REDWOOD VALLEY—Today tribal leaders, local law enforcement and lawmakers gathered to learn how the a new tool – the Feather Alert – will work to help law enforcement quickly notify the public about missing Native Americans and enlist their aid. The law, AB 1314, which took effect in January was authored by Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino).
Assemblymembers Ramos and Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) and representatives from the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Justice and local and tribal law enforcement participated in a roundtable discussion about when and how the alert is activated. In April, the Round Valley Indian Tribes who participated in today’s event, declared a State of Emergency after two of their members were found murdered. The Yurok Tribe issued a similar declaration last year.
Between 1999 and 2019, homicide was the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. On reservations, the homicide rate for Native American women is 10 times the national average.
“It gets too easy to cite these staggering statistics,” 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 last year for dealing with the disproportionate number of missing Native Americans, particularly women and girls.” 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.
Wood observed, “I am here today to celebrate the implementation of the Feather Alert notification system. One life of a missing and murdered indigenous person is too many, and my hope is that immediate distribution of their missing status will help us solve these tragic occurrences and return people to their communities. Their lives are meaningful to me and they deserve our support.”
Diana Billy-Elliott, ASW, Vice Chairwoman of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians stated, “This is an important first step to addressing the MMIWP emergency response. The faster the notifications go out the quicker the response to save lives occurs. Without this alert there is valuable time lost, and we can’t afford any lost time when it comes to the lives of our Indigenous People.”
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said, “Mendocino County has long faced issues of communication for numerous reasons including the rural and geographically challenging areas our communities are in. Effective communications and strong partnerships with our communities will help us move forward with positive outcomes in our investigations. Providing information to the public in a timely manner strengthens partnerships with our communities and allows all of us to work together with a goal of public safety. The Feather Alert System will begin a process which helps bridge these gaps we have seen in the past.”
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. This year, California joined Washington State and Colorado in enacting similar notification systems.
Other California Public Alert Systems
In California, the Feather Alert joins these other special notifications overseen by the CHP:
- The AMBER Alert, which stands for America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response is used when children age 17 or younger have been abducted. It has been in use since 2002.
- The Blue Alert, approved in 2011, notifies the public when a suspect in the assault or killing of a police officer remains at large and the search is active.
- The Silver Alert, used when elderly, developmentally or cognitively-impaired persons are missing and are determined to be at-risk. Adopted as the top priority of the California Senior Legislature in October 2011, it was enacted through SB 1047, legislation introduced by state Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) and Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana). The bill was approved in 2012 and went into effect in 2013.
- The general endangered missing advisory is used when an individual is missing under unexplained or suspicious, and is believed to be in danger due to issues with age, physical and mental health issues, weather, being with a potentially dangerous person or other circumstances.
Assemblymember James C. Ramos proudly represents the 45th Assembly district which includes the Cities of Fontana, Highland, Mentone, Redlands, Rialto and San Bernardino. He is the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature. Ramos chairs the Assembly Committees on Rules.