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Hidden Conversations: Direct Impacts of Oil Pipelines on Indigenous Communities

On February 14th of this year, in downtown Minneapolis, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s (MMIW) march took place. This march was planned by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and several other organizations. I walked down those streets with cold cheeks and a changed heart. I had no idea how important this moment would be to me. Being a part of the march, meeting organizers and reading about this issue, inspired me to organize an event on at North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) entitled “A Hidden Conversation”. It covered this in-depth conversation and challenged my audience to look past themselves. The results were astronomical.

    Marchers at the 2019 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s march
    Marchers at the 2019 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s march

    My name is Mariah Hanson, I am nineteen years old, and I am going to school for my Associates in Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This past semester I was a Power Shift Network and MN350 Environmental Justice organizing fellow. I learned the tools to start engaging my campus in the necessary conversation around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. I dream for creative thinkers to write and learn about impacted communities through classroom and conversational settings on a two-year campus.

    After meeting with faculty and staff at NHCC for over a month, two professors agreed to incorporate the subject of MMIW and Sex Trafficking into their classroom curriculums. They also encouraged students to attend “A Hidden Conversation” event. During this event, there was intentional space for marginalized voices to speak, share stories, and ask questions.

    Though this event was a success on my campus, we must remember that over 70% of the attendees were new to this conversation- discluding the other students and staff who did not attend. There is still much work to be done.

    For those who were not able to attend the event, I want to tell you about this issue and why it is important to me.

    As a young woman of color, I find myself submerged in harsh realities that my people and other minority groups face daily. Though I am not apart of the Indigenous American community, I find myself relating to their pains. When hosting this event, often I was asked why this mattered to me or why I, as a non-Indigenous American, cared. My answer was consistent and simple: “Because my people and your people share the same oppressors, colonizers, and versions of hurts.”

    When I was hired on as a fellow with Power Shift Network, I started with a very well thought out process of trainings and research exercises to get myself acquainted with the climate justice fight. A week into my training, I came across the article Moving More than Oil by Kayla Walsh. It challenged me, enlightened me, and made me think outside of myself and within the world we live in. The article covers the ongoing disasters of Indigenous women and two-spirited individuals who are taken from their people, raped, beaten, and murdered. Typically at the hands of their oppressors. Through this article, Kayla introduced me to Mysti Babineau’s personal narrative of losing her mother and then losing herself. Mysti Babineau and thousands of other Indigenous American women and Two-Spirited people are being pushed deep down between our society's consciousness. Their stories, to put it simply, aren’t being heard. In Walsh’s article, Mysti rightfully educated us on her ancestor’s truths, “This is something that has been happening in my community since the 1400s [first contact with white settlers].”

    After reading Walsh’s article, sending it to over 50 people, and letting the information sink in, I decided to work on educating myself and others on these unheard stories. Hosting the event would do just that.

    A Hidden Conversation

    “A Hidden Conversation” took two very short months to plan. It consisted of me planning whilst researching a topic that was emotionally jarring. I met with some of the most amazing people, listened to their stories, and facilitated meetings that gave them platforms to communicate the healthiest ways to go about conducting this conversation. I met with Mysti in-person. After five minutes of fangirling and hugging her with all the love in my heart, we talked about my position in this event. What did it mean for a non-Native American to organize this? How could I present myself as an accomplice without stepping on the people who could use this platform as liberation?

    Hidden Conversations Event 2019

    Webinars, conferences, and interviews are all amazing resources of knowledge, but cannot teach you the primary tools to working with often silenced communities. Tools that I learned would carry me far into hosting an event on MMIW. Listening to understand, empathizing and relating to my own story, and spreading their words with acknowledgment, and loving all, were values I tried to live by in hosting “A Hidden Conversation”. I assembled panelists that work directly with impacted communities, who saw the harsh realities that Mysti and other Indigenous folk face.

    Call to Action

    After “A Hidden Conversation” ended, a woman came up to me. She was about five foot four, had big round glass, and curly brown hair. She looked up to me with eyes that suggested that this particular event changed something within her. “What can I do to help, Mariah?” and in that exact moment, I pulled out a paper and started listing contact information for our local non-profits who work on this social justice issue. I found out later that she had lost this paper. So, in light of the sweet lady who lost her paper...

    There are always options on how to take action and raise awareness on MMIW, Sex Trafficking, and Oil Pipelines. Whether you live right here, with me, in Minnesota, or in a completely different part of the world:

    • Reaching out to your local resource centers that fight against Sex Trafficking and seeing how you can personally help.
    • Find out more about the movement to Stop Line 3 and sign the pledge of resistance at MN350. You’ll find ways to get involved with the climate justice movement on that website too!
    • Working directly with the impacted communities, asking questions, and listening.
    • Follow the Safe Harbor Initiative: Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center that works directly with trafficked MMIW.