E&E News: Democrat: Murdered women 'an environmental injustice'

The "silent crisis" of missing and murdered indigenous women is an environmental issue affected by the boom and bust of oil and gas development in this country, a New Mexico Democrat said yesterday.

"It's an environmental injustice," said freshman Rep. Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.

Haaland's brief comments on the topic came during a Natural Resources subcommittee field hearing in Santa Fe, N.M., on the impact of oil and gas development on the environment, public health and sacred indigenous lands.

Haaland, a Pueblo of Laguna member and co-chair of Congressional Native American Caucus, asked witnesses on the last panel of the nearly four-hour hearing if they could "speak to the social impacts that the industry is having on New Mexican communities like missing and murdered indigenous women?"

Panelists were silent.

"OK, that's fine," said Haaland, noting the silence reinforced her point that violence against indigenous women and girls is "an issue that we don't talk about, and that we don't include in the detriment to our communities."

Murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2018 Urban Indian Health Institute report showed that 5,712 cases of MMIWG, or missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, were reported in 2016. Of that number, 116 cases were logged into the Justice Department's federal missing persons database.

Attorney General William Barr told lawmakers during a hearing last week he plans to visit Alaska for a roundtable to discuss concerns about violence against Native women there.

The "man camps" that have sprung up in areas with robust oil and gas development pose an increased threat of sexual violence to women in those communities, particularly Native women.

"We shouldn't have to suffer every time, you know, the price of oil goes down," Haaland said yesterday. "We should have a more secure future for our children, and that includes protecting our most vulnerable citizens," including indigenous women and girls "who already have suffered a tremendous amount in this country," she added.

Many Republicans and Democrats in Congress have expressed growing concern over violence against indigenous women, holding hearings and town halls as well as pushing legislation to address the problem.

Earlier this month, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to increase intergovernmental coordination to identify and combat violent crime in Indian Country and against Native Americans, particularly women.

By:  Kellie Lunney
Source: E&E News