DOI: 10.1177/19427786231190426 ISSN: 1942-7786

Oil extraction and Indigenous women: Examining the necropolitics of the settler state in the Bakken region

Marie Chase, Adrienne Johnson
  • Philosophy
  • Geography, Planning and Development

Emerging research shows that the health and well-being of Indigenous women is increasingly jeopardized in areas close to oil extraction due to heightened violence and criminal behavior. Our empirical findings reveal how the oil industry has impacted one Indigenous reservation located in the Bakken region—an area experiencing a major “boom” in shale extraction activities. We find that sexual assault and violence against Indigenous women has increased due to three settler tactics: (1) gendered economic inequalities and tribal divisiveness entrenched by structural poverty and uneven oil-derived wealth distribution, (2) industrialized “man-camps” and “risky” behaviors associated with transient oil workers, and (3) confusing jurisdictional spatialities structured by overlapping tribal authority and federal law. Employing a Native feminist reading of Mbembé's necropolitics, we argue that the above tactics coalesce to form a spatial formation where Indigenous women are made vulnerable to death through the necropower of the settler state, and tribal governments are not able to criminally prosecute non-Native individuals involved in violent crimes on tribal lands. Multi-scalar pathways forward include support for Indigenous-led activism that enhances public awareness and efforts that protect the livelihoods and futures of all Indigenous peoples. The restoration of tribal sovereignty is also supported with the understanding that, unfortunately, this form of sovereignty continues to be highly circumscribed by the settler state.