies regarding the impacts of extractive industries on their lands, lives, bodies and human rights,” Michelle Cook, Diné human rights lawyer and a founding member of the of the Water Protector Legal Collective at Standing Rock, explained in advance of the divestment trip, “this delegation provides the rare opportunity for Indigenous women to meet face to face with the international banks who fund DAPL and oil and gas extraction in their traditional territories.”

In Norway, the delegation met with Den Norske Bank (DNB); the Council on Ethics for the Government Pension Fund Global, commonly known as the Norwegian Oil Fund; the Norwegian Parliament; a delegation of Sami Indigenous peoples of the region; and with Norway’s Sami President, Vibeke Larsen.

Police use tear gas against peaceful protectors standing in freezing temperatures to protect the water.Honor the Earth

The delegation members provided compelling and graphic testimony during each of their meetings, calling for full divestment and withdrawal of support by international financiers of DAPL and conveying in detail the militarization and abuses of law enforcement at Standing Rock, which include the use of attack dogs, mace, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, intrusive surveillance, water cannons and other physical violence against those involved in nonviolent direct actions based in traditional prayer, freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

“The inevitable pipeline break on the river will result in catastrophic contamination of the water supply for 17 million people downstream, including our people. This sends a direct message that our people are expendable,” explained Standing Rock Sioux leader and former tribal historic preservation officer, Waste’ Win Young, making known to the banks that her people would not be deterred in their work to maintain “a physical and spiritual presence on our ancestral lands.”

“This movement has and always will be guided by prayer and love. Wóčhekiye. Wóthehila. Wówauŋšila. Prayer. Love. Compassion.” Young explained.

In their testimonies the women called for justice and rule of law, drawing upon the recent report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which confirms that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had been the subject of violation of international Indigenous and human rights law due to the failure of processes of consultation and consent affirmed and recognized by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been adopted by both the governments of Norway and Switzerland.

The delegation advocated for the Norwegian Oil Fund to change their guidelines and standards to properly address Indigenous and human rights abuses and, while the women were in Norway, DNB bank fully divested its $331 million USD credit line to DAPL. Through inputs from diverse groups and an independent investigation, DNB had confirmed the lack of consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux and the violation of Indigenous rights.

The presence of the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation in Norway helped tipped the scales for the DNB divestment and during the delegation meeting with the bank, the women spoke out to encourage the bank to advocate for the other 15 international banks engaged in DAPL and the Norwegian Oil Fund to follow their example.

When the DNB representatives were asked by delegation members if they would invest in the controversial Keystone XL pipeline resurrected under the Trump administration, they flatly stated that after their experience with Standing Rock, they would not touch Keystone.

Indeed, the movement to pull funding from the Dakota Access Pipeline is gaining traction, with cities, tribes and individuals across the world removing over five billion dollars of DAPL investments, according to public statistics collected by the DeFundDAPL collective.

“In the 21st century, an investment in dated, entrenched, dirty fossil fuels is an investment against our children and our future. Indigenous peoples bear the brunt of the many harms associated with extractive industry, our communities are impacted first and worst. We must break the cycle of oil dependency and justly transition to a green economy,” urged delegation member Tara Houska, an Anishinaabe tribal attorney, national campaigns director of Honor the Earth and former advisor on Native American affairs to Bernie Sanders.

The delegation meets with members of the Norwegian Parliament. Also pictured with the Indigenous women delegates and Parliamentarians: Tanyette Colon (documentarian and delegation supporter) and Osprey Orielle Lake (delegation organizer, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network).

In their meetings, delegation members also spoke about the traditional role women hold as protectors of water in their communities and the responsibility each person has to care for the web of life. Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, Oglala Lakota and Mdewakantonwan Dakota living and working on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, elucidated on this point:

“The connections between who we are as Lakota Oyate—our health, our lands and water, our spirituality, our self-empowerment and self-esteem—are deeply rooted; the actions we take to protect our land and water, our future and our children’s water can only help us all. We all have the power—wowasake—within us to make a difference in this world.”

