Sheriff, deputy, SIR attend event to promote awareness of missing and murdered indigenous people

Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon speaks at last weekend’s Missing in California Indian Country event. Photo submitted

Lassen County Sheriff Growdon, Deputy Tim Heffley and representatives from the Susanville Indian Rancheria traveled to Humboldt County last weekend to participate in the Missing in California Indian Country event.

Organized by northern California tribes and the California Department of Justice, the event’s goal was to increase coordination and communication between tribes and law enforcement in order to expedite missing persons investigations involving tribal members.

“They invited all the counties across the very north end of the state to participate,” Growdon said. “It was a good event.”

While he said there weren’t any issues with missing indigenous people here in Lassen County at this time, the issue of missing indigenous women is a problem in other parts of the country.

“There is a person missing — he was last seen in Modoc County, but he’s from Shasta County,” Growdon said. “We helped search some areas in our county because they had some information about remote areas.”

Growdon said tribes from all over the north state —Lassen, Trinity, Humboldt, Modoc, Siskiyou counties — attended.

“It sounds like the feds are going to make more resources available from the Bureau of Indian Affairs on these types of cases when we need them,” Growdon said.

The problem is such a big issue, this year’s 14th SIR Powwow (June 23-25) recognizes missing and murdered indigenous women — and the statistics are startling. For indigenous women: murder is the third leading cause of death; more than four-out-of-five have experienced violence; more than half experience sexual violence; and more than half have been physically abused by their intimate partner.

According to a statement from the California Attorney General’s Office, Attorney General Rob Bonta has issued an alert to Californians to promote awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People through this first-of-its-kind event sponsored by the California Department of Justice’s Office of Native American Affairs in partnership with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, the Yurok Tribal Police Department and the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police Department held at the Blue Lake Rancheria on Saturday, April 22. The event was designed to bring awareness and provide the opportunity for tribal families to come together and uplift ongoing tribally led efforts to confront this crisis.

“Tribal communities form the foundation of our state’s rich cultural tapestry, but have long been overlooked and undervalued,” said Bonta. “We cannot erase our dark history, but we can — and must — recognize it, apologize for it and vow to break the cycle.

“That’s why this event is so important: Our tribal communities have and continue to contribute to our society in immeasurable ways. And yet, the struggles they have endured have been nothing short of brutal. Loved ones, especially women and girls, have gone missing or been murdered and their cases lay unresolved — as do generations of historical trauma. The California Department of Justice is committed to listening and learning. We will continue to follow the lead of tribal communities to partner in justice and create the change we need to see.”

This is part of an ongoing series of events taking place throughout the four regions of California. They, in part, serve as critical public safety events for tribal communities and aim to elevate the state’s response to the MMIP crisis. These events will allow for loved ones to report an individual missing, receive an update on an active missing person’s case and/or provide a DNA sample for inclusion in the DOJ’s Unidentified Persons Database. The event has been developed and planned in collaboration with the tribal governments within Northern California to be most responsive to the needs of the region’s tribal communities. Local, state, tribal, and federal justice partners will come together for this event to share critical information, resource availability, and partnership in addressing the MMIP crisis in California.

This event is also part an ongoing effort of ONAA, an office established in DOJ in 2000 to support the rights of tribal citizens and governments and help protect the public safety of tribal communities. ONAA provides three main functions within the DOJ and those functions are as follows: ONAA advises the Attorney General on matters of importance to California tribal governments and tribal citizens that promote the health, safety and, welfare for California’s tribal citizens.

ONAA serves as tribal liaison between the DOJ and federal, tribal, state, and local justice systems.

ONAA facilitates and promotes a statewide framework for state and tribal partnerships that encourage the cooperation and collaboration between tribal, state, federal and local justice agencies through coordination of intergovernmental services, programs and technical assistance for justice-related issues.

These efforts continue the ongoing work of Bonta to protect the rights of the Indigenous People of California and is committed to attend the Candlelight Vigil for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People at the State Capitol on May 3, 2023. Recently, the Attorney General fought for a $5 million investment in the state budget aimed at supporting public safety on tribal lands in California. The funds are for the implementation of California Assembly Bill 3099, which calls for the California Department of Justice to provide training and guidance to law enforcement agencies and tribal governments to help reduce uncertainty regarding criminal jurisdiction and improve public safety on tribal lands.

According to NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, The California Department of Justice’s Office of Native American Affairs, along with regional tribes, will hold an open, community event in Blue Lake, California for families of missing persons to attend as well as provide public safety outreach to the community.  Families can file a missing person report with law enforcement, provide a family reference DNA sample if they wish, enter their missing loved one in the NamUs database among other services.  Multiple organizations will be present to provide information and outreach to all attendees.

NamUs staff will be present to enter and update missing person records in the NamUs database as well as meet with the community to provide information and support.  NamUs staff will also liaison with tribal and non-tribal regional law enforcement to better support missing American Indian cases.