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Panel discusses natural resource development, violence against indigenous women

A panel at the University of Montana found there are spikes in crimes against Native American women in areas where there is oil extraction.

A panel at the University of Montana shared data Wednesday that shows a correlation between natural resource development and crimes against Native American women.

Last month NBC Montana took an in-depth look at staggering statistics surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and how native women make up 3.3 percent of Montana's population but 30 percent of the state’s missing persons list.

The panel Wednesday, put together by Montana Conservation Voters and the Indigenous Film Club, went further into that information and found there are spikes in areas where there is oil extraction.

TransCanada plans to start building the Keystone XL Pipeline as early as mid-February. The pipeline will transport more oil from Alberta, Canada, and Montana to Nebraska. It’s expected to strengthen U.S. energy security by creating a stable, long-term energy supply from a more geopolitically stable region. Backers also say it will spur economic growth by creating jobs and bringing in additional tax revenue.

Right now the permit is blocked by a U.S. district judge in Montana until a new environmental review is finished but the panel in Missoula said the Keystone doesn’t just bring environmental concerns but also danger to American Indians.

“In the Bakken, in some jurisdiction, there’s a 300-percent increase in violence, so I think that’s something that’s very, very real, and I think a lot of times we have to face as indigenous communities, since we're in locations of oil booms or oil resource development,” said Ivan MacDonald, a filmmaker and member of the Blackfeet tribe.

“We need to address that this is not something that we are making up, this is not something we found on social media. This is actually professional work showing the correlation for a proposal such as the Keystone Pipeline to bring in more man camps and bring in more devastation to our Native American women,” said Lauren Small Rodriguez, indigenous rights organizer in Missoula.

Annita Luccezzi has compiled a lot of data about the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls crisis. She’s a Ph.D. researcher from the University of Lethbridge.

Small Rodriguez explained the map that Luccezzi created shows areas of shale basins, shale plays and high intensity mining in Montana and overlays it with places where women have been murdered.

“A lot of our oil development are actually ironically placed at our reservations, and a lot of the crime that you see are those who are non-native perpetrators. So this crisis that we have for MMIW shows real data from a real indigenous data analyst,” said Small Rodriguez.

In 2014, the U.S. Justice Department launched a $3 million program to help prosecute crimes against women and provide services for victims in the Bakken oil producing areas of North Dakota and Montana. Part of those 2014 funds paid for a prosecutor on the Fort Peck Indian reservation in Montana.

Now the upcoming 2019 Montana legislative session will look at a bill aimed to do more in Native country. It’s called Hanna’s Act, and it would require the Department of Justice to hire a missing persons specialist. It would use $100,000 from the state’s general fund.

Briana Lamb is a member of the Gros Ventre tribe and helps push legislation like Hanna’s Act and others that help missing and murdered indigenous women and their families. She’ll be going to Washington, D.C., next week for a hearing.

“I get messages a lot that thank me for my work, and even small acts of bringing awareness to this issue mean a great deal to families across the board who are affected,” said Lamb.

MacDonald says everyone can get involved by doing research.

“Educate yourself on the issue. There’s lots of great resources online,” said MacDonald. “Research the legislative bills that are coming up for the 2019 Montana legislative session and ask your senators to support them,” he said.

No word yet on when the final Keystone decision will be made. Right now, TransCanada is allowed to continue planning and engineering activities so they can start construction as scheduled.

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