Following strong advocacy in Norway, the delegation received requests to travel to Switzerland to continue work to highlight human rights and Indigenous rights violations and demand pipeline divestment, arranging meetings with Credit Suisse bank and UBS, a Swiss global financial services company.

In Norway the ‘Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation: Experiences From Standing Rock’ members (left to right) Dr. Sarah Jumping Eagle, Tara Houska, Michelle Cook, Autumn Chacon and Wasté Win YoungOsprey Orielle Lake/WECAN

“The meeting with Credit Suisse fulfilled all my expectations of a bank that tries to pretend it is removed from the atrocities happening on the ground,” explained Tara Houska, “that said, I think it was very powerful for them to see our faces first hand and to hear the experiences of people at Standing Rock and to know that their money is invested in the company that is creating this pipeline project and causing destruction to real people. We are in the era of renewable energy; we have alternatives to the fossil fuel industry. We are asking the Swiss people to stand with us and to recognize that the actions they take affect others around the world and that simply because it’s out of sight and out of mind does not mean that this is not actually happening. Divestment is the next wave of direct action against these corporations.”

Autumn Chacon, a Diné artist, water protector and divestment delegate commented further:

“Here we have one of the most powerful banks in the world, doing business with unethical corporations in the U.S. who have undermined the law and human rights. Credit Swiss bank wants to relinquish any direct tie to genocide of American Indians, however in this case, we all see the bank as the enabler of the abuser.”

Delegates hold a press conference in the center of the financial district in Zurich, Switzerland.

Credit Suisse bank has agreed to a follow-up communication with the delegation in two months time after an internal discussion process for reviewing and applying their respective guidelines.

As delegate Dr. Sarah Jumping Eagle reported:

“Credit Swiss was receptive to our description of the human rights abuses that occurred during the protests. Yet, they are still in denial about their direct financing of the corrupt Energy Transfer Partner Corporation and its role in the Dakota Access pipeline project. Credit Swiss is attempting to distance themselves from these violations of Indigenous rights and human rights abuses. On a positive note, they said that they would review their internal policies and procedures to take into account Indigenous and human rights.”

Waste’ Win Young (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) is interviewed by the Swiss press during the delegation.Osprey Orielle Lake / WECAN

The Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation was organized and facilitated by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International in response to the leadership and request of frontline Indigenous women seeking financial divestment from DAPL and other fossil fuel developments which threaten the lives, rights and cultural survival of their nations and peoples.

As has been demonstrated everyday on-the-ground at Standing Rock and during the divestment delegation—Indigenous women are the backbone and future of their tribal nations and now more than ever, it is essential that we stand with frontline women as they act for protection of water and land, a transition to clean energy and a halt to escalating climate change.

The various bank and government representatives who heard the women speak will not be the same again after hearing first-hand experiences of rights violations and the women’s demands for no more fossil fuel extraction on their lands, respect for Indigenous rights and sovereignty, human rights and the rights of nature.

Globally, it is time for financial institutions to listen to the voices of Indigenous women leaders and their allies as they call for accountability to people and planet. Delegation members, WECAN and diverse leaders across the U.S. and around the world will continue divestment advocacy and actions until there are genuine results founded in justice and care for the futures of all of our children. Together, we must fight to restore the health of our communities, divest from dirty energy, invest and transition to renewable energy and build the just world we seek.

Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and serves on the Executive Committee for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. She was asked to organize and facilitate the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation and is the author of the award-winning book Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature. Follow on Twitter @WECAN_INTL.

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Interviews collected by Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake

Indigenous women from across North America stand on the frontline of ongoing action to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They stand to protect the Earth, water, global climate, and the sacred sites, Indigenous rights and communities of the region.

Interviews collected by Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake

Indigenous women from across North America stand on the frontline of ongoing action to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They stand to protect the Earth, water, global climate, and the sacred sites, Indigenous rights and communities of the region.

