I grew up on a dirt road and I would kick rocks all up and down that road on my way to and from school. That road is now paved. As kids, my siblings and I played in a field full of trails, trees, and a pond. We rode our quads in these open fields we grew up near. These fields are now gone and are full of new housing developments.
The small town I knew as a kid made the transition into a bustling small city as it thrived on the oil and gas industry boom. Things change and cities grow, I accept that. It’s what comes with that growth that I find hard to accept.
When I was living down south, going to school and then working in the Interior of BC, I met a lot of men who worked in this Peace River Region. I met men who worked in the traditional territory of my people so that they could live in the south. The north south split. People can live however they want but every time these men would talk about what a shit hole Fort St John is, or how desolate the North is, or how they just fucking hate being “up there”.
If you are going to take from the land, why you gotta bad talk it like that if it gives you your means to live? Not only that, it further proved my theory about how many of the transient workers that come into this area are not invested in “community”. Note, I said many and not all.
Recently I talked to another Native woman who is a couple years older than me and I asked her if she noticed any changes in safety growing up when more and more workers started to come.
She took some time to think before answering, “Yeah, I remember being a teenager and walking with my group of friends. We were all native, maybe about sixteen. A few white guys in a vehicle kept circling then they stopped and asked if we would have sex with them for money. We told them to fuck off, we were so young then.”
When you grow up in a small town, you may not know everyone but you know a fair amount of the people that are from here and can tell when someone is from elsewhere.
Today I heard a story (second hand) about a Native man that was in a man camp during the beginning years of the oil and gas industry here. He wanted to quit his job because of what he said were gross racial things the other workers would say.
“Do you know what they call our women?” he said, “Six pack. That’s what they call them.”
“Do you know why? Because they said that’s all that it takes the Native women for them to have sex with them. A fuckin’ six pack”.
I’m sure that the racial slurs have evolved over time and I don’t spend a lot of time in man camps to even know if they exist to that extent anymore. Although I can’t see leaps and bounds changing in terms of mentality in the past decade. I don’t know if they are more covert when it comes to Native women but I know for sure that Native men working in the field experience a high amount of racism. How? I have two brothers. Lol. I know that there are a lot of good men working in this field, and men just genuinely putting food on the table so I don’t want to paint a one sided picture but the fact of the matter is that this “other” type exists and they “blow off steam” in our communities on their days off and our women are a resource to be expended.
I don’t have a lot of prose to weave all of these thoughts together but I needed to write.
Yesterday I was at a look out point with a view of the Peace River with a client of mine (in my regular actual job that has nothing to do with Site C). As we were starting off on the relatively quick drive back into town (about 3kms) I spotted a pair of shoes in the middle of the road, following the shoes was a sweater. I saw skid marks on the road leading away from the discarded clothes.
We drove up a bit further and spotted a woman walking in the middle of the road. We drove up closer and I saw that her feet were bare, one of her pant legs were rolled up, and she was in a tank top (it’s already fall weather in the north).
“Are you alright?” I asked her.
She waved her arms dismissively at me. She was high on some kind of drug and the smell of liquor emanated from her. She was young, maybe my age, maybe a little older or maybe a little younger and she you could tell she was pretty even in her state of complete disarray and disconnection.
“You have no shoes on. Do you want your shoes? They are back there. I seen them.” I said to her.
She waved her arms again and walked forward. I persisted and drove up again.
“Are you okay? Do you need a ride somewhere? We can take you,”
Arms waving, then she stops and leans into the passenger window, “Gotta smoke” she says almost incoherently with loose gestures.
“Sure,” I say as I pull one out of my pack and give it to her hoping that it will break the boundary between us.
“Do you want a ride somewhere?” I ask again.
She waves her arms again and walks forward.
I realize that I can’t force her to take a ride back into town and drive ahead then pull over to call the RCMP.
“She can’t stay out here like that. It’s unsafe for her. What if whoever threw her out comes back for her? What if they are bad people? What if someone bad picks her up and hurts her?” I say to my client who then agrees that we should call the RCMP.
I worried about them victimizing her too. Police and Indigenous women also don’t mix but right now I am convinced it is the lesser of the two evils. I may have been experiencing transference. From experience I know how dangerous it is to be intoxicated and out of it while in the world. My last violent rape happened like that in an apartment full of men I didn’t know that were originally from Vancouver, or Edmonton, or a mix of places. They weren’t from here, they barely even lived in the apartment they said. It was a placed rented for the time “in between” camp and home. After that night I didn’t know if I could have kids again (I found out I could later) and it took me a long time to understand that just because I was under the influence didn’t mean “I deserved it”. Everyone has the right to be free from harm.
