Written by Tyler Hazard
It’s well-documented that factory farms are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color. However, Native communities are often neglected in that discussion, even though in some areas of the country they are 2.18 times more likely to be harmed by industrial pig farms than their white counterparts.
In the 2019 podcast, This Land, Oklahoma journalist and citizen of Cherokee Nation Rebecca Nagle recounts the systemic violence and oppression faced by the Five Tribes of Oklahoma, an exploration that carried profound weight as the Supreme Court deliberated on whether to affirm the rights of the tribes to the land that was promised them. In episode seven, Nagle identifies just how intensely the tribes are affected by expanding industrial poultry production:
"Over 200 new chicken houses have gone up in Northeastern Oklahoma in the past two years. The chicken houses in Cherokee Nation now produce over 140 thousand tons of chicken poop a year—and that’s just the amount farmers are reporting to the state...The chicken poop doesn’t stay in the houses. To get rid of it, the farmers spread it out over fields as fertilizer, putting even more of it into the air. Some days the smell is so bad, the local elementary school has to cancel recess."
I highly recommend listening to the full episode:
Proximity to these toxic facilities wreaks damage far beyond the playground: Numerous studies have found that the air and water pollution associated with factory farms increases the risk of asthma, miscarriage, infectious disease, and other conditions.
The concern for fence-line communities doesn’t just alarm researchers. In 2019, the American Public Health Association called on government officials to support a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms due to concern for those living near them. Looking ahead, Indigenous communities, particularly Alaskan Natives, will likely experience the brunt of the social impacts associated with the worsening climate crisis (such as food insecurity and forced relocation)—a catastrophe of which factory farming is a leading cause.
Outside of those health and environmental impacts, there are devastating cultural consequences for Native communities, too. As Nagle explains, the eutrophication of the Eastern Oklahoma creek system due to chicken litter pollution—and the resulting toxic algal blooms—often prevents indigenous folks from performing ceremonies central to their tribes’ cultures. Activists and legal scholars allege this violates Native citizens’ rights to freely exercise their religions under the First Amendment, though the argument has been scantly successful in court.
Understanding them is a key first step towards righting these institutional wrongs. Yet, it’s not enough to simply acknowledge these disproportionate structural impacts as we untangle our food production from factory farming. As we move towards a system that’s more compassionate, sustainable, and just—one that embraces regenerative farming—we must elevate and learn from those with historic knowledge of protecting and cultivating the land, long before it was stolen by European colonists.
Lakota People’s Law Project says it clearly: “Indigenous animal husbandry has been around for thousands of years without permanent desecration to the earth or depletion of animal populations; meanwhile, factory farming and capitalism’s insistence on competitive animal agriculture is slowly but surely destroying ecosystems planetwide.”
Fighting for those ecosystems—and the communities within them—is work we all must shoulder.
Compassion USA would like to acknowledge that this resource was written in Brooklyn, NY, the occupied ancestral lands of the Canarsee people, a Brooklyn tribe of Lenape. We at Compassion USA recognize their stewardship of this land and its waterways.
*Image Credit: Kelly Bostian/Tulsa World (Factory Farm) & Alex Wong/Getty Images (Activists)
|Tyler Hazard is the Public Engagement Manager at Compassion in World Farming USA. He holds a B.S. in Animal Science and Psychology, and an M.S. in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts University.|