"Man Camps" brought by oil pipelines concern Tribal leaders - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

"Man Camps" brought by oil pipelines concern Tribal leaders

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The Bakken oil boom has generated a lot of benefit for South Dakota's neighbors to the north.

Over the past few years, North Dakota has become one of the country's most prosperous states, with the lowest unemployment. But with that sudden, astronomical growth comes a price - one that's often paid with the flesh of the local population.

Now, that problem may be headed south, if President Obama approves the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Environmental concerns often take a front seat in the argument against the pipeline. Friday, dozens of tribal leaders, activists, landowners and others gathered for another reason.

"We've invited people here to talk about those awful figures that 1 in 3 Native American women will be violated in their lifetime," said Faith Spotted Eagle, a Delegate to the Ihanktonwan Treaty Council.

If the pipeline is approved, along with it will come a transient workforce, bringing to mind a time when soldiers occupied Indian Country with very little oversight.

"Now all the sudden, a century later, the government is creating this forced pipeline. And it seemed really familiar - like 'wait, we went through this before.' These man camps - 600-men man camps west of us here, 600 up by Cheyenne River," said Spotted Eagle.

"The drugs come with it. The rapes. The sexual assaults come with it. All these things come with the 600-men man camp. I've been in North Dakota. I've worked the oil fields. I've seen the devastation done to communities," said Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Cyril Scott. 

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson shares these concerns.

"The fact of the matter is, when you have large groups of men coming into a rural area, it really increases concerns and we have to be very vigilant about human trafficking in those types of areas," said Johnson.

In poor, rural communities, sex crimes can be particularly devastating.

"If you affect, say ten girls out of that population, you've touched every single person who lives on that reservation and all of their families," said Aldo Seoane, a member of Wica Agli. 

Wica Agli is a movement of Native American men in multiple states.  It began when a speaker in North Dakota asked, "Where are the men?" In reference to the high instance of sex crimes against women in Reservation communities.  Wica Agli translates to "Men Coming Back" or "Men Coming Home."  

The increased risk from an influx of workers also raises concerns for law enforcement.

"There's been a spike of violence in North Dakota and so when the Attorney General's office in North Dakota talks about these increased risks, or the local police officers talk about how their resources are completely drained because of these man camps, that's just a reality," said Jane Kleeb of advocacy group Bold Nebraska.

If sex crimes happen on a Reservation, holding perpetrators accountable can be difficult. Tribal police do not have the authority to lodge or prosecute non-Indians. However, two acts of congress are aimed at changing that.

"There was a Tribal Law and Order Act and the Violence Against Women Act as well. Both of those acts help us to prosecute offenders of domestic violence and sexual assault, but for instance, the Tribal Law and Order Act, it doesn't come into effect until 2015," said Seoane. 

The future of the Keystone XL Pipeline remains in the President's hands, and Tribal leaders hope he hears their words.

"We have lost a lot over the generations to the United States government, so our word to our Congress and our President of the United States here today is, 'we don't want this,'" said Scott.

"I would just say…do the right thing," said Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman Thurman Cournoyer.

The conference runs through tomorrow at the Fort Randall Casino near Pickstown.

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