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Yurok Tribe to host inaugural summit on missing and murdered indigenous people in California

Yurok Tribe emblem
Yurok Tribe emblem

The summit on October 4 will convene dozens of tribal leaders, state and federal lawmakers, and victim advocates for a series of presentations and discussions.

Research from the Yurok Tribal Court shows that California ranks fifth in the nation for cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP), with the majority of those cases being from Northern California, and Humboldt County in particular. Indigenous people are far more likely to experience violent crimes compared to other ethnicities, and more than 80 percent of Indigenous women experience violence in their lifetimes, according to the Association on American Indian Affairs.

Katherine Katcher, a policy advocate with the Yurok Tribe, hopes that participants will leave the summit with a clear plan to help address this problem.

"Building the relationship between advocates and tribal leaders is the only way that we can start to tackle these issues, which is together and in a coordinated, comprehensive, and holistic way. The response thus far from the federal and state government has been really disjointed," she said.

“The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people has touched every tribal citizen in California and throughout the United States. This has gone on long enough. The time for action is now,” Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James said in a press release. “The purpose of this summit is to develop a series of mutually agreeable actions that tribal, federal, and state stakeholders can take in the short- and long-term to protect Indigenous Californians.”

According to the press release, homicide is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women and girls, and in some tribal communities, Indigenous women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average. The Yurok Tribe declared a MMIP emergency in December 2021.

Katcher hopes the summit will serve as a call to action for the state to address this crisis.

"There's thousands of people who are still missing. There's never been the proper infrastructure set up. And without that infrastructure for tribes, it's really impossible to tackle," she said.

Katcher said the tribe has a variety of recommendations to help ameliorate the problem, including the creation of a statewide task force to do research on the issue and funding from the state and federal governments.

"Having a plan of action and commitments from tribal leaders and federal and state leaders together to work on this comprehensively in a coordinated fashion and to create robust solutions together that prioritize the state's first people, that's really the key objective of this summit," she said.

The summit will be held from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Arcata Community Center.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.