by Andres Felix and Ollie Hancock
On Oct. 4, The Yurok Tribal Council hosted the first inaugural Northern California Tribal Summit on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP). Tribal leaders from across the state, as well as government and State representatives, gathered in Goudi’ni (known as Arcata, California) to discuss the pressing issue of violence against indigenous communities, with a focus on Californian Tribes.
“The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people has touched every tribal citizen in California and throughout the United States. This has gone on long enough. The time for action is now,” said Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James. “The purpose of this summit is to develop a series of mutually agreeable actions that tribal, federal, and state stakeholders can take in the short- and long-term to protect Indigenous Californians.”
The National Crime Information Center reports 5,712 cases of missing Native women and girls since 2016. This contrasts with the U.S Department of Justice’s missing person database of just 116 cases reported. Complications in jurisdiction between state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement make it difficult to pursue justice in these cases. According to the FBI, Native Peoples totaled 1,496 out of the total 9,575 active end-of-year missing person cases across the United States in 2020. The movement has recently moved from referring to the movement as ‘Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’ to ‘Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.’
The summit panels were open to comments from members of the audience. Ronnie Hostler attended the summit to seek justice for his missing granddaughter Khadijah Britton. Britton of the Round Valley Indian Tribes went missing in 2018. Hostler expressed he was upset with the lack of urgency from Mendocino County about his missing granddaughter. Hostler recounted how Mendocino county Sgt. Matthew Kendall told him there was nothing more he could do to solve his granddaughter’s case.
“I asked Matt Kendall if he was looking for any resources, and he said ‘no,’” Hostler said. “I said what about the FBI, and he said ‘they can’t do any more than what we’ve already done.’ He started telling me, ‘why don’t you go to the [Bureau of Indian Affairs]?’ Then he said a few harsh words about the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
Chief Greg O’Rourke of the Yurok police department describes how public law 280 impedes tribal law enforcement.
“[Public Law 280] takes jurisdiction away from tribal law enforcement and hands it over to the state,” O’Rourke said. “It means reservations rely on state law enforcement to provide a quality response, a timely response to the reservations when somebody is reporting a crime or a call for service.”
Dr. Blythe George spoke in the Primer on MMIP & Systems Change panel. The panelists broke the systemic obstacles to addressing MMIP. The panel explained how violence and assault against native women and men began with colonization, genocide, slavery, racism, and the sexual objectification of Indigenous people.
“With this issue, you have to realize that some days are going to be so hard, and you don’t want to come to work because it’s gonna be the day you get a call and you know the person.” George then told a story of a mentor who went missing. That experience pushed her into this field.
“We have to realize how heavy the work is, even on the good days when we sit here together and we can see tangible next steps,” George said. “So please take care of yourselves after today. Hug each other hard and realize that tears are a necessary part of this work, but it’s time to do something.”
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