When Diane Redsky led Canada’s national task force on sex trafficking, she travelled the country hearing stories from Indigenous women and girls.
This was in 2013 — before a public inquiry was called to expose the horrors hiding in plain sight — and concerns coalesced around “man camps,” temporary villages built to house resource development workers on large industrial projects.
“A common theme kept coming up around these man camps that end up becoming breeding grounds for predators to have full access to victimize Indigenous women and girls,” explains Redsky on Nation to Nation. “Everybody knows about it.
“It just becomes normalized within these man camps, yet there really isn’t any responsibility held to industry to be part of the solution.”
Aiming to find some solutions, the House of Commons status of women committee opened a probe into the subject this week. The move comes three years after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls urged governments to act.
In its 2019 final report, the inquiry linked violence against women with resource extraction, calling it “substantial evidence of a serious problem.” The commissioners directed five of their 231 calls for justice at the issue.
Redsky, who is the executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg, was one of the first witnesses to address the all-party committee on Monday afternoon.
“Anytime there are men with money who are transient,” Redsky testified, “you’re going to have sexual exploitation of women and girls, and some form of violence against Indigenous women and girls.”
She tells N2N that the onus falls first and foremost on industries and companies to develop and enforce the appropriate policies. However, in two decades of advocacy work Redsky cited one example of a company taking a proactive approach.
And so governments, as regulatory bodies, may eventually need to step in, she says, adding that the feds can bring parties to the table and make “social impact assessments” a part of the approval process for new projects, just like environmental assessments.
“I would hope that industry would really, genuinely care about the safety and protection of life-givers,” Redsky says. “We hope that they will want to sit at the table in a good way to come up with those community based solutions.”
Meanwhile, reining in industrial human rights abuses is one of many issues on the agenda for global Indigenous leaders this week and next as they gather at the United Nations in New York.
“As we’ve seen in Canada and many other countries, Indigenous land defenders are facing violence, attacks, even murder sometimes,” Joseph Lee, Indigenous affairs fellow with independent media outlet Grist, tells N2N.
He’s covering the international body’s 21st permanent forum on Indigenous issues for the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, a collaboration between Grist, Indian Country Today and High Country News.
“That’s one of the areas that Indigenous leaders are really strongly advocating for much stronger protections,” he adds, “both in terms of stopping these resource extraction companies from doing that, but also in terms of giving them an avenue to get stronger protections or legal mechanisms to defend themselves.”
For Charlie Angus, Canada’s blueprint for stealing Indigenous lands and resources can be traced back to a small Ontario mining town. He lays it all out in his latest book Cobalt: Cradle of the Demon Metals, Birth of a Mining Superpower.
“Canada is the world’s mining superpower,” says the NDP member of Parliament. “Seventy-five per cent of the world’s mining firms are registered here.”
That’s because Canada’s lax regulatory regime offers mining firms operating overseas immense legal and corporate protection alongside great financial benefits, Angus says.
But he argues you can look back to Cobalt at the turn of the century to find the origins of Canada’s colonial smash-and-grab approach to resource extraction.
“I argued this in the book: We’ve exported this model of exploitation to the global south where Canadian mining companies are continually coming up against Indigenous rights in countries like Guatemala and Peru, and it ain’t a pretty a story,” he says.
“A lot it seems it seems to take us right back to the kind of abuse and exploitation and just raping of the land that happened at Cobalt.”
Watch all three interviews above.