On Valentine’s Day, a group of more than 60 of us crowded into the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s offices in Minneapolis to march in solidarity with the numerous Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Marches happening in communities in the United States and Canada.
The Sierra Club was asked to help co-sponsor this year’s march by Rene Ann Goodrich of the Native Lives Matter Coalition. This is the fourth year Native Lives Matter has held a march in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports (Duluth/Superior) and the second year the Sierra Club has organized a solidarity march. In addition to the Coalition, co-sponsors included MN350, the Women’s Congress for Future Generations, and Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light.
Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth, spoke during a brief program at the Sierra Club, saying every indigenous family she knows in northern Minnesota “has someone they have lost.”
Joe Vital, a member of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil and Tars Sands Committee, participated in the march. Vital, also a member of the Red Lake band of Ojibwe, commented on how it was odd that some passersby seemed to think the march was something of a parade.
“For many of us, it’s mourning,” said Vital, who has an auntie who is missing. “It’s weird. We’re in solidarity in mourning.”
The march organized by the Sierra Club was intended to recognize the deep connections between environmental justice, racial justice and women’s justice. The march’s theme was: “Protect Our Life Givers.” The violence against women and the violence against water are related – both are attacks on life givers. And Native women suffer a disproportionate amount of violence.
This march grew out of ongoing relationship building and shared work between Native-led groups and environmental groups to stop the proposed new Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline. The old Line 3 is failing. Enbridge wants to abandon it in the ground and build a new and larger pipeline along a new route — traveling 337 miles through northern Minnesota. That routes takes it though the Mississippi headwaters regions and prime wild ricing areas — and it violates treaty rights. More here.
The state prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) on Line 3. Among other things it assesses the community impact of such a large construction project. It makes clear the connections environmental, racial, and women’s justice. In Chapter 11, it states:
Concerns have been raised regarding the link between an influx of temporary workers and the potential for an associated increase in sex trafficking, which is well documented, particularly among Native populations … The addition of a temporary, cash-rich workforce increases the likelihood that sex trafficking or sexual abuse will occur. Additionally, rural areas often do not have the resources necessary to detect and prevent these activities.
The EIS offers no concrete plan to prevent such assaults.
Our march ended at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, where we joined in solidarity with a second and much larger march was organized by a number of indigenous-led groups, drawing 700-800 people.
A Crisis Across Continents
In Canada, the number of missing and murdered indigenous women has been called a “crisis,” according to Wikipedia’s summary. ” Canadian indigenous women are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence, and are significantly over-represented among female Canadian homicide victims,” it said. “They are also far more likely than other women to go missing.”
The first Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s March was held in Vancouver in 1991. The marches and growing public awareness spread to the United States. The first march in Minneapolis was held at the Minneapolis American Indian Center 2015.
Last fall, North Dakota U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp introduced a bill to address the “epidemic” of missing and murdered indigenous women, according to a CBC article. The bill is “named for Savanna Greywind, 22, who disappeared from her Fargo, N.D., apartment on Aug. 19. Her body was found Aug. 27 in the Red River in Minnesota, wrapped in plastic and duct tape,” the story said. She was eight months pregnant.
Line 3 Update: The “Necessity Defense”
Leonard Higgens of Oregon joined to support both marches. He is a member of a group known as the “Valve Turners.” He was part of a coordinated action to temporarily shut down five tar sands pipelines in four different states Washington, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.
Higgens gets sentenced March 20, and faces up to 10 years, six months for felony criminal mischief, he said. (He expects it will be less.)
For his last month of freedom, he came east. Part of the reason was he wanted to listen to oral arguments at the Minnesota Court of Appeals in St. Paul, as fellow Valve Turners argued the “Necessity Defense.” MPR did a nice job describing the argument. According to the story:
More than 100 law professors have weighed in on the case via a brief arguing the activists should be able to use a “necessity defense” at trial. That’s when someone accused of a crime can say they needed to act as they did, or risk putting themselves or others in harm’s way.
That is to say the defendants broke the law in order to prevent an even greater injustice.
The lower court ruled in favor of allowing the defendants to use that argument. The Court of Appeals heard the case Thursday and is expected to rule within 90 days. The decision could set a significant precedent for future cases.
The author of this blog is the co-chair for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil and Tar Sands Committee.