Rebecca Clarren is a journalist based in Portland, Oregon. Her journalism, for which she has won the Hillman Prize, an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship, and nine grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, has appeared in such publications as MotherJones, High Country News, The Nation, and Salon.com. Her first novel, Kickdown (Sky Horse Press, 2018), was shortlisted for the PEN/Bellwether Prize.
Of the estimated 3.5 million reported oil and gas wells across North America, no federal agency or national organization chronicles exactly how many are abandoned, no longer producing but not properly shut down. Studies show that chemicals from these “unplugged” wells cause environmental side effects and are linked to health risks, which directly affects those who live on the land. Many of these wells are on Indian land, where families are tied to the land for millennia and have no real option to leave.
I was on deadline, with all of the accompanying signs of the d-word: sweaty palms, clenched gut, my children watching too much television while I worked overtime, when I realized, with two days until the issue closed, I was facing an intractable roadblock. To ensure the accuracy of one sentence in the story, I would have to visit each federally recognized Native American tribe and Alaska Native community in the United States. That’s 567 tribes in nearly as many locations. The article, “Reckoning with the ‘Native Harvey Weinsteins,’” which will be published tomorrow, is about the unique circumstances that make it difficult for tribal members who experience sex discrimination in Indian Country to report and end abuse. Part of the issue is that as a nod to tribal sovereignty, Congress has exempted tribes from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the law that prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and assault, in the workplace. Tribes can of course write their own codes, filling this void with culturally appropriate laws that protect tribal employees and as part of my research I had tried to determine just how many tribes had done so.
When indigenous women experience harassment at work, gaps in tribal law leave them in a precarious grey area. In the aftermath of harassment, coming forward puts Native people at great personal risk, and forces a perceived choice between protecting their personal safety or protecting their tribe.
Stress is the bedfellow of serious journalism – and for good reason
As a young reporter I was taught about the five W’s of journalism: Who, what, where, when and why. Nearly 20 years into my career, I’ve realized that another “W” word is critical to doing my job: worry. Take, for example, the recent story I wrote for InvestigateWest, in partnership with The Nation. The story tries to answer the question of why the Goldwater Institute, a conservative Republican think tank in Arizona was trying to use a series of lawsuits to dismantle the Indian Child Welfare Act, a landmark law created to keep Indian families intact. The article follows the people involved, the lawyers who are bringing the lawsuits, and the tribal members who would feel its impact.
A Right-Wing Think Tank Is Trying to Bring Down the Indian Child Welfare Act: Evangelical and anti-Indian-sovereignty groups, adoption advocates, and conservative organizations like the Cato Institute have united behind the Goldwater Institute in attempts to dismantle aspects of a law intended to protect Native American children. Many tribal members fear that if Goldwater is successful, it could undermine the legal scaffolding of Native American self-determination.