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There are some crystalline moments in which the challenges we face as a civilization become brutally clear. Moments in which corrupt aspects of American democracy and the fractures in our social, economic and political systems are exposed with unsurpassed clarity.
Moments in which we are reminded of how fundamentally ruptured our dominant culture’s relationship with the Earth has become and in which we see before our eyes how this split has led to almost unfathomable acts of violence against the Earth, against women and against the original inhabitants of North America.
Standing on the sweeping, golden prairie of North Dakota with the noxious flames of the Bakken fracking fields visible in all directions, one such moment descended with heavy weight.
Rape of the Land, Rape of the Women
“The Bakken” is a shale formation that spans some 25,000 square miles and covers much of western North Dakota, eastern Montana and the southern parts of two Canadian provinces. Since the early 2000’s, a boom in oil extraction has taken place in the region thanks to newly available hydraulic fracking technologies used to extract sticky, heavy oil from deep within shale rock. In less than a decade, North Dakota has become a fracking epicenter and the second largest U.S oil-producer after Texas.
For millennia before becoming the center of the fracking industry, northwest North Dakota served primarily as rich agricultural grounds and as the home of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara peoples.
For the Three Affiliated Tribes, the social and environmental destruction wrought by the fracking industry is but the latest wave of historic oppression and colonization. In 1947, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara were forcibly moved from their traditional lands to make room for the construction and flooding of Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River.
Of the 12 million acres promised to the Three Affiliated Tribes by an 1851 treaty, less than 1 million acres have been delivered in the form of the Fort Berthold Reservation and now these remaining acres are being eaten away by destructive development, cultural dislocation and irremediable ecologic damage cause by the fracking industry.
Williston, a mid-sized town just outside of Fort Berthold Reservation, has officially adopted the new town slogan “Boomtown, USA” and has been taken over by the industry to the point that it is almost unrecognizable to residents, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, whose families have lived there for generations.
The population of Williston has doubled , maybe even quadrupled since 2010, however exact numbers are too hard to track due to the transient flow of labor and utter inability of local government to keep up.
Law enforcement and social services have been stretched far past their limits, leaving many, especially Indigenous women and girls, exposed, vulnerable and without proper legal protection.
While there are some families and women moving to the area to partake in work on the fracking fields and sprawling hotels and strip malls that have popped up to service the workers, the majority of the tens of thousands of new residents are men. In recent years the demographic has changed to the point that there are now more men concentrated in North Dakota than anywhere else in the U.S outside of Alaska.
Workers are housed in ever-expanding mobile home complexes called “man-camps,” ranging from unregulated trailers in farmers’ fields to sprawling complexes housing and feeding more than 1,000 workers at a time.
Conditions for fracking workers are cramped and have proven to be breeding grounds for violence, drug use and sexual abuse. The population influx and housing demands had driven up rents to exorbitant rates rivaling New York City and San Francisco, squeezing out long-term residents and putting many at risk of homelessness.
According to the state’s Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime, including murder, aggravated assault, rape and robbery increased by 125 percent between 2005 and 2013.
In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identified two small towns in the Bakken alongside four major cities (Boston, Houston, Atlanta and Oakland), as the places in the U.S most in need of assistance to combat rampant sex and human trafficking.