Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples

Chelsea Miraflor Trillo (Mindanaoan/Visayan)

Indigenous Peoples are integral to Earth because we are of Her. That is why Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) is violence against Earth embodied. Multiple factors facilitate MMIP, however, my focus today is on the impact of extractive industries.
Take pipelines as an example. Where do they go? Disproportionately placed in Native territories. Who constructs them? Outsourced labor through temporary man camps. What happens when you have hundreds, often thousands, of non-Native men come to Native reservations? Sexual violence, disappearances, trafficking, and murders against Native Peoples of those lands skyrocket.

Why does this happen? One of many reasons is that the majority of Tribes do not have jurisdiction over non-Native visitors who commit crimes on their lands. (Read that again.) For instance, when the Keystone XL pipeline was approved and man camps began to form, I was working with an Indigenous grassroots group from the area who, in the span of a few months, had a dozen preteen girls go missing. Once they were found, no trafficker was prosecuted. Another reason is that extractive industries are more protected than Native Peoples and Tribal lands. We see what happened with the Dakota Access Pipeline and how Native land defenders were met with military force and police brutality simply because they were fighting for clean water. Some are still political prisoners to this day.

In my own ancestral lands of Mindanao, corporations for years have been destroying the island with mega-projects like logging, open-pit mining, and monocrop plantations. Lumads (Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao) were violently ripped away from their homelands and scattered in sanctuary sites across the archipelago. Lumads who were able to resist displacement and defend their lands continue to be murdered by police and paramilitary groups that protect the corporations. Tragically, the number of Lumads murdered have been so high that in Global Witness’s annual list of total land and environmental defenders killed, the Philippines has been ranked in the top five every year since 2017.

From the Dakotas to Mindanao, we see how MMIP is a global issue. I will always remember when I heard Cutcha Risling-Baldy (local Hupa/Yurok/Karuk educator/author/general badass) say, “Colonization is simple: Indigenous Peoples protect the land. You take Indigenous Peoples out, you get the land.” MMIP is merely a weapon of ongoing colonization and imperialism to wipe out Indigenous Peoples so that the rich can extract until there is nothing to extract anymore.

That is why #LandBack is not just an acknowledgement of whose stolen lands you occupy, but an urgent call to literally return the land and the caretaking power of the land (and all its relatives) back into the hands of the Indigenous Peoples tied to those territories. Without which, we have no future. Tribal sovereignty is the only hope for ourselves, for the next generations, and for Earth’s future.
In other words: in the same way violence against Earth is embodied in violence against Indigenous Peoples, the wellness of Earth is embodied in Indigenous wellness. When we enjoy any of the foods, animals, rivers, and landscapes of so-called Humboldt County, it is because of the Wiyot Peoples and neighboring Native Peoples that have maintained the area and their own generations for millenia.

If thousands of years of stewardship is not proof enough that #LandBack efforts should be at the forefront of environmental work, let’s look at recent studies. In August 2021, the Indigenous Environmental Network released a report that shows Indigenous land defense efforts over the past decade have stopped or delayed at least 25% of U.S. and Canada’s carbon dioxide emissions. In January 2020, a report released through the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. illustrates how Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon were an effective buffer against deforestation and forest degradation, and how 70% of carbon emissions came from outside of Indigenous territories. Time and time again, Native resistance to colonial impact serves as the strongest protective factor for environmental sustainability.

To address violence against Earth without addressing MMIP is to completely miss the mark. If we return the land and center Indigenous Peoples’ wellness, we can begin to restore balance and heal the Earth. Congrats on closing out your 50th year, NEC. For your next 50, I hope that Indigenous Peoples are at the forefront.

For any local Indigenous Peoples impacted by MMIP, you can reach out to Sovereign Bodies Institute on their 24/7 support line (call/text) at 707-335-6263 or find out more information at sovereign-bodies.org