- Maria L. Lopez
COARSEGOLD—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 – and today 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. 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.
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.
“As we look to the bill taking effect at the start of the new year, we are singularly focused as a collaborating partner with the State on ensuring that the Feather Alert will be implemented as the stakeholders intended - to serve as a powerful tool that will keep all Tribal communities safe. Mich Gayis (Thank you) to Governor Newsom, to First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and to Assemblymember Ramos for being forces of positive change, and for working to improve the lives of our Tribal Communities.”
Chairman Joe James of the Yurok Tribe said, “I sincerely thank Assembly Member Ramos for taking action to address the MMIP crisis in California. I am grateful for the opportunity to provide input on the implementation of the new Feather Alert system. Throughout the state, the new system will significantly improve outcomes in cases involving missing indigenous people.”
Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Chairwoman Regina Cuellar stated, “It was incredibly rewarding to see the Feather Alert bill passed. We look forward to the work ahead to ensure successful implementation. We have the deepest gratitude for the commitment of Commissioner Amanda Ray and the men and women of the California Highway Patrol who are tasked with making certain that the tribal voice is heard. This consultation with tribes is an excellent example of the collaboration essential to successful outcomes. The Feather Alert would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication from everyone here today. Special thanks to Assemblymember James Ramos.”
AB 1314 Sponsors and Supporters
AB 1314 was sponsored by the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians and the Tachi Santa Rosa Racheria. In addition to the San Manuel and Yurok support, other supporters include the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, California State Sheriff’s Association, California Tribal Families Coalition, Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla Cupeno Indians, Torrez Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, California Consortium for Urban Indian Health and California Tribal Business Alliance.
The proposal received overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature. Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) are joint authors and co-authors are Assemblymembers Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), Lisa Calderon (D-Whittier), Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), Mike Gipson (D-Carson), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles), Luz Rivas (D-San Fernando), Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), and Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). Senators Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara), Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Redlands) and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) are also authors.
Assemblymember James C. Ramos proudly represents the 45th Assembly district which includes Fontana, Highland, Mentone, Redlands, Rialto and San Bernardino. He is the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature. He chairs the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.