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Every Number is a Person 

Humboldt's missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two Spirit people

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Jessica Alva (Blackfeet, Yaqui and Nahua)

Heather Leann Cameron (Grande Ronde and Pit River Tribes)

Angela Mae Jeff (California Valley Miwok)

Sumi Juan (Hoopa Valley Tribe)

Jeanette Kamahele (Kanaka Maoli)

Andrea LaDeroute (Tolowa)

Alicia Lara (Tarahumara)

Angela McConnell (Hoopa Valley Tribe with Mohave, Yurok and Karuk ancestry)

Nick Patterson (Pit River Tribe)

Rachel Sloan (Hopland Rancheria)

Nicole Smith (Pomo)

Natasha Steele (Lytton Rancheria and Round Valley Tribes)

Melody St. Clair (Round Valley Tribes, Wintu)

Andrea "Chick" White (Yurok and Hupa)

These are the names of the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two Spirit people of Northern California featured in the recently released To' Kee Skuy' Soo Ney-Wo-Chek' (I will See You Again in a Good Way) Progress Report from the Yurok Tribe and Sovereign Bodies Institute. This report notes there are 165 documented MMIWG2 cases in California, making California the fifth highest number nationally. The report also notes: "Northern California outranks many states, and if it were a state, would be in the top 10, with 105 cases."

I was born and raised in Humboldt County and have grown up with the notion that we live "behind the Redwood Curtain," something that supposedly shields us from the violence and scariness of "big city life." I'm also an Indigenous woman, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe who is also Yurok and Karuk. For me, statistics like these are lived in my body and they remind me why I do the work I do. The stories we share, the histories we document, they are more than words on a page, and sometimes at night I watch my daughter sleep and think about how if anything happened to her I would never stop trying to find her. I've noticed Humboldt County doesn't really like to talk about the violence that plagues our rural region (ahem, anybody remember Murder Mountain?) and so our county tends to respond to these types of reports with continued disbelief, denial or even dismissal.

Our county has some reckoning to do with our continued dismissal of everyday violence against Black, Black Indigenous, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in this region. Think about everyday violence like comments on news stories or postings on social media that justify violence against us, history lessons and books that try to water down the attempted genocide of us or even the continued sales of land to cannabis industries that we know increase violence and trafficking in our region. Humboldt County history is made possible because of violence like the indiscriminate killing of Native peoples and the seizure and removal of Native peoples from their lands and homes in order to build some of the wealthiest land-owning families in the region.

In Humboldt County, women and children were taken while men were most often killed. The Act for the Government and Protection of Indians was a law passed in 1850 allowing Native American people to be forced into servitude. Under this law, Native people found loitering or children who were orphaned could be brought before a justice of the peace and put into "apprenticeship" with whomever could pay their fine. Settlers would raid villages and take women and children seemingly to put them into apprenticeship. Women disappeared from many of the historical records because they were forced to marry, forced to live as concubines or sold as sex slaves. They didn't document when Native women were forced into prostitution, so instead many were taken and never heard from again. When you look at the records of Indian people being sold into slavery in the mid 1800s in Humboldt County, what you see is that most of them are children ages 7-12 and most are girls.

Today we are forced to confront these types of statistics again, with Indigenous women and girls made vulnerable by a system that is not designed to protect them. And in Humboldt County we continue to uphold this system that exacerbates continued violence against Native women, girls and Two-Spirit people.

How?

First, laws don't protect Indigenous women, girls and Two-spirit people. Right now because of the Major Crimes Act and, in California, Public Law 280, a jurisdictional vacuum exists where Native people cannot pursue justice for violent crimes committed on Indian land. Native women are the most likely to be raped in the United States of America, even though we are less than 2 percent of the population. More than 80 percent of rapes are perpetuated by non-Native men but non-Native offenders are rarely prosecuted on tribal lands. This is because Native tribes do not have the jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native offenders who commit crimes on Native land and often the state or federal government, which do have the jurisdiction, do not prosecute. If you want to know more you should read The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting sexual violence in Native America by Sarah Deer (a Muscogee/Creek lawyer and McArthur "Genius Grant" winner).

