Gendered impacts of resource development should be studied, says inquiry into violence against Indigenous women in Canada

The final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls includes a number of industry-specific calls for justice. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Before a resource development project goes ahead, it should be assessed for risks it poses to Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

That’s just one call for justice issued in the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — and the president of the Native Women’s Association of the Northwest Territories says she’s grateful for its inclusion.

“I’m glad to see in the report, the impact that we’re having here in the NWT,” said Jane Weyallon.

The inquiry’s final report recognizes the documented phenomenon that resource extraction is linked to spikes in violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

It also says the influx of mostly single men with disposable income has a spinoff: a burgeoning sex industry that makes women and girls vulnerable to abuse and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections.

“Security and safety are emphasized in the report. We need to have a plan in place to look after our women and girls,” said Weyallon.

Jane Weyallon, president of the Native Women’s Association of the NWT, says she’s grateful for the inclusion of the gendered impacts of resource extraction projects in the MMIWG final report. (Randi Beers/CBC)

That means women and girls must equally benefit from resource development at all stages of a project, she said.

She added that government and industry also need to pursue further studies about gendered impacts of resource development.

Chamber of mines named in report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a G20 meeting in Argentina last year that large infrastructure projects with mostly male workers had “gender impacts.”

The backlash was swift including from politicians like Jason Kenney, now the premier of Alberta, and Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer.

And last September, the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines published an op-ed in Nunatsiaq News, questioning the testimony of T.J. Lightfoot, who is two-spirit and Mi’kmaw, at MMIWG inquiry hearings in Iqaluit.

Lightfoot told the inquiry that mostly male work camps or “man camps” associated with resource extraction can pose a risk to the safety of Indigenous women and girls.

Lightfoot’s testimony was supported with research from organizations like Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the Women’s Earth Alliance and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

The op-ed gained the chamber some real estate in the inquiry’s final report, which includes a section on resource extraction projects and violence against Indigenous women.

The report says while extractive industries often cite their economic contributions to communities, the social impact of these activities can be negative.

“Some members of the industry have denied any problem exists, resulting in a continuing erasure of issues that may mean the difference, literally, between life and death,” the report states.

It also calls the suggestion in the op-ed that “women are an order of magnitude safer at our mines than at home” a “gross mischaracterization of the ways extractive industries can affect the safety of Indigenous women and girls.”

The beaded heart tapestry hung at the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Yellowknife. (CBC)

The report also details testimony and research on the hardships women working on resource development projects can face including sexual harassment and assault, racism, physical isolation and being located far from police services.

When women face economic inequality and are financially dependent on their spouse, they are made vulnerable, the report says, and Indigenous women face “significant barriers” to participating in the extractive economy.

The report also documents evidence of the strain rotational work can put on family relationships, contributing to domestic violence.

Industry response

The inquiry’s final report includes a number of calls for justice pertaining to resource projects including:

  • Consider the safety and security of all Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA  (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people at all stages of a development. Ensure they benefit equally from development.
  • Mitigate risks identified in those assessments prior to approving a project.
  • Include provisions in impact benefit agreements that ensure women and girls benefit equitably from a project.
  • Recognize increased demands on social infrastructure including policing, social services and health services.

Tom Hoefer, the chamber of mines’ executive director, told CBC News the chamber had not yet reviewed the report and has to consult its board before publicly stating a position on the matter.

The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada said it is reflecting on the calls to justice, including those directed at industry.

The final report says resource extraction projects can have negative impacts on Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit people but some members of the industry have denied any problems exist. (Baffinland)

“There is very important work to be done in relation to gender issues and industrial activities,” a spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

The association launched a tool last week to improve diversity within companies and the communities they operate in.

That includes the Women in Mining program, mentorship, corporate policies on gender, inclusion and anti-harassment and research into barriers for women in industry.

“The mineral industry remains committed to working collaboratively with governments, Indigenous partners and others to both examine and address gender-related issues,” the association said.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Violence against Indigenous women: paving the way forward for Canada’s Northwest Territories, CBC News

Finland: Indigenous Sámi community weighs in on Finland’s truth and reconciliation process, Yle News

Norway: Inuit, Sami leading the way in Indigenous self-determination, study says, CBC News

Sweden: Report sheds light on Swedish minority’s historic mistreatment, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

Avery Zingel, CBC News

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