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California Tribes Unite Around the MMIP Crisis

Feb 12, 2024 09:32AM ● By Annie Kerr

SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - The Yurok Tribe and Wilton Rancheria are sponsoring the second annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) Summit and Day of Action on February 12 and February 13 in Sacramento. 

“We are putting on these events to give a voice to the state’s missing and murdered Indigenous People and their families. For too long, we have suffered in silence as countless loved ones have been lost to the MMIP crisis,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “We have built much momentum since  last year’s summit and day of action, but we know there is a long road ahead of us. In California, Indigenous people continue to go missing and/or are murdered at higher rates than almost anywhere in the US. This is  not acceptable. In addition to giving a voice to those who can no longer speak, we are putting on these events  to ask lawmakers to stand with us and say, ‘no more, not on my watch.’” 

“Although we have increased awareness and resources to combat the MMIP epidemic, we are seeing  California trend the wrong way. Our number of unresolved cases has gone up instead of down. We must  continue to expand our efforts to prevent these cases from occurring and to do all we can to reverse the  current trend. This gathering of decision makers, tribes and others is essential to determine needed action. I  applaud the Yurok Tribe and Wilton Rancheria for sponsoring this initiative and never letting us forget the  families and lives affected by the MMIP epidemic,” added Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San  Bernardino). 

At the MMIP Summit and Day of Action, tribal leaders from across California, along with state and federal legislators and leaders, including California Assemblymember James C. Ramos, CA Attorney General Rob  Bonta and US Senator Alex Padilla, as well as law enforcement and families contending with unsolved murder  cases will advocate for solutions that target the crisis’s root causes.  

“It is an honor for Wilton Rancheria to join with the Yurok Tribe to host this important event. We proudly  stand with our brothers and sisters from across the state to not only bring awareness to the MMIP crisis but  to demand action from our local and state leaders,” said Wilton Rancheria Chairman, Jesus Tarango. “While progress has been made, there is so much work to do. Our hope that these two days are an  opportunity for our state elected officials to listen and learn from our people and they inspire funding and  legislative action for tribally led initiatives to help bring an end to this epidemic.” 

Compared to most states, Indigenous people are far less safe in California. In the US, California has the fifth  highest amount of MMIP cases, the vast majority of which involve young women and girls. Even worse, a  disproportionate number of the murders are unsolved, such as Nicole Smith’s case. In the early morning on  November 19, 2017, Nicole, a mother and member of the Manchester Band of the Pomo Indians, was  sleeping at her sister’s home on the Mendocino coast when a drive-by shooter shot several times at the  residence. One of the rounds hit Nicole and she perished a few minutes later. There were multiple young  children in the home and Nicole’s niece suffered bullet wound too, but she recovered. The perpetrator has yet  to face justice in this underreported case. Nicole, 32, left behind three young children, not to mention many  relatives and friends.  

The murders of Indigenous women, like Nicole and many others, are seven times less likely to be solved. In  California, more than 50 percent of the perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women are non-Indian,  according to an in-depth study conducted the Yurok Tribal Court.  

Today, there are at least 20 MMIP cases recorded every year in Northern California, but the actual number is  significantly higher. There are serious issues with the accuracy of data on cases involving missing and/or  murdered Indigenous people. California Attorney General Rob Bonta is currently working with tribes to  improve the quality of MMIP data. The Attorney General is also speaking at the MMIP Summit. 

The MMIP Summit starts at 8:30am. The informative event will include multiple panel discussions, starting  with commentary from MMIP survivors, families and advocates. During the second panel, titled “Justice &  Policy Issues: Challenges and Solutions to Address MMIP,” representatives from tribal and non-tribal justice  systems will report on successes and challenges they have faced in their efforts to arrest and prosecute those  who commit violence against Indigenous people. 

At noon, Attorney General Bonta will provide the Keynote Address, with an overview of MMIP in  California.  

