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California's Yurok Tribe grapples with missing women crisis

Missing Women Tribe in Crisis
Posted at 1:17 PM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-21 16:17:46-05

Five Native American women have disappeared or been killed along California's rugged Lost Coast in the past 18 months.

The crisis has spurred the Yurok Tribe to issue an emergency declaration and brought increased urgency to efforts to build the first database of such cases in California. The tribe also is working to gain supervision over foster care and build an indigenous justice system that would ultimately handle all but the most serious felonies.

Tribal officials say reclaiming sovereignty over such systems is the only way to end the cycle of loss that's taken the greatest toll on their women.

Blythe George, a Yurok tribal member also works on a project that documents the missing and said, “I came to this issue as both a researcher and a learner, but just in this last year, I knew three of the women who have gone missing or were murdered — and we shared so much in common.” George said, “You can’t help but see yourself in those people.”

One of the missing is 33-year-old Emmilee Risling who disappeared after she was last seen walking across a bridge in a remote part of the Yurok Reservation.

Reporting problems have made the true number of missing indigenous persons unknown, according to a 2021 U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

Native women are said to face murder rates that are nearly three times those of white women overall, and up to 10 times that of the national average in many locations. Just in California, the Yurok Tribe and the Sovereign Bodies Institute found 18 cases of missing or murdered Native American women in the past year or so.