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Yurok leaders participate in week of events for MMIP awareness

Tribe Organizes MMIP Events in Weitchpec and Sacramento (Yurok Tribe photo)
Tribe Organizes MMIP Events in Weitchpec and Sacramento (Yurok Tribe photo)
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In the days leading up to the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP), Yurok Tribal leaders will be participating in a series of events at the California state capital to elevate tribally led efforts to resolve the ongoing crisis.

“We will not stop working on this issue until all of the tribal communities in California are safe,” Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe said. "I would like to thank Assemblymember James C. Ramos for tirelessly pursuing justice for MMIP victims, survivors and their families. We are making real progress.”

At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 2, Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James, California Assemblymember James C. Ramos and tribal leaders from across the state will be speaking at an MMIP news briefing at Capital Park in Sacramento. At the news briefing, tribal leaders and state representatives will highlight legislative successes, such as the recently passed Feather Alert bill, and next steps to address critical aspects of the crisis. The briefing will also include an overview of what will be discussed at a California Assembly Select Committee hearing on the topic later in the morning.


At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Chairman James, Yurok Chief Justice Abby Abinanti and Yurok Tribal Police Department Lieutenant Jacob Morris will be testifying at a California Assembly Select Committee on Native American Affairs hearing titled Not Invisible: California’s Work to Combat the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. The Yurok representatives will shine a spotlight on the difficulties that many California tribes face as a result of Public Law 280. Enacted in 1953, federal law granted 15 states, including California, criminal jurisdiction over Native Americans on reservations. They said the law prevents tribal police from holding violent criminals accountable. They said the law also severely limits the amount of federal funding available for law enforcement and Tribal Courts in Public Law 280 states, which further put indigenous people at risk, according to tribal officials.


On Wednesday, May 3, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., tribal leaders will take part in an MMIP Candlelight Vigil on the Capitol West Steps. Co-sponsored by the Yurok Tribe, the vigil will honor MMIP victims, survivors and their families. At the event, Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James, California Attorney General Rob Bonta and representatives from the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, together with a half dozen tribal leaders, will be offering remarks. The vigil will also include a video statement from California’s First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. The Yurok Tribe, Wilton Rancheria’s Kalte Crew and the Intertribal Bird Singers will perform cultural demonstrations before the candles are lit. Following the candle lighting and a moment of silence, the Tuolumne Me Wuk Dancers will sing an MMIP Honor Song. The Capitol building will be illuminated in red in recognition of MMIP.


“Everyone is invited to attend the vigil,” Yurok Chief Operations Officer Taralyn Ipiña said, who is the lead organizer of the event. “This is a collaborative effort to establish an opportunity for our people to grieve, heal and support each other within this space.”

At 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 4, there will be a MMIP Ceremony on the Assembly Floor. The California Assembly will present an MMIP resolution to tribal chairpersons. The resolution recognizes May as MMIP Month. For the first time, the Capital Dome will be illuminated with red lights for the whole week in recognition of the California’s missing and murdered indigenous people.

At 11 a.m. on Friday, May 5, the Yurok Tribal Court will facilitate a Flower Drop on the Weitchpec bridge to recognize those impacted by this crisis. At the event, Yurok Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction Coordinator Alanna Nulph, will be unveiling the Yurok Tribal Court’s new Search and Rescue (SAR) Drone Program. Nulph, a Yurok citizen and credentialed SAR drone pilot, operates remote-controlled aerial vehicles that are specially equipped to assist in search and rescue missions. Her primary drone has a sensor that can pick up body heat in steep, forested terrain or in the river. Once the person is located, the drone can deliver precise GPS coordinates to first responders on the ground. One of her drones is outfitted with a payload delivery system that is capable of carrying food, water and other critical resources to people who are waiting to be rescued. It can also shine a powerful light on the missing person to aid first responders. The SAR Drone Program is part of the Yurok Tribe’s comprehensive response to the MMIP crisis in Northern California.

In December of 2021, the Yurok Tribe declared an MMIP emergency following a spike in MMIP cases in the region. California has the fifth highest number of MMIP cases in the US and a majority of incidents occur in the northern part of the state, where the Yurok Tribe resides. The declaration mobilized a multidisciplinary team to confront the many aspects of this complex crisis. The Tribe formed a prosecutor’s office to hold perpetrators accountable and hired a policy analyst to advocate for legislation targeting systemic barriers. In August of 2022, the California legislature passed the Feather Alert bill. The Yurok Tribe-sponsored bill established a system to get the word out when Native people are reported missing under unusual circumstances or are at risk.

The Tribe also hired an investigator who is solely focused on MMIP cases. Earlier this year, the Yurok Tribe and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) launched a new MMIP pilot project, which is part of USMS’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative. The cooperative project brings together personnel from the Yurok Tribe, including the Yurok Tribal Police Department and Yurok Office of the Tribal Prosecutor, and USMS to share information, identify goals, and develop strategies for improving public safety for the Tribe, its citizens, and the broader community. On Feb. 7, 2023 the Yurok Tribe organized the first MMIP Day of Action at the California capitol. More than 500 tribal leaders, tribal citizens from all over California and MMIP survivors participated in the day of action. In addition, nearly a dozen democratic and republican state legislators attended the historic event.


This year, the Tribe also sponsored California Assembly Bill 273 (Protecting and Locating Foster Children Missing from Care). Introduced by Assemblymember Ramos, the bill will require counties and courts to notify Tribes, key family members and attorneys when a child is missing from foster care. Children missing from foster care are disproportionately represented in MMIP statistics. Lastly, the Tribe made a $200 million budget request to the State of California to combat the crisis. The proposal seeks funding for MMIP response plans and culturally informed prevention work in Northern, Central and Southern California.

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