Osprey Orielle Lake

“It is so important for us all to stand with Standing Rock and help them succeed in stopping this pipeline, because this is not just about Standing Rock, this is about all nations around the world, including the non-natives, this affects everyone from East to West.” — Smiles for the People, Rosebud Sioux Peoples of South Dakota

Since early 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and hundreds of Indigenous Nations and allies have been resisting the construction of the $3.7 billion-dollar pipeline, which would transport 470,000 barrels of oil every day and threaten massive damage to the land and the waterways, including the Missouri River, which serve as the source of the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water, and which flow to millions of downstream residents across the U.S.

In recognition of the central role played by Indigenous women in the resistance effort, the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, International (WECAN) interviewed women leaders of Standing Rock and allied Indigenous Nations, recording their experiences, visions and calls to action for social and ecological justice. Their voices are critical not only for the wisdom, solutions and pointed analysis that they offer, but also because of the direct, violent impacts of the fossil fuel industry that are often borne disproportionately on the bodies of Indigenous women.

With conviction and care, the women convey that protecting water and sacred places has always been their traditional role as women, and they are taking a fierce stand to ensure a healthy life for generations to come.

The women also express that this is not just a fight to stop dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure and ensure the protection of water—it is also the culmination of ancestral prophecies, and the extraordinary next step of an Indigenous rights movement that has been building in this country for decades and generations.

They speak of the need for ceaseless action for Indigenous sovereignty; for a new relationships between Native communities, governments and corporations; and for a paradigm of socio-ecological balance based on respect for women and the Earth. These things are inseparable, they explain—when there is respect for women, there is respect for water, and there is respect for life.

Women on the frontline also decry the rapidly escalating militarization and abuses of local law enforcement, which has included the use of attack dogs, mace, intrusive surveillance and physical violence against those involved in ongoing non-violent direct actions based in traditional prayer and ceremony.

https://twitter.com/EcoWatch/statuses/792358670990319616. They are not here for themselves or us, they are here for the money. Pipeline workers, police, if you hear this, you need to understand how you are hurting us, how you are hurting the children.

Shrise Wadsworth

Shrise Wadsworth (Hopi of the Bear Strap Clan from Shungopavi Village, Second Mesa, Arizona, pictured on the left)sprey Orielle Lake

I am here joining the peaceful protesters here at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to be a part of all of this, to show my support for my brothers and sisters, and to spark inspiration and motivation in my generation to get out there and embrace their heritage, embrace who they are as people, to show my community that they too do have a voice and their voice does matter. It is a beautiful thing to be here and see all the Nations reunited, together as it should be.

Joye Braun

Joye Braun (Cheyenne River Sioux of Eagle Butte, South Dakota)—Indigenous Environmental Network representative and Dakota Access community organizerEmily Arasim

On April 1st, I helped put out a call for other pipeline fighters, and cousin answered the call and me and my cousin became the first two campers at Sacred Stone Camp … When we were down fighting Keystone XL, my daughter, she had this huge epileptic seizure … and when she came too, she told us what she had seen, and what she saw was these black snakes that were coming across the land, and that we were going to chop the head off of one of them, but once we chopped the head off of that one, others would pop up, and we had to be ready. And she said that the women were going to be in front of this fight, women were going to be standing in the front in red shawls … and you see that happening here … we have to be ready to fight them, and we have to to take everything that we learned and teach elsewhere.

Michelle Cook

Michelle Cook (Diné of the Walk Around Clan from Oak Springs, Arizona) —Standing Rock legal advisorOsprey Orielle Lake

This river is central to the survival of a people—and to me when you threaten the survival of a people, their identity, their land base, their water, that’s unacceptable. That’s a paradigm that has no place in today’s world and so that’s why I’m here.

