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Rising Waters, Rising Threats: The Human Trafficking of Indigenous Women in the Circumpolar Region of the United States and Canada

In: The Yearbook of Polar Law Online
Author:
Victoria Sweet
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Among indigenous people around the world, human trafficking is taking a tremendous toll. While trafficking is not an exclusively indigenous issue, disproportionately large numbers of indigenous people, particularly women, are modern trafficking victims. In Canada, several groups concerned about human trafficking have conducted studies primarily focused on the sex trade because many sex workers are actually trafficking victims under both domestic and international legal standards. These studies found that First Nations women and youth represent between 70 and 90% of the visible sex trade in areas where the Aboriginal population is less than 10%. Very few comparable studies have been conducted in the United States, but studies in both Minnesota and Alaska found similar statistics among U.S. indigenous women.

With the current interest in resource extraction, and other opportunities in the warming Arctic, people from outside regions are traveling north in growing numbers. This rise in outside interactions increases the risk that the indigenous women may be trafficked. Recent crime reports from areas that have had an influx of outsiders such as Williston, North Dakota, U.S. and Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, both part of the new oil boom, demonstrate the potential risks that any group faces when people with no community accountability enter an area. The combination of development in rural locations, the demographic shift of outsiders moving to the north, and the lack of close monitoring in this circumpolar area is a potential recipe for disaster for indigenous women in the region. This paper suggests that in order to protect indigenous women, countries and indigenous nations must acknowledge this risk and plan for ways to mitigate risk factors.

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