I saw her out there and I saw someone completely vulnerable and it scared me.
We waited fifteen minutes for the cops to arrive and pushing a schedule ( I had a client with me) I finally had to drive away. I watched her figure disappear in the rear view. She was in the middle of the road again, forcing vehicles to swerve around her. She seemed oblivious to anything and everything but whatever was in her mind.
I called the RCMP as I drove away telling the dispatcher I couldn’t wait any longer but she is there.
Ten minutes later I got a phone call from a Constable.
“Yeah well I found her shoes and her sweater but I can’t find her anywhere. Where’s the last place you saw her?” he asked.
“Just before the rise in the hill,” I answer, “look, can you let me know if you do find her? I am really worried about her safety. She was completely out of it and in the middle of the road. I don’t know who left her out there and am scared maybe they came back for her.”
“Yes, I will let you know,”
Ten minutes later.
“We used a dog to track the scent from her sweater to see if she was in a ditch somewhere or maybe went into the woods but couldn’t find her.”
“Okay. Thanks for calling.”
I call someone else in community who has advocated on behalf of MMIW and violence in our community to alert her and she makes another phone call to someone who was actually able to identify her (but no names were given). The person said if she showed up she would let us know so we know that she is safe. The anonymous woman. Who would probably punch me in the throat for calling the RCMP haahah.
I learn that it is common practice for “Johns” to drive their “Dates” out of town here and kick them out of the vehicle without pay and stranded. I’m shocked but not shocked. There’s not a lot of “visible” prostitution here, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. This reality scares me, for the women and the girls that I do know here.
Today I got a phone call from the Constable who told me that they found her. She was in the middle of committing some act when they got her and she has charges from Alberta that followed her here. He asked me to come make a statement about the day before.
“Who will that benefit?” I ask.
“Me” he says.
“Do I have to?”
“No but it would help so we don’t have a repeat offender living in this town. We don’t need that”
“No. I definitely will not come in.”
I’m a social worker for fucks sakes. I forgot to ask if he knew how she got out there, who left her, what did they do to her? Questions that he probably forgot to ask because he was focused on removing her from this town. I cringe thinking about the trauma that this woman has probably lived through from whatever circumstances she grew up in. Maybe someone picked her up and harmed her when they were supposed to pick her up. Maybe she was trying to get away. Maybe that’s what happened. I know she couldn’t have been in her right mind given that the time frame was so tight and she was taken in sometime in the previous twelve hours from that point. What about those FUCKING johns dropping women off like they are fucking disposable? What?
Maybe I think too much and feel to fucking much but it makes me sad because I KNOW our women are living that reality right now. I know they are facing unsafe situations. I know they are self-medicating with booze and drugs because it’s the only way they know how to maintain themselves under the weight of whatever trauma.
I fucking know because that was me. Me. Me who is a Masters Student, me who speaks for the land, me who works in communities, me who people think highly of (or hate greatly haha). I was that person. Did I make it to the street level? No. But I tell you on my last run away which was supposed to be my big disappearance forever, I figured I had about three weeks before I hit street level and I KNEW, I KNEW, that I would eventually be working the streets. I had told no one about the last rape and it was killing me at that time. I didn’t know how to remain present nor sober because all I could think about was how those men had hurt me. My mind spun on questions continually wondering if I was a half a woman, if I could have children, and I believed I would never find anyone to love me after that. I was gone.
If it wasn’t for the miracle of my friend who lived halfway across the country to change the narrative and get everyone I knew to send me messages via text and social media about how I was strong, about how I was necessary, about how I could make it…. If it wasn’t for that.. I wouldn’t have made the choice to live.
I made that choice on a mattress on a floor in some dingy room of some guy’s apartment in a city I ran away to.
Now I live. I am alive.
This is why I fucking do what do. This is a huge part of why I speak up for the land and the water. This is why I see the connection between Site C and it’s 3000 to 4000 man camp and an increase of violence against Indigenous women. Because I lived it. Because that woman I seen is living it. I fight because I don’t want to see more of our women living it. I fight so they don’t have to.
Extremely powerful words. Thank you.