We are fighting the Dakota pipeline, but we’re also fighting the whole system of violence. The whole system which has called us savages. Which has denied us our ability to be human—and we’re responding to that by creating a community that has it’s own values. That respects its women. That gives its children priority. That will teach its children the traditional knowledge of life, that will give them life … When I saw the young women crying out for help, I said I have to be there because I’m not going to watch these people be desolated for the greed of a corporation that does not love this land, that is not part of this land. That’s the beautiful work that we’re here for. … When we have natural resource development which is unsustainable, which threatens the very life of human beings and the natural world, we say absolutely no, it’s unacceptable. We deserve better than that. We’re not going to let the future of America, the future of Turtle Island to be robbed and taken and stolen from us.

Tara Houska

Tara Houska (Ojibwe, Couchiching First Nation of International Falls, Minnesota)—national campaigns director of Honor the EarthEmily Arasim

I came to Standing Rock when I heard a call out for help, to protect the water and to stop this destructive project from going through these people’s homelands. I came here to stand with my Indigenous relatives for something that is much larger than just a single project. We want to stop this project but we also want to take a stand and say, ‘no more’. Enough is enough. Indigenous people have been targeted for far too long and we’ve had to give up everything. We’ve been targeted for our homelands, for our children, for our language, for our culture—and what little we have left, what remnants we have left is now being threatened with contamination and destruction and our children are still targeted, and it needs to stop. And so I am hopeful that when we stop this project, it will be a moment in which people will realize that Indigenous nations are here, and we are sovereign, and we are not going to tolerate the conversation as it is today.

Eryn Wise

Eryn Wise (Jicarilla Apache and Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico)—International Indigenous Youth Council member and media coordinatorEmily Arasim

I had a dream about two months into being here, that my grandma who has passed away asked me for a glass of water – and when I went to give her the glass of water, it was full of dirt and oil. And she kept trying to drink it, and I was just so desperate to get her some water, but I couldn’t find any anywhere, and I was really worried that if I didn’t step up and do something to help protect the water, that we wouldn’t have it anymore—I was seeing myself down the line without it.

And so I am here, taking part in this movement that everyone needs to be part of … We will stop the Dakota Access pipeline—and this will continue outside of Standing Rock—and that is something that I deeply hope and know will happen.

Winona Kasto

Winona Kasto (Cheyenne River Sioux)—cook at Oceti Sakowin CampEmily Arasim

I am a traditional cook for Lakota peoples and I’ve been cooking for about thirty years. It’s always so important for me to be here, to be there for the people, the people we must feed to stay strong, so they can stay here and do the work they are doing for us all.

Morning Star Gali

Morning Star Gali (Achomawi Band of Pitt River, Northeastern California)Osprey Orielle Lake

We are here, with the frontline defenders, with the women, with the women that are holding the line … with a woman who is facing felony charges, all because she is standing for her children, who are here at the camp. All of us here are here for our future generations, so that we will have clean water.

The atrociousness regarding what happened with the burial sites being dug up by machinery, it’s unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence for us, for Native peoples. We do not have the right to practice our religious freedom, we do not have the right to practice our traditional ceremonies—we have seen that this week in terms of helicopter flyovers, drone flyovers while we are going and making our offerings and putting those prayers and tobacco down. We are here to stand with the people here—we are here to stand for the protection of all sacred places.

Leanne Guy

Leanne Guy (Diné, from Navajo, New Mexico)—executive director of the Southwest Indigenous Women’s CoalitionEmily Arasim

We are, as tribal peoples, connected to our lands, to our culture, to our languages. As women, we are life givers, we are nurtures within our communities, and have such a strong connection to Mother Earth as well. Violence against Mother Earth is violence against our women. And, that is part of what we stand for. Trying to end the violence—sexual and domestic violence, and also making that connection to Mother Earth, to the water, to our lands and to us as people. We are uniting against all of the pipeline industry—all of the extraction that is happening against our Earth, our women, our girls, our boys, our men. We are here to provide our support and to stand together as women in the movement, and with all of our relatives here.