Second, in Humboldt County, we continue to build and support industries that we know have connections to increased trafficking and violence against BIPOC. Recent studies that focus on extractive industries (like oil pipelines, mining or cannabis) have shown that these industries significantly increase the trafficking and sexual assault of women and girls, primarily Indigenous women and girls. For Humboldt County, this includes the cannabis industry. According to the research, if the industry (1) creates a rapid increase in population during certain periods of time, (2) is located in rural areas with often strained infrastructure for social services and law enforcement, and (3) is primarily located on rural lands that often surround reservation/Indian lands, then you see an increase in sexual violence that affects Native peoples because of location and also jurisdictional loopholes.

Humboldt County focuses development of the cannabis industry on economic and environmental factors, but one of the questions we need to ask is what happens when cannabis grows surround Native lands and yet the county and state have not set up the infrastructure to protect and support Native nations? Where is the funding from the county so that tribes can have additional support services? Where is the lobbying or policy intervention so tribes can prosecute non-Native offenders? Where is the funding from the county so tribes can purchase lands surrounding their reservations so landowners don't need to sell them to cannabis growers? I have led community discussions over the past year with the Native Women's Collective, Sovereign Bodies Institute and Two Feathers Native American Family Services, which resulted in a number of Humboldt County citizens sharing that they saw a clear connection between the cannabis industry and the trafficking of Native women and girls in our region. If you want to learn more about this watch Cannabis & Environmental Justice in Humboldt County with Dr. Kaitlin Reed (Yurok).

Native people are doing the work so we can intervene on policies and laws that continue to try to silence us. So if your instinct is to parse numbers, play devil's advocate or find some way out of this that doesn't include radical systemic change, then let's go back to the people, the women, their families and their children, and let's remember that every one of these numbers is a person. Someone who held their children when they cried, or someone who told bad jokes and laughed anyway, or someone who sang songs while they worked, or held hands with people they loved. Every one of these numbers is someone who is missed.

Survivors and families contributed to the report, sharing details, stories and remembrances of their loved ones, many of whom remain missing or have unsolved murder cases. The 146-page report is free and available for download from the Sovereign Bodies Institute. You should read it.

And remember:

Jessica Alva (Blackfeet, Yaqui and Nahua)

Heather Leann Cameron (Grande Ronde and Pit River Tribes)

Angela Mae Jeff (California Valley Miwok)

Sumi Juan (Hoopa Valley Tribe)

Jeanette Kamahele (Kanaka Maoli)

Andrea LaDeroute (Tolowa)

Alicia Lara (Tarahumara)

Angela McConnell (Hoopa Valley Tribe with Mohave, Yurok and Karuk ancestry)

Nick Patterson (Pit River Tribe)

Rachel Sloan (Hopland Rancheria)

Nicole Smith (Pomo)

Natasha Steele (Lytton Rancheria and Round Valley Tribes)

Melody St. Clair (Round Valley Tribes, Wintu)

Andrea "Chick" White (Yurok and Hupa)

Help me, Cutcha! Now I need something to do!

Give the land back. (I can't get into it all right now with you but you can watch "Eric Haas and Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy Radical Educator Speech Series" on YouTube if you want to know more.)

Contact Sovereign Bodies Institute and set up a special fund for families, children and future generations that supports their education, their dreams, their futures. Allow them to have the support they need to dream their futures.

Donate money so tribes can buy back lands surrounding their reservations instead of leaving them to be sold to extractive industries that put their people at risk. Contact the Native Cultures Fund at Humboldt Area Foundation for more information.

Tell the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors it needs to set up a special task force on trafficking and MMIW for Humboldt County for long-term solutions that include tribes and Native researchers. This needs to include special wrap-around services funding that can be provided through social service agencies and also by tribal nonprofits and departments.

Support Native organizations doing work in Humboldt County. Donate so they can continue youth outreach, youth engagement and building healing spaces. Some organizations to consider: Two Feathers Native American Family Services, Northern California Indian Development Council, Native Women's Collective, Native Cultures Fund and Seventh Generation Fund.

Cutcha Risling Baldy (she/her) is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University.

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