California law enforcement agencies will soon issue “Feather Alerts” — part of a new notification system intended to address the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people in the state.
Assembly Bill 1314 — known as the Feather Alert Bill — was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in October.
The law creates a notification warning system similar to Amber Alert in order to notify the public of missing indigenous persons.
The Feather Alert system will be available to law enforcement agencies beginning in January.
“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,” California Highway Patrol (CHP) Commissioner Amanda Ray said of the bill.
According to the CHP, Feather Alerts will work the same way as Amber Alerts — alerts broadcast if a child 17 or under has been abducted.
To issue a Feather Alert, law enforcement must first confirm that an indigenous person has gone missing and that their life is in danger.
They must also work with tribal police during the case.
Broadcasted information must be deemed useful enough that it can help the public in the search.
Tribal leaders recently gathered with lawmakers and local law enforcement at Chukchansi Casino to discuss the alert system and its implementation.
“It’s really heartwarming because we spoke earlier about being a voice for our ancestors — our ancestors who never had this opportunity to even talk about an alert system that would bring them home,” California Assembly member and co-author of the bill James Ramos said.
Ramos, who is the first Californian Native American assemblymember, was concerned about the number of missing indigenous people in the state when he formulated the bill.
“When we first started diving into the murdered or missing indigenous women’s (MMIW) issue in the state of California. California was number seven on the list, but during that time, California has gained traction and is now number five on that list,” Ramos said.
In fact, a report by the Sovereign Bodies Institute indicated that a mere 9% of murders of indigenous women in California have ever been solved.
The alert system aims to help law enforcement agencies prioritize cases involving indigenous people by getting the public involved.
Madera County Sheriff Tyson Progue hopes that the alerts will help police respond more quickly to investigations and searches with leads from the public.
“When persons go missing, time is of the essence — every minute that goes by, it makes it exponentially harder for us to locate that person, so having these tools, we can get that information out to the public and tell them what we are looking for it helps us generate those leads to get that person back just as soon as we can,” Progue told ABC30.
Picayune Rancheria, who works with 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.”
Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Chairwoman Regina Cuellar said she looks forward to seeing the alerts implemented.
“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,” she said.