Deezbaa O’Hare

Deezbaa O’Hare (Diné, Irish/Swedish residing in Oakland, California)Emily Arasim

As Indigenous people we know that water is life, we know that we come from the water, the first environment is this water, and the women carry that. We carry that water inside of us. And this is about this to, this is about connection. … We have to listen to our core, our core responsibilities as humankind, let us honor ourselves, let us honor each other, let us take care of ourselves as we take care of the world around us. … There is a prayer that has been laid down here and it’s not just for our generation, is for the next generations, and so we carry that, we carry that forward for healing and wellness for the Earth. And we are not being asked to do this alone, it is time for all people of all nations to wake up and listen to the water. Water is life.

Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International . She is the author of the award-winning book Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature. Follow on Twitter @WECAN_INTL.

Emily Arasim is the Communications Coordinator and Project Assistant for WECAN International. She is an avid photojournalist, writer, seed saver and farmer from New Mexico.

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By Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake

In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identified two small towns in the Bakken alongside four major cities (Boston, Houston, Atlanta and Oakland), as the places in the U.S most in need of assistance to combat rampant sex and human trafficking.

By Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake

There are some crystalline moments in which the challenges we face as a civilization become brutally clear. Moments in which corrupt aspects of American democracy and the fractures in our social, economic and political systems are exposed with unsurpassed clarity.

Moments in which we are reminded of how fundamentally ruptured our dominant culture’s relationship with the Earth has become and in which we see before our eyes how this split has led to almost unfathomable acts of violence against the Earth, against women and against the original inhabitants of North America.

Standing on the sweeping, golden prairie of North Dakota with the noxious flames of the Bakken fracking fields visible in all directions, one such moment descended with heavy weight.

Fracking flares near agricultural land and a lake near the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota. Photo credit: Emily Arasim

Rape of the Land, Rape of the Women

“The Bakken” is a shale formation that spans some 25,000 square miles and covers much of western North Dakota, eastern Montana and the southern parts of two Canadian provinces. Since the early 2000’s, a boom in oil extraction has taken place in the region thanks to newly available hydraulic fracking technologies used to extract sticky, heavy oil from deep within shale rock. In less than a decade, North Dakota has become a fracking epicenter and the second largest U.S oil-producer after Texas.

For millennia before becoming the center of the fracking industry, northwest North Dakota served primarily as rich agricultural grounds and as the home of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara peoples.

For the Three Affiliated Tribes, the social and environmental destruction wrought by the fracking industry is but the latest wave of historic oppression and colonization. In 1947, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara were forcibly moved from their traditional lands to make room for the construction and flooding of Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River.

Of the 12 million acres promised to the Three Affiliated Tribes by an 1851 treaty, less than 1 million acres have been delivered in the form of the Fort Berthold Reservation and now these remaining acres are being eaten away by destructive development, cultural dislocation and irremediable ecologic damage cause by the fracking industry.

Delegates to the Stop Extreme Energy Conference mourn in front of the Dakota Plains Holdings Pioneer Terminal train depot outside of New Town, North Dakota. These trains are used to transport Bakken crude across the U.S., and have become known as ‘bomb trains’ due to fatal explosions in communities across the country. Photo credit: Emily Arasim

Williston, a mid-sized town just outside of Fort Berthold Reservation, has officially adopted the new town slogan “Boomtown, USA” and has been taken over by the industry to the point that it is almost unrecognizable to residents, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, whose families have lived there for generations.

The population of Williston has doubled , maybe even quadrupled since 2010, however exact numbers are too hard to track due to the transient flow of labor and utter inability of local government to keep up.

Law enforcement and social services have been stretched far past their limits, leaving many, especially Indigenous women and girls, exposed, vulnerable and without proper legal protection.

While there are some families and women moving to the area to partake in work on the fracking fields and sprawling hotels and strip malls that have popped up to service the workers, the majority of the tens of thousands of new residents are men. In recent years the demographic has changed to the point that there are now more men concentrated in North Dakota than anywhere else in the U.S outside of Alaska.

