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New Report Says Keystone XL Would Exacerbate Missing Persons Crisis In Indian Country

A 2008 photo of construction on part of the the Keystone Pipeline.
A photo of the Keystone Pipeline taken by a Flickr user in 2008.

A new report says the Keystone XL pipeline would exacerbate the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women in Montana and other Northern Plains states in the project’s proposed path.

Four out of five perpetrators of crimes relating to missing or murdered indigenous women are not being held accountable in the counties the pipeline would cross. That’s according to the report, co-authored by the indigenous research collective, Sovereign Bodies Institute, which Annita Lucchesi directs.

“The rate of violence will be exceptionally high because these men, these workers, know that there already is a lack of justice,” Lucchesi said.

She’s talking about the hundreds of workers who would come from outside the community, away from their families, to work on the pipeline and live in what’s been termed as “man camps.”

The report cites documents from the United Nations and the U.S. State Department that link extractive industries to sex trafficking and expliotation of Native American women. But the report also features its own data collection, pulled from Lucchesi’s database of over 4,000 cases of missing and murdered women in Indian Country.

She and her colleagues identified 411 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in the four states the pipeline would cross—Montana, the Dakotas and Nebraska. That number goes back to 1900, but she said almost three-fourths of cases have occurred in the last two decades.

“I would say what’s more disturbing to me is that there are so many cases we don’t know about,” Lucchesi said.

Lucchesi said she hosted a recent training in Montana and that over nine people came forward with stories of missing or murdered relatives. None of the accounts had been previously logged into law enforcement records. She said sometimes the only way to learn of new cases is to speak with the community, which is what she wants the State Department to do more of.

In its recently updated draft environmental impact statement , the State Department said it invited nearly 70 tribes to participate in the NEPA process. That includes five tribal nations in Montana—the Blackfeet, Crow, Fort Peck, Chippewa Cree and Fort Belknap Tribes.

In the draft, the State Department, which did not respond to request for comment, says the Keystone XL would have negligible to minor or even beneficial impacts on socioeconomics.

TC Energy, the pipeline’s owner, said its taken numerous steps to ensure that both the communities and its workers would be safe, including requiring every resident at the camps to sign and agree to a strict code of conduct. It also says there will be around the clock security.

“Our experience has been that our pipeline workers put in long days on the job and contribute positively to the community through various economic benefits,” a TC Energy spokesperson said.

Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.