Man-camps for oil, timber, mining… are “wretched hives of scum and villianry”? Reflections on resource extraction.

Jul 7, 2018 8: 44 pm

Want to understand the brutality at Standing Rock? This banal evil has deep roots in extractive industries..

The problems with the kind of work and other conditions in the “oil patch” that many Albertans (and other regions in both Canada and the USA – indeed all over the world) have ignored. A “wretched hive of scum and villainy” describes many work camps at fracking sites – and parts of Fort McMurray as well.

Sexual predation, trafficking, and prostitution are always seen in association with zones of extractive industries, and tend also to be a feature that developed with socio-economic stratification.. Like slavery, sexual serfdom and economic serfdom are by-products of the devaluation of some human lives.

This photo illustrates a man camp from an article “Pipeline ‘man camps’ loom over B.C.’s Highway of Tears | National Observer

The history of mining, logging, commercial fishing and state level army and navy and “merchant marine” have all been associated with massive numbers of men concentrated together for long periods of time, giving rise to a set of shady practices. Gambling “dens”, drug and alcohol venders, prostitution and sexual exploitation of both female and male minors and – sadly, local minorities like the indigenous – have all been the outcome of industrial processes recently unleashed on a massive scale – mostly to make a tiny minority of “investors” rich. Very rich.

If you want to blame the political left for decriminalizing homosexuality and “kink” between consenting adults, it is to the political right that you must look for the source of softening attitudes toward sexual predation and abuse of various forms.

Glamourizing or even normalizing pedophilia, bondage, prostitution, and sexual trafficking benefits one main segment of society, and it is not those whose bodies get penetrated. It is not even, ultimately, benefitting those who do the penetrating… it is those who set things up so masses of human beings live lives bent to the will of implacable hierarchy, coercion, and even, sadly, hope of something better.

These are the masters who own the penetrators, people who, mollified by their uniforms and sense of belonging to the bosses of the world, who are on the road to obedient dehumanizing and genocide… We have reason to be disgusted and even terrified. “….Man camps are temporary housing facilities constructed for predominantly male workers on resource development projects in the oil, pipeline, mining, hydroelectric, and forestry industries. Reports show a direct correlation between these encampments and violence against women.

Located on Indigenous territories, away from cities, and often in close proximity to Indigenous communities, resource projects bring an influx of mostly non-Indigenous, …male workers who come to the territory to profit from the resource economy, in some cases more than doubling the local population. Sometimes called “work camps,” “industrial camps,” or more commonly, “man camps,” large-scale facilities are set up to house this “shadow population” of transient men.

Man camp accommodations can range from RVs and trailers, to lodges, to barracks-style portables. While some are designed to be company-regulated, self-sufficient “communities,” with dining, laundry, and recreational facilities, communities have also reported undocumented, unregulated camps, on land rented out by local ranchers or farmers.

“Camp culture” has been reported to exacerbate isolation, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, misogyny, and racism among the men living there. Away from family, friends, and social supports, these men face stressful, difficult, and potentially dangerous working conditions, including long hours, shift work, and ‘two-week in, two-week out’ work schedules. In this environment, and with heightened disposable incomes, increased substance abuse is well documented. Amidst a culture of “hyper-masculinity, sexism, and apathy towards self-care” direct and indirect impacts shift onto women, children, and two-spirit people.

Impacts on women include higher levels of sexual assault and harassment, and family and domestic violence. Increased gender inequality as a result of high wages for resource sector workers that drive up food and housing prices, while straining community services put women and two-spirit people into even more economically precarious situations where they are increasingly dependent on male partners and family members. Meanwhile, environmental assessments of resource projects in Canada have consistently failed to consider the impacts on Indigenous women. However, research, the media, and communities have become increasingly vocal about the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women, children, and two spirits as a result of the colonial capitalist resource sector…”

…The rapid industrialization of North America’s countryside has brought a litany of big city problems to rural America. While critics accuse frackers of fouling air, drinking water, and farmland with swamp gas and carcinogens; prostitution, methamphetamine, and sexual crime have stalked drilling operations.

“There’s like 80 guys for every woman,” said an industry veteran who has watched a rising sprawl of trailer parks, dive bars, and strip clubs consume the North Dakota prairie in recent years. “A friend of mine brought his wife here with him. If he turns his back on her at Walmart, there are guys talking to her when he returns.”

To fill the gap in available housing for a surging transient workforce, company-housing units—known as “man camps”—have sprung up on the outskirts of once meager population centers. It’s work hard, play hard. You are 7.6 times more likely to die working on an oil or gas rig than in any other industry, so it’s understandable that when payday comes, these guys want to burn off steam. Unfortunately for many small towns around the country, a fracking worker’s idea of fun can be a bit debauched…”


Drugs, gambling, prostitution, and even sexual trafficking have all been swept under the rug. If ever there was a hot potato that most authorities do NOT want to handle, it is the relationship between extraction industries (not just oil either) and criminal activity – whether it is drug gangs, human trafficking for sex, domestic violence, break-ins, or murder rates.