Workers are housed in ever-expanding mobile home complexes called “man-camps,” ranging from unregulated trailers in farmers’ fields to sprawling complexes housing and feeding more than 1,000 workers at a time.

Conditions for fracking workers are cramped and have proven to be breeding grounds for violence, drug use and sexual abuse. The population influx and housing demands had driven up rents to exorbitant rates rivaling New York City and San Francisco, squeezing out long-term residents and putting many at risk of homelessness.

According to the state’s Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime, including murder, aggravated assault, rape and robbery increased by 125 percent between 2005 and 2013.

In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identified two small towns in the Bakken alongside four major cities (Boston, Houston, Atlanta and Oakland), as the places in the U.S most in need of assistance to combat rampant sex and human trafficking.

In North Dakota, as in many places across the world, violence against women intersects with and is multiplied by deep racism and a legacy of exploitation, systemic violence and genocide of Indigenous peoples.

According to U.S Department of Justice records, one in three Native American women are raped in their lifetimes, a figure that is two-and-a-half times greater than the average for all U.S. women.

In an astounding 86 percent of cases of rape of Indigenous women and girls, the assailant is non-Native, which has proven to be a fatal catch-22 allowing many crimes to go uninvestigated by either U.S or Tribal officials.

Williston’s rape rate is now nearly four times the national average and in 2014, shelter workers reported a more than four-fold increase in domestic violence cases.

From the biggest industry supporter to the staunchest critic, everyone in the North Dakota Bakken is quick to admit that the region feels like an uncontrolled, “wild west.” This violent lawlessness bears down upon Indigenous women and girls with unmatched brutality.

In April of 2015, a coalition of Indigenous and women right’s organizations, led by Honor the Earth, filed a request with the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, demanding a UN intervention in the epidemic of sexual violence brought on by extreme fossil fuel extraction in Bakken fracking fields and the Alberta, Canada tar sands region.

While violence against Indigenous and other local women in the region continues to be pushed under the cover, the very visible rape of the Earth happening across North Dakota is harder to ignore.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission cites nearly 2,000 spills, leaks, ruptures, fires and blowouts over the past 12 months and the Associated Press recently uncovered at least 750 “oilfields incidences” hidden from the public since January 2012. More than 75 tons of oil waste is generated in the state every day, one third of which is highly radioactive.

Radioactive “frack socks,” used to filter solids from toxic fracking water, are produced by the hundreds of thousands every day. Waste disposal sites in North Dakota are not allowed to accept these radioactive materials, the result being that thousands of filters are being illegally dumped by industry workers, most notably on back roads, dumpsters and playgrounds of the Fort Berthold reservation.

While fracking is happening across the U.S, there are a several elements of the North Dakota industry that set it above the rest when it comes to devastation of the land and the health of local communities.

The massive worker influx and targeting of Indigenous communities are two such factors—flaring or the burning off of the natural gas extracted during the fracking process, is another.

Across the U.S, an average of just 1 percent of gas is flared, while the rest is captured and used as productive energy. In North Dakota, upwards of 26 percent is burned off, creating an additional source of volatile pollution and waste and serving as a testament to the industries flagrant disregard for the health of people and Earth in North Dakota.

Carbon dioxide, methane and many other hydrocarbons and carcinogens have been identified in samples, however companies are not required to disclose the exact chemical composition of the flared gases, which compromise local air quality, have been linked to cancer, asthma and respiratory disease, and astonishingly, can be seen glowing from space in the previously dim, sparsely populated North Dakota plains.

Flares are highly toxic when lit, but even more devastating when the flames go out and gases pour out unseen, creating gas plumes over local communities for hours, days or weeks.

The global warming inducing methane and carbon dioxide released by flaring is a double threat not just for North Dakota, but for worldwide efforts to curb run away climate change.

