Big Oil Linked to Human Trafficking of Indigenous Women and Girls

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In August 2018, Kayla Walsh reported for Earth Island Journal on the link between extractive oil industries and human trafficking of indigenous tribal communities. Walsh’s report covers Enbridge Energy’s plans to build a massive crude oil pipeline, referred to as “Line 3”, through tribal land in Minnesota. As thousands of itinerant workers come to work on the construction of the pipeline, they are housed in temporary housing called “man camps.” Walsh reports that these “man camps” correlate with an “increase in human trafficking, missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people (who are believed to have both feminine and masculine spirits).”

As Walsh reported, the United Nations Development Program has stated that fossil fuel industries perpetuate violence, environmental harm, gender inequalities, and displacement, while the US Department of State has acknowledged that the link between extractive industries and sex-trafficking is “increasingly an issue of grave concern.” In Northern Minnesota, Walsh reported, when indigenous girls go missing, “the Bakken oil fields is often the first place that the authorities look.”

The Earth Island Journal quoted remarks by Lisa Brunner, a member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation and former program specialist for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. Several years ago, at a rally to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline, Bruner said, “They [extractive industries] treat Mother Earth like they treat women… They think they can own us, buy us, sell us, trade us, rent us, poison us, rape us, destroy us, use us as entertainment, and kill us.” According to a 2016 National Institute of Justice Report, 56 percent of Indigenous women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, and 38 percent were unable to receive any type of victim services.

Indigenous victims face barriers in the legal system because it is “difficult to determine whether the state, the tribe, or the federal government has jurisdiction in many of these cases.” Despite the fact that non-Native men are more likely to assault women than Native men, the Supreme Court has ruled that tribes are unable to prosecute non-Native offenders in tribal courts.

Source: Kayla Walsh, “Moving More than Oil,” Earth Island Journal, Autumn, 2018,

Student Researcher: Aria Schwartz (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)