Merced County Times Newspaper
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California steps up efforts to stem violence against Native Americans

State prepares to enact new Feather Alert system

Feather Alert – a public notification tool to combat an all too deadly epidemic – missing and murdered indigenous people — will be available in January to help law enforcement quickly notify the public about the disproportionate number of missing Native Americans and enlist their aid for timely leads to locate victims and prosecute suspects.

Recently, tribal leaders and others gathered to learn how the system will work and provide their input for effective implementation.

Assemblymembers James C. Ramos (D-Highland), Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) and Esmeralda Soria (D-Fresno) and representatives from the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Justice and local and tribal law enforcement participated in the almost day-long roundtable discussion to learn and ask questions about the Feather Alert authorized by AB 1314 which Ramos authored earlier this year.

The California Highway Patrol would activate the alert at the request of local law enforcement, and it would work much like an Amber Alert.

Ramos said, “I am gratified that the governor approved this bill to help stop the violence afflicting California’s Native American communities. 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. Creating an alert or advisory system was a top recommendation from tribal leaders in May to highlight this issue.” Ramos also noted that California, the state with the greatest population of Native Americans in the nation, is also among the states with the highest rates of reported cases of missing and murdered indigenous people.

Feather Alert Criteria

To activate the Feather Alert, the following criteria that must be met:

  • Missing person is an indigenous woman or an indigenous person.
  • Investigating law enforcement agency has utilized available local and tribal resources.
  • Local law enforcement agency determines that the person has gone missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstance.
  • Local law enforcement agency believes that the person is in danger because of age, health, mental or physical disability, or environment or weather conditions, that the person is in the company of a potentially dangerous person, or that there are other factors indicating that the person may be in peril.
  • Information is available that, if disseminated to the public, could assist in the safe recovery of the missing person.

A report by the Sovereign Bodies Institute indicated only nine percent of murders of indigenous women in California have ever been solved. At a May 4 hearing of the Select Committee on Native American Affairs, which Ramos chaired, tribal leaders urged legislators to take more urgent action to stem the tide of unsolved cases and provide more immediate support when suspected abductions or other acts of violence occur against California Indian people who suffer a disproportionate number of those crimes. Among other recommendations, witnesses at the hearing called for more immediate notification to the public and enlisting the aid of news outlets to help locate possible victims.

California Highway Patrol Commissioner Amanda Ray said, “As a nationally recognized leader in missing persons alerts, the California Highway Patrol remains committed to safely locating missing individuals by combining community awareness and caretaking with the most current and up-to-date technology available throughout the State of California.” She added, “The passage of Assembly Bill 1314 provides law enforcement with additional resources to ensure the safe return of missing indigenous persons, and most importantly, improves collaboration and strategic partnerships across local, state, and tribal communities.”

Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians Chairperson Janet K. Bill said, “California Assembly Bill 1314, establishing the Feather Alert for missing Native Americans, is the direct result of Indian Country’s call to action and our partnership with state legislators to begin to address the nationwide epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people. We as tribal people do not want to be known solely as another statistic but as the human beings we are — who deserve to be found, to be safe, and to be protected by our public safety systems.”