South Bay advocates raise alarm over missing, murdered Indigenous women

Members of the Indigenous community said a silent crisis is causing heartache but is largely unseen by the larger community.

Advocates in the South Bay say the rate of missing and murdered women in their community soars above the national average.

The Indian Health Institute performed a study that showed California has the sixth-highest death rate for Indigenous women in urban areas.

Members of the Indigenous community are sounding an alarm to galvanize both the public and private sectors to unite and take action that could save lives.

Part of that alarm took the form of rhythmic drumbeats and ceremonial dancing outside San Jose City Hall on Tuesday. The symbolism belied a cultural pain few know. For members of this community, old wounds from centuries-old mistreatment continue haunting their lives.

"The Yurok Tribe (in Northern California) has declared a state of emergency on their reservation because so many tribal members have gone missing," said Elisa Marina Alvarado of the Red Earth Women’s Society.

She and others made a call to action on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, or MMIP.

"There is a nationwide epidemic of violence against Indigenous people, especially women and girls," said District 5 Councilman Peter Ortiz.

Advocates said Indigenous women vanish at a rate that is 10 times that of white women. Often, they said, repeated calls for help fall on deaf ears.

"That’s the problem, the police don’t look for our missing and murdered indigenous people," said a community member, who did not want to be named.

She pointed to the ongoing case of Khadijah Rose Britton. She was last seen at age 24 in February 2018, as her ex-boyfriend forced her into a car at gunpoint in Mendocino County. The FBI is offering $10,000 in reward money for tips leading to her whereabouts.

"The family did most of the searching. And the sheriff, I don’t know why they didn’t call in a helicopter, drones, horses, ATVs," the woman said. "It’s definitely a pattern."

Added Alvarado, "Every time a family member goes missing or is found murdered, it affects the family of course deeply. But it ripples out and affects our whole Indian community."

Indigenous people who gathered at City Hall on Tuesday hoped the conversation around inequities would lead to collaboration between their community and policymakers to eventually create a safer culture where all people are less at risk of violence.

On Friday, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., a panel discussion will be held between policymakers and community members about matching the rhetoric today with future actions.