Industrial Camps and Indigenous Communities: Promoting Healthy Communities in Settings of Industrial Change

Indigenous women and children in remote communities are subject to a “risk pile up” related to many socioeconomic and historical factors. These populations may face negative consequences from remote construction camps, including increased rates of sexual assault and violence, addictions, sexually transmitted infections, and family violence as a result of the presence of industrial camps and transient work forces. Data from local RCMP detachments shows a 38% increase in sexual assaults during the first year of the construction phase of an industrial project, as well as an increase in sex work in areas where there is an increase in industrial traffic.

Remote camps are a part of the construction plan for most industrial projects in the north. Many remote construction camps already exist across northern British Columbia, and there are many more proposed.

A recent Maclean’s article used the polarizing term, “man camps,” to review research on industrial camps championed by Indigenous communities. Maclean’s news article: “Are ‘man camps’ that house pipeline construction workers a menace to Indigenous women?” made reference to the important work of Lake Babine Nation and Nak’azdli Whut’en related to the complex issue of industrial camps.

We strongly disagree with this inflammatory word choice – it has resulted in men feeling they have to defend themselves, and women feeling they are not supported. It does nothing to advance the understanding of the issue.

In 2016, Indigenous-led research in northern BC focused on reviewing the impacts and benefits of siting industrial camps close to small and already vulnerable communities. Indigenous women—leaders within their communities of Lake Babine Nation and Nak’azdli Whut’en—initiated the study to identify concerns expressed during the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Pipeline review process.

Through a collaborative process that included interviews with community members, Firelight supported research to generate strategies, policies and programs for municipalities, companies, Indigenous communities, and the BC Government to implement for the protection of women, youth and communities. Certainly, our research reviewed what at times is a hyper-masculine context in construction camps; however, our intent was to identify wellness strategies for communities and camps. Polarizing the discussion with terms like “man camps” is not helpful for the women and families who are most affected by these camps. What we need to do is look for solutions.

Following the “Industrial Camps and Indigenous Communities” report released in early 2017, the research has led to many different outcomes—including engagement within various organizations and governments throughout Canada, new positions within the communities to prepare emergency response plans, and a commitment from the Government of BC to address the proposed recommendations through a Cross-Ministerial working group. This working group is set to respond to the report this summer. We look forward to seeing the working group implement positive solutions for women and children to reduce the risks associated with remote industrial camps.

The Maclean’s article is available here.

The full Firelight 2017 report is available here.