Native American women in California are being kidnapped and murdered at an alarming rate, and tribes are beginning to speak out against it more and more loudly.
The latest disappearance to hit the news is that of Emmilee Risling. Reports say she suffered from mental health and addiction struggles and was accused of arson but ultimately released. The 33-year-old was seen walking across a bridge last September in the Yurok Reservation in northern Humboldt County, and hasn’t been spotted since.
This isn’t an isolated incident; it’s only the latest in a shocking trend with Native American women and girls. In fact, Risling is one of five incidents in the past year and a half where Indigenous women along the Pacific Coastline have wound up missing or killed.
A nonprofit called Native Womens Wilderness says the National Crime Information Center has reported 5,712 incidents where American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls have gone missing, which is likely an under-estimate. The U.S. Department of Justice has only 116 of those cases listed in its missing persons database, though nearly 1500 of them are still considered missing.
American Indians are three times more likely to be murdered than white women, yet murders of Native women in California are seven times less likely to be solved. More than 80% of Indigenous women report experiencing violence.
“The majority of these murders are committed by non-Native people on Native-owned land. The lack of communication combined with jurisdictional issues between state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement, make it nearly impossible to begin the investigative process,” Native Womens Wilderness says.
California has one of the largest Native American populations in the United States, with about 110 different federally-recognized tribes. The Yurok, Karuk, Tolowa, and Wiyot people make up the largest tribes around the Pacific Coastline, in the Lost Coast region of California, where the issue of missing Indigenous women has been felt most severely.
In response to the crisis, the Yurok Tribe has issued an emergency declaration, hoping to raise awareness about the disproportionate number of missing and murdered women who are of Native American blood.
“Today, we are asking our local, state and federal partners to take a stronger stand against the trafficking of Native women and girls,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “While human trafficking and abductions have been all too common in the Humboldt County area, I ask all of our members to be extra cautious at this time. If you have to go into town, please take someone with you and let a family member know when you expect to return.”
The Yurok Tribal Court says it’s seen seven reports in just the past month from women who said they were approached by would-be traffickers.
“The intergenerational impacts of 170 years of violence, trafficking and murder through missions, massacres, forced relocation, state sanctioned indentured servitude, boarding schools, widespread removal of children from their families through the child welfare system, disproportionate incarceration, police violence, and high rates of gender violence are still playing out to this day, and directly contribute to the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” the Tribal Council said in a statement.