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LONG BEACH, Calif. — The Global Indigenous Council (GIC) continues to be at the forefront of tribal efforts to galvanize the Indigenous and allied BIPOC communities to “vote no” in the California recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Last week, GIC placed a striking and hard-hitting billboard on the 405 freeway in Long Beach, urging voters to allow Newsom to make good on his commitment to address the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) tragedy in the state by voting no on his recall.  

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President Biden got an unobstructed view of the billboard as several roads in and around Long Beach were closed Monday night to ensure the president’s safe and timely arrival at Long Beach City College, where he attended a rally to support Newsom.

A staggering 91 percent of known MMIW cases in California remain unsolved. Newsom’s home, the Bay Area, accounts for 16 percent of MMIW cases in the state.

“Endorsing candidates is not something we take lightly, but we concluded ‘vote no on the recall’ has massive implications for the Indigenous people of California,” Tom Rodgers, president of the Global Indigenous Council said. “The Newsom administration has taken some of the most significant steps in the country to heal a state’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, and to improve the quality of life for California’s Indigenous communities. Gov. Newsom has joined us on a path of enlightenment in what is now a shared journey of truth, cultural diversity, and respect.”

The GIC was the first Indigenous organization to endorse now President Joe Biden when his presidential primary campaign was on life-support prior to the Democratic Party’s Nevada caucuses in 2020.

The billboard features the nationally recognized imagery conceptualized by film director Rain, best-known for the critically acclaimed MMIW documentaries, Somebody’s Daughter and Say Her Name. Biden is featured in the new version of Somebody’s Daughter, which is set to premiere in Washington, DC in October. 

The Gabrielino-Tongva Nation has aligned with the GIC on the recall campaign. 

“In 1994, the State Assembly and State Senate of California officially recognized the Gabrielino as the aboriginal tribe of the Los Angeles Basin, and the Tribal territory encompasses the Channel Islands of Santa Catalina, San Nicholas, and San Clemente since time immemorial,” said Sandonne Goad, Chairwoman of the Gabrielino-Tongva Nation. “Vote No Recall!”

California has the largest Indigenous population in the country, with about 720,000 people identifying as Native American or Alaskan Native, and more than 100 federally recognized tribes.

Newsom took a bold step in 2019 toward healing the wounds of tribal people in California when he apologized for atrocities committed against Indigenous Nations over the course of two centuries. 

“It’s called a genocide. That’s what it was,” Newsom said at the time, in reference to the California exterminations. “No other way to describe it and that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books.” 

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Newsom established the Trust and Healing Council created to correct the record to accurately define the historical relationship between the state and California’s tribes.

In the wake of the 1849 gold rush, thousands of Indigenous women were forced into slavery in mining camps, many the victims of sex trafficking. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland recently described the MMIW tragedy as being present since the “dawn of colonization.” As a Member of Congress, Haaland supported the GIC’s groundbreaking national MMIW billboard campaign and federal legislative efforts.

“Gov. Newsom’s powerful words, spoken by too few leaders throughout the United States, gave clarity to the systematic atrocities against the state’s Indigenous population,” GIC’s Rodgers said. “Most leaders hide behind terms like ‘manifest destiny’ or ‘progress,’ but Gov. Newsom boldly and accurately called it genocide.”

Newsom has taken initial steps to address the MMIW tragedy in California, calling for tougher laws in the state and nationwide to protect at-risk Indigenous women and girls. The Humboldt County-based Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) has cataloged 1,900 MMIW cases in California. SBI’s data indicates that there are presently some 105 MMIW cases in northern California alone, and that statewide, MMIW cases are seven-times less likely to be solved. 

In 2019, nearly 5,600 Indigenous women were reported missing in the US, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. GIC believes those numbers are conservative and that the number is much higher due to underreporting and misidentification of victims’ race. The same issues exist in California.

“It is not coincidental that the rape and destruction of the Earth parallels the rape and murder of tribal women and girls. Look around you, we are at code red with both crises,” said film director Rain, who also serves as GIC’s executive director. “If people vote no on the recall, I’m confident Governor Newsom will take far-reaching executive action on the MMIW tragedy,” he said. 

Rain drafted the MMIW Executive Order recently enacted by Governor John Bel Edwards in Louisiana, currently the most expansive in the country.

A year-ago, GIC organized a collective of Indigenous organizations that took on ABC Studios over its “serious concerns” that primetime series Big Sky reflected “at best cultural insensitivity, and at worst, appropriation” by ignoring the staggering statistics that demonstrate Indigenous women are ten-times more likely to be the victims of sexual assault when compared to the general population, and that one-in-three Indigenous women will be the victims of rape in their lifetimes. The show is set in Montana, home to eight federally recognized tribes, but Big Sky cast non-Indigenous women as the show’s victims. ABC Studios acknowledged its error in judgment.

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Levi Rickert
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Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].