When these extractive industries locate mostly male labourers in remoter locations, where indigenous reserves are often the nearest settlement, the results are not just occasional employment of “locals” but also the disappearance and even murder of local women… and men. “Former Rosebud Sioux Tribe Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses took a temporary job working in the Bakken Region near Newtown, North Dakota. This Bakken Basin stretches from Montana to North Dakota and it is rich in shale oil supplies. She began work in June of last year until October of the same year. It was her first experience with Man Camps… This seasoned professional would be in for a rude surprise.


“When I first got there some of the things they talked about, in any of these areas, was they told the men ‘Don’t go out and party. Don’t get drunk and pass out. Because you’re going to get raped,” she said without hesitation.


It’s not exactly something you would expect to hear from a workers’ camp but these places are not exactly your ordinary laborers’ camps. The depth of depravity and dubious behavior are commonplace in these so-called Man Camps… 

There are identifiable variables that remain constant: These oil workers usually come from desperate conditions. These workers usually have a family they have left elsewhere so they are not looking to start new relations. These workers are paid an excessive amount of money. These workers are well aware their employment is only temporary. These workers know they are living in a remote environment where law enforcement is already stretched beyond its limits and the temptation for criminal behavior is very strong. Unfortunately, most of America still cannot comprehend this information.


“Sexual assaults on the male population has increased by 75% in that area,” she continued. That kind of statistic makes maximum security prisons look like the minor league. “One of the things we ran into while working up there was a 15 year old boy had gone missing. He was found in one of the Man Camps with one of the oil workers. They were passing him around from trailer to trailer.”


… Everyone has heard by now of the missing school teacher that was kidnapped as she was out jogging, repeatedly sexually assaulted, and murdered near one of these Man Camps. The age of the Man Camp victims varies. The assailants are not necessarily looking for male and female adults. They are also going after little girls.

“We found a crying, naked, four year old girl running down one of the roads right outside of the Man Camp. She had been sexually assaulted.”



There has been a significant rise in prostitution, gambling, and organized crime in these Man Camps too. The oil workers enjoy being compensated at salaries far above that of the average American blue collar worker.


“…This former tribal police chief’s first experience talking with prostitutes that cater to Man Camps came here on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. She pulled over two vans heading out of town. They were filled with female passengers, again, of varying ages. They were heading in the direction of the Man Camps. One of the brazen occupants declared outright to this officer, “Well, you know why we are going up there.”

She spoke with local Indians that said they used to frequent their casino but they stopped. Things had changed so much that a large number of locals dare not venture outside at night. There are strangers everywhere. Again, this is coming from a small town where most of its population is Native American and everyone had known each other’s first names and origin. Now it is hardly recognizable. Businesses were forced to open only to be shuttered later. Trash and debris has increased. Violence of all types has surged and the beauty of the land has been replaced with heavy construction vehicles and the destruction of lands once referred to as God’s Country. …Meth has been seen as having destructive effects on Indian communities before but now there are new drugs filtering onto Indian reservations from these Man Camps…”

There is a new drug called Crocus. When you ingest it your skin boils from the inside-out. It leaves you with permanent scars on the surface of your skin that resembles the scales of a crocodile. It will literally eat your feet off, eat your limbs off. It’s horrible. That’s been introduced up there and it is more addictive than heroin. The drug trade is rampant up there.


The sex offenders are very prevalent. “We found thirteen sex offenders in one Man Camp and that Man Camp is found directly behind the tribal casino. Our supervisors would tell us “Watch your kids. Don’t let them run through there.” It leads the common Rosebud resident to ask if we have enough police officers to cover the proposed Man Camp being built nearby the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. She was not hesitant to argue: “No we do not have enough members on the police force. We barely have enough people to cover our [Indian] reservation right now. If you were around for the first week of January we had a double-homicide, we had unattended deaths, we had shootings, we had a major car accident, and that’s just in one week…. I don’t know how we are going to deal with that just yet. We are overwhelmed as is stands right now. Once the Man Camp moves in…” Basically, it’s not a future everyone wants to see.”

A response that both operations in North Dakota and Alberta have taken to these problems is the construction of ‘man-camps’, or small concentrated areas of mostly men living in dorm or camp like conditions. Their presence in the community along with general population growth causes escalated crime, and law enforcement is having a difficult time managing the chaos. The disenfranchised First Nations people also commit crimes due to loss of hope.

Violent crime is particularly concerning in boom towns. An often underrepresented demographic, women experience more incidences related to violent crime and domestic violence as the population of their towns increase.

The publication “Breaking Ground: Women, Oil, and Climate Change in Alberta and British Columbia” written by the Nobel Women’s Initiative offers a rare glimpse into the lives of women directly affected by the tar sands, gathering data from a delegation to discuss the topic. The general sentiment of women at this delegation in regards to domestic violence and violence is grim.”

