The FBI recently notified Mysti Babineau that — after 20 years — they had closed their missing persons case on her mother, who disappeared when she was just two. “So when it comes to losing a woman and not knowing where she is, that is incredibly close to my heart,” Babineau says.
Babineau is a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in northwestern Minnesota and has spent much of her life on the Leech Lake Reservation. When it comes to a missing loved one, she isn’t alone — almost anyone you speak with in tribal communities knows an Indigenous woman who has gone missing.
“This is something that has been happening in my community since the 1400s [since White settlers began colonizing North America],” Babineau says.
After her mom’s disappearance, Babineau entered the foster care system, and spent much of her childhood in homes across Minnesota. In middle school, she was adopted by an ex-girlfriend of her father. “She saved my life, but I also experienced a lot of horrific things that maybe I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t adopted into a Native family,” Babineau says.
When she was 12, Babineau’s grandmother was stabbed to death in front of her. The attacker then advanced upon her and her adoptive mother. She survived that encounter, stopping the knife with her hand. At 22, she was kidnapped and taken to St. Paul. “I was beaten. I was raped. And I fought and got away.”
Babineau’s survival story informs her day-to-day work as a water protector and climate justice organizer for the environmental group MN350, a Minnesota chapter of 350.org. Her fight feels urgent, as Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge Energy seeks to build one of the largest crude oil pipelines in the country through tribal land in Minnesota, including treaty territory where tribes hunt, fish, and gather wild rice. The pipeline, known as “Line 3,” will transport oil from the Alberta tar sand mines in Canada all the way to Wisconsin for processing in Midwest refineries. Oil…