"This event represents an opportunity to engage with one another, share knowledge about the MMIP crisis,  and learn how we can be better partners in justice. We must stand together to tackle what is happening across  jurisdictional lines, happening here and now in our own communities — the Missing and Murdered  Indigenous Peoples Crisis must end," said Attorney General Rob Bonta. "The history of this state is  intrinsically intertwined with the history of Native Peoples, people who have been here since time  immemorial. That’s why I’m proud to implement efforts to support public safety on tribal lands — including  studying challenges related to the reporting and identification of missing and murdered Native Americans, to  work alongside California tribal governments, families, and advocates to develop new guidance about the  MMIP Crisis; and proud to meet with tribes and Native peoples across our state, to ensure their voice is heard  at the California DOJ." 

The third panel, “Beyond Law Enforcement: Tribal Health, Housing, & Supporting Indian Families & to  Address MMIP” will include an analysis of housing and children’s policies that play a role in the MMIP crisis,  such as the Indian Child Welfare Act. There will be question and answer periods throughout the day. The  summit will wrap up with tribal leaders’ roundtable with lawmakers.  

The MMIP Day of Action will begin with a news briefing at 8:30am on Tuesday, February 13. Tribal leaders,  state legislators and MMIP survivors will participate in the briefing on the Capitol West Steps. Tribal leaders  will be issuing a call to improve the implementation of the Feather Alert bill. Since it was rolled out earlier  this year, tribes have encountered major issues with the administration of the notification system for missing or at-risk Indigenous people. For example, last summer, San Francisco police denied a Feather Alert request for Yurok citizen Danelle Ipiña-Vigil. She was later found, but not before she experienced severe trauma that  could have been avoided if she was located earlier. Tribes will be proposing amendments to the bill to prevent similar situations from happening in the future. The press conference will be livestreamed here:  https://www.facebook.com/TheYurokTribe

At 10:30am, US Senator Alex Padilla will kick off the Day of Action with an update on the federal  government’s work on the MMIP crisis. Tribes will also honor Senator Padilla for his work to address MMIP  at the federal level, including his successful efforts to get a federal study on Public Law 280, and his efforts to  increase justice funding for Tribes in PL-280 states. Passed in 1953 without tribal consent, PL 280 gave  criminal jurisdiction over tribal lands to several states, including California, but the bill did not provide  funding for state law enforcement to cover a much larger geographic area. 

An MMIP Walk will start at 12pm. There will be cultural demonstrations throughout the day, and again at  1:30pm before the event concludes at 2pm.  

The Yurok Tribe and Assemblymember Ramos sponsored the first annual MMIP Day of Action in February  of last year. The Tribe led the first MMIP Summit in October of 2022. These events catalyzed support for  critical legislation, such as the Feather Alert bill and Assembly Bill 44, which granted tribal law enforcement  and courts access to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS), a database  containing criminal records, court orders and other vital information.  

Tribes are currently advocating for a bill that would grant tribal police state peace officer status and the ability  to enforce California’s criminal laws. A similar law was introduced last year, but peace officer status was  removed from the bill’s language before it went to a vote. Tribes are working hard to ensure that the new bill,  AB 2138, becomes a law because it will help tribal police hold the perpetrators of MMIP cases accountable.  Tribes are also developing bills to address other critical facets of the crisis, including tribal housing legislation,  and recently proposed AB 2108, which protects children missing from foster care.  

The 2024 MMIP Summit and Day of Action are happening as the US Congress reviews the Not Invisible Act  Commission’s monumental “Not One More” report. Spearheaded by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the  report calls for a “decade of action and change” regarding MMIP.  

The MMIP Summit is happening from 8:30am to 4pm on Monday, February 12 at the SAFE  Convention Center (1401 K St, Sacramento, CA). The MMIP Day of Action will start at 8:30am the  following day on the West Steps of the California State Capitol building. To RSVP for the MMIP  Summit and Day of Action, please visit – https://MMIPSummit2024.eventbrite.com An RSVP is  not needed to participate in the MMIP Day of Action on Tuesday, February 13. Everyone is  welcome to attend. If you can’t make it, the summit and day of action will be livestreamed here: https://www.facebook.com/TheYurokTribe.   

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