Large extractive projects and infrastructures in remote areas always pose a risk to local populations, and even more so if they are indigenous, because of the pejorative attitudes towards them, and especially towards women. Although, like all projects, they are justified by the number of jobs they create, these are always for men, and mostly from abroad. These men settle in these remote areas for long periods of time and without families. As a result, the impacts on women multiply, from marginalising behaviour due to the introduction of new employers in the communities, to the hiring of only men, to prostitution, harassment and rape. This is true whether in the Ecuadorian Amazon, in the Peruvian or Colombian Amazon, or on Turtle Island, in the USA or Canada, in extractive or large infrastructure projects.
A new gas project has been proposed at Goldboro, in a fjord in Nova Scotia, eastern Canada. The Pieridae Energy Ltd. project has a budget of $13 billion. It would require 5,000 manpower to build. It would be located only 50 kilometres from the original Paqtnkek people, who belong to the Mi’kmaq (or Mi’kmaw) people. In their language, Paqtnekek means «in the bay». The Mi’kmaw people are a people with whom Basque fishermen had a long relationship of friendship before the colonisation of what is now Canada by the imperial powers. This relationship resulted in a hybrid language of the two, or pidgin Basque-Algonquian, of which many words and phrases have survived. Adesquidex. Aniak.
In addition to the environmental threat of the new project, there is also the threat to the Mi’kmaq communities, especially their women. This threat is latent due to the high rate of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada and the USA. This reality was reflected two years ago in a report by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). It is estimated that 4,000 indigenous women have disappeared or been murdered in 30 years, which can be understood as an «epidemic» and because of its ethnic character as part of a historical genocide (*). This report collects testimony from 2,380 relatives of these disappeared women. This report also established a link between temporary camps for workers in the resource extraction industry and violence against indigenous women. One of its recommendations was that the resource extraction industry should consider the safety of indigenous women in project planning and mitigate risks.
For all these reasons, the Mi’kmaw community, despite the millions that could be pocketed from the contracts, opposes the project. At the forefront is their chief Annie Bernard-Daisley (We’koqma’q people). Of 231 investigations into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, five targeted resource extraction industries. Traffickers use the corridors that new projects create between communities and the rest of society to extract women. Bernard-Daisley believes that no changes are envisaged in the way labour camps are enforced. Meanwhile, as usual in these cases, the company responsible for the project, Pieridae Energy, says it has taken this into account.
In an interview by Nic Meloney, former MMIWG research employee and member of a family affected by this tragedy, Denise Pictou Maloney, said that the oil and gas industry needs to change its approach: «There’s a lot of talk about safety and protections for staff [at work camps], but the social responsibility is not there. She continued, «I don’t think you have to quantify by saying that so many lives are going to be lost and then it’s a crisis. Just one woman affected by this is too many«.
Mi’kmaw people and women are aware of the risks involved in such projects. The Inuit women’s organisation Pauktuutit also published a report in 2016 with similar social impacts produced by workers at a gold mine near Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake) and another one last year 2020 («Ensuring the Safety and Well-Being of Inuit Women in the Resource Extraction Industry: A literature review», available on PDF). In a questionnaire to local women, 49% reported sexual harassment at the mine, 28% reported increased harassment in the community, 46% reported an increase in sexually transmitted infections, and 14% reported increased prostitution in the community.1
Sisters in Spirit was funded in 2005 to research and document violence against Indigenous women in Canada. Meltis artist Jaime Black created the REDress Project to denounce the deaths and disappearances of indigenous women. Since then, red dresses have been used as a symbol to denounce this social crime.
1 Safety concerns for Indigenous women in resource development: MMIWG inquiry https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/resource-development-mmiwg-1.5164568