- By Native News Online Staff
The Yurok Tribe recently hired California’s first-ever tribal law enforcement professional dedicated solely to investigating existing and new cases involving Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) in the state’s North Coast region.
MMIP Investigator Julia Oliveira (Wyandotte Tribe) brings more than two decades of law-enforcement experience working with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), where she worked in a variety of job positions, ranging from patrol deputy to school resource officer.
During her career, Oliveira conducted missing persons and child sexual abuse investigations. She continues to serve on HCSO’s Crisis Intervention Team and is its longest-serving member. For the last four years, Oliveira has led the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribal Police Department. She also occupies a leadership position within the United States Office of Violence Against Women ’s Task Force on Research on Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women.
As the tribe’s dedicated MMIP investigator, Oliveira will conduct inquiries into current and cold cases involving MMIP.
“Throughout the State of California, very few resources are allocated to cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people,” Oliveira said in a statement. “I was very excited when I saw the opportunity to be the person who is solely focused on finding missing Indigenous people."
Prior to accepting the MMIP Investigator position, Oliveira served on the Office of the Tribal Prosecutor’s MMIP Roundtable. The roundtable group meets on a regular basis to discuss solutions to the MMIP crisis and is currently composed of the following California tribes: Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Trinidad Rancheria, Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria and Quartz Valley Tribe. It is open to all tribes in the region.
“She has the ideal background for this important job,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, in a statement. James added that in addition to leading active investigations, Oliveria will work with on the tribe’s MMIP prevention efforts.
According to the CDC, murder is the third-leading cause of death for Indigenous women in the United States. With Native people going missing or murdered at a rate 2.5 times their share of the U.S. population, the outsized number of MMIPs has been declared an epidemic by tribal leaders, government officials and law-enforcement agencies. While there is no comprehensive data on the number of MMIPs in the United States, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center reported 5,203 missing Indigenous girls and women in 2021. California has the fifth-highest number of MMIP cases in the US.
The MMIP investigator position is funded by a $350,000 grant awarded to the Yurok Tribe by the San Manuel Band Of Mission Indians in January of this year. Additionally, the grant will support the creation of a database that will be employed to analyze patterns in missing person cases and identify potential perpetrators. As well, a portion of the grant award will be invested in billboard space to raise awareness about specific cases, and will fund the deployment of canine handlers, human remains detection dogs and ground penetrating radar when necessary.
Hiring Oliveira is the latest move in the tribe’s efforts to combat the MMIP crisis.
In December of 2021, the Yurok Tribe declared an MMIP emergency in response to a spike in MMIP cases in Northern California, including the disappearance of Hupa citizen Emmilee Risling, who was last seen on the Yurok Reservation on October 14, 2021. The declaration mobilized a multidisciplinary team to build the Tribe’s capacity to confront the many facets of the MMIP crisis. The Tribe formed the prosecutor’s office and later hired a policy analyst to advocate for targeted legislation at the state and federal levels.
In 2022, the Yurok Tribe sponsored California’s Feather Alert bill. The bill passed in August 2022 and established a system to alert the public when a Native person is reported missing under unusual circumstances or is at risk.
As well, in October of 2022, the Yurok Tribe hosted the first Statewide Tribal MMIP Summit. Nearly 300 tribal leaders, tribal police, impacted families, state legislators and law enforcement from across California attended the summit.
Earlier this year, the tribe made a $200 million budget request to the State of California to support MMIP response plans and culturally informed prevention work in the state.
Further, in February, the Yurok Tribe and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) announced a new MMIP pilot project as part of the 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 and its surrounding community.
And on Feb. 7 of this year, more than 500 tribal leaders, tribal citizens from all over California descended on the state capitol for the MMIP Day of Action, which was organized by the Yurok Tribe to educate lawmakers about MMIP and two proposed bills.
The bills — AB44 and AB273 — were both introduced by California Assembly Member James C. Ramos and sponsored by the Yurok Tribe. AB 44 seeks to grant tribal police state peace officer status and provide tribal law enforcement and tribal courts access to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS), which houses FBI and DMV-administered databases, criminal histories and many other essential records. AB273 will require counties and courts to notify Tribes, key family members and attorneys when a child is missing from foster care.
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