“…Violence continues in North Dakota outside the reservations. “Rural North Dakota’s Oil Boom and Its Impact on Social Services” by Bret A. Weber, Julia Geigle, and Carenlee Barkdull is a study that includes a focus group of mostly women (65%) to find out resident’s most pressing issues. Then, the researchers compiled statistics to support the concerns they had. … The authors summarized “Although it would be a mistake to assume cause and effect in relation to the oil boom and these increases in domestic violence, the literature on boom communities suggests that this is not atypical.”” Then worse things become more probable. What is worse than sexual trafficking and abuse, violence against women and children, prostitution, drugs, alcohol and gambling? Genocide.
“Dehumanization; it is the first step to war. Long before the tanks roll onto ships, or planes fly overhead, propaganda strips the enemy of their humanity. The simplest way to dehumanize is to demonize. The Morton County Sheriff and local press are knowingly and calculatingly taking aim at the safety of the Standing Rock Water Protectors’ by slowly tainting the perception of their character and stripping them of their humanity.”

On October 16, 2016, the Morton County Sheriff published on their Facebook page an article from with the headline “Butchered and missing livestock reported near Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp” The article connected the Standing Rock Water Protector camps to 30 missing cows, and the deaths of four cows, three bison and a saddle horse by saying it happened near the camps.”


…With just over a day to go before the evacuation deadline arrives at North Dakota’s Oceti Sakowin camp, protesters at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation have issued a plea: Come help — now.

In a viral video shared by social justice journalist Shaun King on Monday, a group of indigenous women remind viewers that demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline are about much more than a single issue. They’re about clean water, police brutality, treaty rights and the rights of future generations…”


Here is a sample of some of the other research work that has been done:
Amnesty International (2016). Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Gender, Indigenous Rights, And Energy Development in Northeast British Columbia, Canada:
Amnesty International (2017). The Point of No Return; The Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada Threatened by the Site C Dam:
Clarice Eckford and Jillian Wagg for The Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society (2014). The Peace Project: Gender Based Analysis of Violence against Women and Girls in Fort St. John:
The Firelight Group with Lake Babine Nation and Nak’azdli Whut’en (2017). Indigenous Communities and Industrial Camps; Promoting Healthy Communities in Settings of Industrial Change:
Honour the Earth. Man Camps Fact Sheet; Chasing Out the Specter of Man Camps:
Karina Csyzewski and Frank Tester for the Canadian Women’s Foundation (2014). The Impact of Resource Extraction on Inuit Women and Families in Qamani-tuaq, Nunavut Territory:
Linda Archibald and Mary Crnkovich for Status of Women Canada (1999). If Gender Mattered: A Case Study of Inuit Women, Land Claims and the Voisey’s Bay Nickel Project:
Mining Watch (2014). Overburdened: understanding the impacts of mineral extraction on women’s health in a mining community:
The Mokami Status of Women Council and FemNorthNet (2011). Out of the Rhetoric and Into the Reality of Local Women’s Lives; Submission to the Environmental Assessment Panel on the Lower Churchill Hydro Development:
Victoria Sweet (2014). Extracting More Than Resources: Human Security and Arctic Indigenous Women:
Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network (2016). Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence:
Photos and videos:
Slate, photos by Kyle Cassidy. “Inside the Temporary Homes of North Dakota Oil Workers”:
Associated Press. “Video Essay: Life in an Oil Field ‘Man Camp’”: A NEW FILM EXAMINES SEXUAL VIOLENCE AS A FEATURE OF THE BAKKEN OIL BOOM (…“In her film “Nuuca,” Michelle Latimer explores the traits of the Bakken oil boom through the eyes of a young woman who grew up on the reservation. Some of the boom’s features are obvious: the cylinder of the derrick creaking as it pumps in and out of the earth, tanks full of crude oil buzzing with electricity, pipes rusting in a field, gas flares, and huge semi-trucks speeding down country roads, one after another.
But Latimer explores attributes of the boom that go beyond the infrastructure: rising rates of sexual violence, women being bought and sold, and daily harassment by transient male oil workers.
The film raises questions: Should crime and sexual violence be seen as a feature of the oil industry, like an oil derrick? Should women’s fear be considered another kind of fossil fuel pollution, akin to carbon emissions and oil spills?..”
In the News:
The Atlantic (2013). “On Indian Land, Criminals Can Get Away With Almost Anything”:
Huffington Post (Oct 5, 2013. “Man Camps and Predator Economics Threaten Heartland Native Communities”:
Indian Country Today (Aug 28 2013). “Brave Heart Women Fight to Ban Man-Camps, Which Bring Rape and Abuse”:
Indian Country Today (Jan 27 2014). “Will Keystone XL Pipeline Pump Sexual Violence Into South Dakota?”:
Lakota Country Times (2014). “Firsthand Account of Man Camp in North Dakota from Local Tribal Cop”:
Native News Online (Jan 21 2014). “UN Special Rapporteur: Oil, Gas & Mining Operations Brings Increased Sexual Violence”:
The Toronto Star (April 3 2016). “Fort St. John ‘a dangerous place for our women,’ indigenous activist says”:

Just yesterday, May 5th, a report appeared on the research of Brandi Moran, “Pipelines, man camps and murdered Indigenous women in Canada: In Canada, resource extraction is not only endangering the land – but the lives of Indigenous women.”
Check it out further…

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