News Release

Yurok Tribe

Today, the Yurok Tribal Court and the Sovereign Bodies Institute released the second progress report on a paradigm-shifting project aiming to establish a significantly more effective response to existing and future missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people (MMIWG2) cases in California.

The Yurok Tribal Court’s To’ Kee Skuy’ Soo Ney-Wo-Chek’ (I will see you again in a good way) Project report represents nearly two years of bringing together the voices of survivors, family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women & girls and two-spirit people, tribal court staff, and researchers to fight for justice and safety for Indigenous women and youth in California. The groundbreaking report contains a series of updates on the development of California’s first MMIWG2 database and the creation of a comprehensive protocol to address these complex cases.

“The goal of this project is to build tribe-centered systems of investigation and stronger circles of protection, so that deaths and disappearances of Indigenous people will be accounted for and someday prevented entirely,” said Yurok Chief Justice Abby Abinanti, who is also a former San Francisco Superior Court Judicial Officer. “As you will see in the report, we have made much progress toward achieving these objectives.”

Led by the Yurok Tribal Court, the To’ Kee Skuy’ Soo Ney-Wo-Chek’ Project’s year-two progress report focuses on five new priority areas, including: foster care & violence against youth, mental health impacts, intergenerational trauma, culturally informed ideas of justice and healing, and family and survivor centered justice and healing. Here is a copy of the full report.

In the last year, the number of MMIWG2 cases since 1900 increased from 165 to 183 in California, which is 1.3 times higher than the average number of cases per year. None of the new 18 cases have been resolved. Due to several factors, such as barriers to data collection, it is believed that these

statistics represent a small fraction of actual number of cases. “If the rate were applied to each year since 1900, it is likely there would be over 2,000 cases across California, not accounting for likely spikes due to slavery, massacres, forced removals, and boarding schools,” according to the report. Nearly 60% of the cases originated in Northern California, between San Francisco to the Oregon border. Of those cases, 22% are missing, 62% are murdered, and 16% are status unknown. As reflected in the year two report, the data represent thousands of people, the majority of whom were murdered. “It is impossible to quantify the impact of their loss, what they meant to their family and community, and all they could have contributed,” according to the authors of the report.

A trio of databases presently track missing persons cases, including the federal government’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), which until only recently did not have the capacity to include victims’ tribal affiliations, and to this day lacks such information for the majority of the cases in the database. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is equally flawed as is the State of California’s version of this digital tool. Through community-based data gathering practices, Sovereign Bodies Institute has been able to create the most thorough data source on MMIWG2 statewide and internationally, documenting the data points that are informed by partners such as impacted families and the Yurok Tribal Court.

Currently, 62% of all missing Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people in the state are not documented in any of the state and federal data repositories. Of the cases documented in the report, 41 involve mothers of children, who must carry the lifelong impact of the theft of their mother. In the words of Christina Lastra, daughter of Humboldt County MMIW Alicia Lara, “When is this going to stop? When are you going to recognize that we count? When are you going to speak the truth? When are we going to have closure? When are we going to have justice? What is it going to take?”

Most commonly, non-Indians perpetrate the murders and obductions of Native women, girls and two spirit people. Frequently, these crimes are committed far from tribal victims’ homes because the perpetrators intentionally capitalize on minimal multijurisdictional coordination. For example, California’s MMIWG2 victims represent 48 different tribes, and more than half (52%) of tribes are located far from the state. This crime takes place within a massive area with many political boundaries, which supports the call for a coordinated multijurisdictional response protocol. The Yurok Tribal Court’s procedure proposed would connect personnel and resources from tribal, federal and state courts, victim services as well as police and social services departments.

“There is an especially urgent need for more federal participation in these cases because so many involve multiple states and jurisdictions,” explained Judge Abinanti. “This holistic, multidisciplinary approach is required because families of victims need services in real-time and victims need assistance if or when they are able to make it home.”

Mentioned in the year-one report, additional advancements have been made in expanding concurrent jurisdiction arrangements, such as the joint Family Wellness Courts led by Yurok Chief Justice Abinanti and the presiding judges of the Del Norte County and Humboldt County Courts.

In the 2021 report, the To’ Kee Skuy’ Soo Ney-Wo-Chek’ Project team extended the scope of the data collection component of the project to include missing and murdered indigenous boys and men, who are also disproportionately represented in the statistics. Thirty-three cases in Northern California were selected as a preliminary sample. In year three, these cases and others will be fully analyzed, the results will be included in a final report on the project.

The Yurok Tribal Court initiated the To’ Kee Skuy’ Soo Ney-Wo-Chek’ Project to improve outcomes of MMIWG2 cases in the state and eventually the entire United States. The Project is a collaboration between the Yurok Tribal Court and Sovereign Bodies Institute. In this effort, the Court has contracted with Yurok tribal member Dr. Blythe K. George who holds a PhD in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard University and currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Merced. The US Department of Justice’s Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS) grant is the primary funding source for the three-year undertaking. A final report will be released in 2022 when the project is completed.

About Yurok Tribal Court

The Yurok Tribal Court is a branch of the tribal government. The main role of the Court is to apply and interpret Yurok laws to resolve disputes or disagreements that are brought before it. These matters can include civil disputes, child custody and support, divorce, civil infractions or code violations, guardianships of children, children in need of aid (child welfare), restraining orders, criminal, and probate matters. The Court also has various tribal programs to assist tribal community members who are involved in matters related to the application of the various justice systems including the various court system or who may be at risk of becoming involved.

About Sovereign Bodies Institute

Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) builds on Indigenous traditions of data gathering and knowledge transfer to create, disseminate, and put into action research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people. Sovereign Bodies Institute encourages families and survivors to contact the organization if they would like to be interviewed for the next publication as part of this multi-year project. Sovereign Bodies Institute also connects Indigenous MMIWG2 survivors as well as their families with support services and can be reached at mmiwdatabase@sovereign-bodies.org. For more information about Sovereign Bodies Institute, please visit sovereign-bodies.org or call (707) 335-6263.

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