The Human Cost of Keystone XL

Keystone PipelineBy A.C. Shilton

Pacific Standard

If approved on its current route, the Keystone XL Pipeline will bisect the heart of Indian country. TransCanada boasts that the project will create “9,000 well-paying construction jobs.” And that’s exactly what tribal activists are worried about.

Man camps, which will hold 1,000 transient pipeline workers, are being planned just miles from reservation lands. If what’s happening in the Bakken oil fields is any indication, Keystone XL could be a disaster for the native women along its route.

American Indian women face some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the nation. More than a quarter of all native women have been raped, and almost 50 percent have experienced some other sort of sexual violence, according to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Compared to other races, American Indian and Alaskan Native women are more than two times more likely to experience rape or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Even more horrifying, according to the Department of Justice, 67 percent of these acts of violence are committed by non-native men—although another study has put this number closer to 86 percent.

Rick Ruddell studies the relationship between crime and boomtowns, and when he and several researchers from the University of North Dakota began combing through crime rates around the oil fields, they found big patches of data missing. Ruddell says that this is partially due to the fact that there’s a mishmash of agencies keeping the data. It’s also partially because the rise in crime happened so suddenly that local agencies went from having almost nothing to report to being unable to keep up with reporting. Furthermore, in general, recording accurate domestic violence rates is difficult, since so many incidences go unreported.

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Picture: Shannonpatrick17 from Swanton, Nebraska, U.S.A. (keystone pipeline) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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