Fracking is a violent assault on all of Earth’s vital systems, but most immediate and pronounced on the water cycle.

The process drills some 2,000 to 10,000 feet deep, often passing through and contaminating vital aquifers. For each frack well, 1 to 8 million gallons of fresh water is mixed with undisclosed chemical “fracking fluids” and forcefully injected into the ground to break the rock and release the gas and oil.

Despite corporate secrecy, it has been established that more than 600 chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, are common components of the water/chemical concoction. Many of the chemicals used by the fracking industry have been exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws, despite the fact that they are being directly injected into the Earth and drinking water sources.

Elementary school science, which taught us that the water cycle is a closed loop—that no water is ever gained or lost—is no longer an ultimate truth, as water used in the fracking process is contaminated with oil and hydrocarbons, radioactive materials, carcinogens and biocides to the point of no return.

At a time of global water crisis, the fossil fuel industry is permanently destroying billions of gallons of pure water in a race to dig up non-renewable resources. The imperative of action to keep fossil fuels in the ground could not be clearer.

Women Speak from the Frontlines

In September of 2015, a delegation from the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network traveled to Williston, North Dakota to take part in the Fifth Annual Stop Extreme Energy Conference, support advocacy efforts and bear witness to the conditions being experienced in and around the community of longtime Indigenous, women’s and climate justice activist, Kandi Mossett.

Kandi Mossett, native energy and climate campaign organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, leads a “‘toxic tour” in around the Fort Berthold Reservation. Pictured here in front of dead vegetation at fracking-fluid spill site. Photo credit: Emily Arasim

Mossett, native energy and climate campaign organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, was born and raised in New Town, a once small, close-knit community just inside the borders of Fort Berthold Reservation.

Mossett led a diverse group of educators and activists on a “toxic tour” of the region around New Town, Williston and Fort Berthold, visiting contaminated sites and passing seemingly endless open flares, oil derricks and drills, processing sites, train depots,”‘man camps” and supporting infrastructure from hotels and truck stops, to strip clubs and liquor stores.

The phrase “national sacrifice zone” came to the lips of many of the witnesses, struggling to describe the dangerous deregulation, debase pursuit of corporate profit and callous disregard for the health and safety of local communities, and the soil, water, air and lives of future generations.

Driving just outside of Watford City, the group passed an elementary school and playground. Mere meters away from the school on the other side of the road, Mossett pointed out a torn up road and a newly constructed building, to serve as a radioactive storage facility for the fracking industry. According to Mossett, the permits for the building had been officially issued just weeks previously, however construction had been started many months before.

This is only one of many incidences involving direct threats to local children and their right to life. In the town of Mandaree toddlers were found playing with radioactive “frack-sock” filters dumped in a field, prompting residents to immediately begin campaigning and plastering nearby towns with flyers identifying the danger and making sure parents and children knew to stay away and immediately report dumping of radioactive waste.

With tears and heart-wrenching grief, Mossett also recounted the story of a young girl, less than five years old, found running, naked, away from a man-camp after having been sexually violated by a worker.

In the windswept, rolling plains of North Dakota, companies like Halliburton, Hess, Crestwood Energy, Whiting Petroleum Corp. and Enbridge, to name but a few, have crowned themselves king and are acting with a level of impunity beyond measure.

They are using the complex overlay of sovereign tribal, federal and state jurisdictions, as well as questionable webs of subcontractors, to evade responsibility for atrocious social and ecologic damages—however their air of confidence and inevitability is more and more in-question everyday.

There is a saying of the Global South that speaks to the change that must now come to the Bakken oil fields: Neither the land nor women are territories of conquest.

Hope Amidst Devastation

There are many compelling reasons for hope.

For one, the profitability of the industry is plummeting. In the first weeks of 2016, Flint Hills Resources LLC, the refining arm of the Koch‘s brothers industries, offered to pay just $1.50 per barrel of North Dakota crude, down from $13.50 one year ago and $47.60 in January of 2014.

