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Local tribes, state legislators work to combat MMIP crisis this MMIP Awareness Month

State Assemblyman James Ramos (FILE)
State Assemblyman James Ramos (FILE)
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This month, as hundreds of indigenous people marched, prayed and sang to raise awareness of their missing and murdered friends, relatives and fellow tribe members, the question has remained: why is this happening and what can be done to stop it?

In an attempt to answer the first part of this question, North Coast News spoke with dozens of tribal members, law enforcement personnel and legislators, and there doesn't appear to be one consistent reason for why indigenous people go missing and are murdered at such disproportionate rates.

However, one issue that came up in multiple conversations is Public Law 280.

"In Public Law 280, the sheriff is compelled to enforce laws on the tribe," Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said.

The law exists in six states, including California. As a result, California tribes are forced to rely on the county to enforce state law on their reservations.

"Now you have county sheriffs, local jurisdictions that are now invested to provide public safety with a lack of resources or funding," Assemblyman James Ramos said.

For many tribes in rural areas, this becomes even more of an issue.

"Those response times have been an issue my entire career at the Sheriff's Office here," Kendall said.

To address this issue, some local sheriff's offices, including Humboldt County, are cross-deputizing tribal police officers so they can have the status of a deputy, while still being a part of tribal law enforcement.

Similarly, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office is offering a bonus for a deputy position in Covelo where the Round Valley Indian Tribes reservation is located to better respond to crime there.

"This shouldn't be left to California's first people and tribal governments that are there to have to be creative here in the year 2023 for public safety," Ramos said.

That's why in 2019, Ramos introduced Assembly Bill 44.

"I personally support, and area chiefs also support that bill. We want to see tribal police be recognized as state peace officers," Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said.

On May 19, A.B. passed in the State Assembly. It is now headed to the State Senate.

But of course, passing the bill is just one small step in addressing the many factors that have caused and continue to contribute to the MMIP crisis in California.

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"This is just the beginning, the tip of the iceberg, to bring this issue full force and bring awareness to it," Ramos said.

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