Tribal leaders, local law enforcement, and lawmakers gathered in Northern California on Thursday to learn about Feather Alert, a statewide alert system for missing Native Americans.

Feather Alert is designed to help law enforcement quickly notify the public of missing Native Americans and enlist their help. The California Highway Patrol issues alerts to state residents via mobile phone alerts, social media, news media and displays them on highway reader boards — similar to the AMBER alert system that notifies the public when a minor has been abducted. 

The California Statewide Feather Alert Program was introduced in January in Assembly Bill 1314, authored by the state’s first and only Native American Assembly member, James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino). Thursday's event was held in Redwood Valley, Calif., and was the third in a series of events to acclimate local and tribal law enforcement to the alert system and address any questions or concerns they may have. 

The alert system is the latest in California’s efforts to improve the state’s response to the Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) crisis. 

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Native American communities experience high rates of assaults, abductions, and murder. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native women living on reservations are murdered at a rate ten times higher than the national average. Layered jurisdiction, lack of collaboration between law enforcement bodies, and systemic apathy have led to thousands of unsolved cases in Indian Country. While there is no comprehensive data on MMIP, the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates there are 4,200 unsolved MMIP cases. 

California, which has 100 sovereign nations and the largest Native American population in the nation, is among the states with the highest number of MMIPs. A report by the Sovereign Bodies Institute indicated only nine percent of murders of Indigenous women in California have ever been solved. 

In April, the Round Valley Indian Tribes, who participated in Thursday's Feather Alert event, declared a State of Emergency after two of their members were found murdered. The Yurok Tribe issued a similar declaration last year.

“It gets too easy to cite these staggering statistics,” Ramos said in a statement. “The Feather Alert will aid law enforcement and families in getting the word out quickly when a Native individual is missing or endangered by alerting the public in a broad and effective manner.”

 The MMIP crisis is exacerbated by systemic apathy and a jurisdictional web of federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement. Lawmakers hope the Feather Alert system will bridge the gaps in communication between law enforcement bodies — and save lives. 

“Mendocino County has long faced issues of communication for numerous reasons, including the rural and geographically challenging areas our communities are in,” 

Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall “Effective communications and strong partnerships with our communities will help us move forward with positive outcomes in our investigations. Providing information to the public in a timely manner strengthens partnerships with our communities and allows all of us to work together with a goal of public safety. The Feather Alert System will begin a process which helps bridge these gaps we have seen in the past.”

Feather Alert systems were enacted in Washington State and Colorado earlier this year. 

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