Pipeline Politics

An image of the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline from the May-June 1977 issue of Upstream.

The release of the final report of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) on June 3, 2019 has drawn critical attention to wide range of historical and contemporary practices that threaten the lives and safety of Indigenous women and girls. Among “other crucial findings and recommendations” the Commissioners address the relationship between violence against Indigenous women and girls and resource extraction, making clear that work camps (i.e., “boomtowns” and “man camps”) created for resource extraction projects are directly implicated in this violence. 

It was just over two weeks later—on June 18, 2019—that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
The gendered, racialized nature of resource extraction, has been particularly evident in Canada—past in present—through the politics of the pipeline. Extensive research and reporting have made clear that large-scale resource extraction has significant and disproportionate negative impacts on women, and particularly Indigenous women living near sites where extraction occurs.
It is not surprising then, that it is has been Indigenous women on the frontlines of contesting large-scale extractive projects. Protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 were marked by leadership of Indigenous women—the Women Warrior Water Protectors at Standing Rock—who stood against the water cannons, pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets that aimed to displace them.  Indigenous women too have been organizing against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, for example, in bringing forward concerns about the impacts of work camps to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

An image accompanying an article on the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline project from the May-June 1977 issue of Upstream.

Contemporary struggles against pipelines recall the fight against the building of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline in the 1970s. A public inquiry (the Berger Commission) determined in 1977 that the proposed pipeline’s impact on the environment and the lives of Indigenous peoples was too significant for the project to proceed, and despite later attempts to revive the project, it has never been built.

* An article in the May-June 1977 issue of Upstream (by Nancy Rudge), provides an excellent example, discussing a brief presented to the Commission by northern women identifying the adverse impacts of a potential pipeline on schooling, childcare, medical and social services, substance use, and domestic violence.
* Rosemary Brown’s platform for the NDP leadership in Priorities (March 1975), including a statement that “corporate deals like Syncrude an the Arctic Gas Pipeline proposal are against the interests of the Canadian people and must be vigorously opposed by the NDP.”
* The National Action Committee on the Status of Women’s (NAC) brief to the Berger Commission (see page 65).The work of the MMIWG made very clear that such failures continue.
And with the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline, it seems that Indigenous women will continue to bear the costs of cheap oil.
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