“What we’re dealing with is a death by a thousand cuts,” says North Dakota indigenous leader Kandi Mossett of the impact of the booming fracking and oil-drilling industry in her home state. “We’ve had violence against women increase by 168 percent, particularly in the area of rape,” Mossett says. “We have 14-, 15- and 16-year-old girls that are willingly going into man camps [for oil workers] and selling themselves.” She says the full impact of toxins from oil drilling won’t be felt for another 20 years. “I’m so worried that at this COP21 my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter won’t have a say, but she will be experiencing the worst impacts. It just doesn’t make any sense to me that this is the 21st COP and we are considered sacrifice zones in my community.”
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you face particularly in North Dakota? Can you talk about the issue of, for example, fracking?
KANDI MOSSETT: Right. I mean, prior to fracking, we had seven coal-fired power plants, so we’re all dealing with mercury contamination and cancers from that. And then enter fracking around 2007, and what we’re dealing with is a death by a thousand cuts. We have people that are literally on the front lines being killed by all of the semi traffic, by the increase in violence against women. Ever since we’ve had the oil industry enter, we’ve had these jobs that were created, but there were 11,000 jobs created and over 10,000 people that came into our state. And we’ve had violence against women increase by 168 percent, particularly in the area of rape. We have 14-, 15- and 16-year-old girls that are willingly going into man camps and selling themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Man camps?
KANDI MOSSETT: We call them that because there are literally thousands of men living in these hovels. They’re like FEMA trailers or RV parks or wherever they can find space, that used to be a wheat field or a sunflower field, is now an oil-fracking operation. And so we’ve seen an increase greatly of crime and violence, drug abuse. I have buried two young girls, my friends, this last year, who got addicted to the heroin, because we now have organized crime. As far as the environmental toxins, we won’t even feel the effects for 20 years. And I’m so worried that at this COP21 my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter won’t have a say, but she will be experiencing the worst impacts. And it just doesn’t make any sense to me that this is the 21st COP and we are considered sacrifice zones in my community.
AMY GOODMAN: Kandi, you, yourself, are a cancer survivor?
KANDI MOSSETT: Yes. When I was going to school, when I was in college, I was diagnosed with a stage IV sarcoma tumor, which—I shouldn’t even be here today. When they diagnosed me, I had to wait for nearly a month so they could figure out what it was. And when they did, they said I was lucky that it wasn’t attached to my muscle or my bone. And so, I went through five surgeries. I have a huge scar as a result of that, and I always have to be worried that it could come back. But I’m here, and I do have friends that aren’t here, that didn’t survive their cancers, that are fighting cancer right now. And it’s obvious to me that it’s inextricably linked between health, climate and environment. And we’re dealing with it on the front lines.
AMY GOODMAN: Kandi, I want to ask you—there is a large indigenous civil society presence here.
KANDI MOSSETT: There is.
AMY GOODMAN: What kind of hope does that give you? What has the kind of organizing you’ve been doing here over the last two weeks mean? And who have you been organizing with?
KANDI MOSSETT: I’ve been spending a lot of my time on the outside. As the Indigenous Environmental Network, we have to have an inside-outside strategy. We feel like we have to be in here, because there’s a quote that goes around: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” And we’ve sort of felt like we need to be at the table, although we’re starting to get to the point where we want to denounce the entire COP process and not even validate it by participating, because every year for 21 years people have said, “It’s going to be a great agreement, we’re really excited for it,” and then, at the end, everybody feels this way—frustrated with the final text.
And so, what we’ve been doing is organizing nonviolent direct actions. We’ve been going out into the streets of Paris. We’ve been meeting with our Parisian brothers and sisters. And brothers and sisters of the Global North and South have been coming together to stand in solidarity with people from around the world to say, “We don’t care what’s in your text and written in black and white on paper. We’re going to take back the power in our communities by educating people outside with the reality of life, Mother Nature. We’re going to be outside feeling the sun on our face and the wind on our cheeks.” That is where it matters, not in this sterile place where there’s boxes that were built, where people were displaced here to make this COP21 happen. We’re going to be outside reconnecting with our Mother Earth, because when we care for her, she cares for us.