- By Elyse Wild
The two-day event will take place on Feb. 12 and 13. It will examine and advocate for solutions that target the MMIP crisis’s root causes through panel discussions and commentary from MMIP survivors, families, and organizers.
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, examine solutions to the root cause of the issue.
The Yurok Tribe and Wilton Rancheria are sponsoring the event.
“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,” Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said in a statement.
The MMIP crisis is prevalent across the United States, with Indigenous peoples being murdered at a rate ten times the national average. Native American women comprise 2% of the total population of women in the United States. Homicide is the leading cause of death for Native women ages 10-24 and the fifth leading cause of death for Native women 25-34. While the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates there are 4,200 unsolved MMIP cases, the actual number is likely higher as there is no accurate count of how many Indigenous people go missing or are murdered annually.
Jurisdictional confusion, systemic limitation, and apathy leave many cases unsolved. Devasted families in Native communities are often left to look for their loved ones alone.
California has the fifth-highest amount of MMIP cases, the vast majority of which involve young women and girls. Today, at least 20 MMIP cases are recorded yearly in Northern California, but due to limitations in reporting, the actual number is suspected to be significantly higher.
The summit comes a month after California’s Assembly Select Committee on Native American Affairs held a hearing to examine the shortcomings of the Feather Alert, a statewide alert system for missing Indigenous People. At the hearing, it was revealed that while five Feather Alerts were requested in 2023, only two were accepted and issued. One of the rejected alerts was for a 14-year-old girl from the Pechanga Band of Indians who had a history of mental health and substance abuse issues. The girl was recovered alive after the Tribe issued an alert through their social media.
Congress is currently reviewing the "Not Invisible Act Commission’s Not One More” report, compiled from listening sessions across the Indian country with Native community members, law enforcement, advocates, victims, and families. Spearheaded by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the report calls for a “decade of action and change” regarding MMIP.
California Tribes are currently advocating for a bill, AB 2138, 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. If passed, the bill law will help tribal police hold the perpetrators of MMIP cases accountable.
'A long road ahead of us'
Last year’s MMIP Summit brought 500 Tribal leaders, community members and lawmakers to the capitol.
“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,” James said in a statement. “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.’”
The Summit starts at 8:30 am on Monday, February 12. The day’s 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.
Attorney General Rob Bonta will provide the keynote address at noon, with an overview of MMIP in California.
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 a round table between tribal leaders and lawmakers.
At 10:30 am on Tuesday, February 13, 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 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 12 pm. There will be cultural demonstrations throughout the day, and again at 1:30 pm before the event concludes at 2 pm.
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