The same collapse is happening just north in the Canadian tar sands and investors are fleeing rather than risk stranded assets.

While the growing financial instability and risk facing the extreme energy industry in North Dakota and around the world, is a major victory for the global climate and #KeepItIntheGround movement—it was vividly apparent in travels around North Dakota that deep and sustained attention must be given to ensure that our transition away from fossil fuels is a just one and that those communities whose lives have been uprooted by the industry are not once again made disposable when the fracking boom collapses.

As the industry unravels towards its own demise, resistance movements, local initiatives and powerful narratives speaking out against the industry are also growing in strength.

After learning that their land was slated for industry expansion, the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa people moved unanimously to ban fracking on their 77,000-acre reservation, located in the north-central part of the state, just 190 miles from the fracking epicenter in Forth Berthold.

The Standing Rock Sioux Nation in the southern part of the state have also issued a ban.

As on Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara land, the movement to ban fracking amongst the Chippewa was led by local women, acting in alignment with their traditional role as providers and protectors of water. Since their success in passing the initial ban, they have been taking the next steps to ensure continued protection and the development of systemic alternatives through the use of abundant solar and wind energy.

North Dakota has the sixth largest wind resource potential in the U.S., totaling 770,000 megawatts—which is more than that of all fossil fuel powered plants in the U.S. combined.

While still plagued by an unresponsive tribal council, Mossett’s own community is stepping up and taking action of their own accord.

In 2015, local grassroots women including Lisa DeVille and Theodora and Joletta Birdbear, founded Fort Berthold Protectors of Water & Earth Rights (POWER), through which the have been lobbying and directly pushing back against their local officials and the liable corporations.

They have no intention of stepping down in their campaign to stop fracking in North Dakota, bring an end to violence against local women and Indigenous communities and lift up respect for the vibrant Earth.

In December of 2015, Mossett was one of the leading activists and most prominent Indigenous voices present during the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. She helped present the “Keep It In the Ground Declaration” with global allies, delivered a Frontline Women’s Press Conference with the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and led countless other workshops, conferences and stunning direct actions, including a high-profile demonstration to call out fracking inside of the so-called COP21 “Solutions 21” exhibition, where French fracking company Suez was promoting their business as climate friendly.

It should be well noted that at COP21 the U.S., along with 195 countries, pledged to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists have stated that we must keep 80 percent of global fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe. Continued fracking will thus contribute to the negation of the Paris agreement and the demands of science—underscoring the need for serious scrutiny and immediate action to halt this extreme extraction.

Members of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and Movement Rights stand with Kandi Mossett (third from right) outside of a ‘man-camp’ in Williston, North Dakota. Photo credit: Emily Arasim

In 2016, Mossett will be working to document and expose the connections between fracking and asthma and other local health impacts and will be taking on the heroic task of founding a nonprofit to promote, teach and manifest food sovereignty and renewable energy on tribal lands across Montana and North and South Dakota.

Mossett is an inspiration not only in her fierce work to challenge brutal prevailing forces of environmental and cultural destruction, gender violence, compromised health and a dangerously dysfunctional legal system—but also in her tender work to heal and nourish alternatives.

She stands with countless other Indigenous women who are working not just to expose injustice, but to actively build the healthy world we seek.

Until we are accountable to the women and the communities on the frontlines of environmental impacts, there will be no social justice or climate solutions.

It is time to urgently end the injustice and racism of sacrifice zones in the U.S. Instead, we must build hope, build solutions and follow the guidance and experience of frontline women leaders like Mossett, as she and others work for a just transition to a clean energy future that works for the Earth and all it’s people.

Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and co-chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. She is the author of the award-winning book Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature. Follow on Twitter @WECAN_INTL.

Emily Arasim has served as WECAN International’s media and communications coordinator and project assistant since 2014. She is an avid photojournalist, writer and farmer from New Mexico.

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