MENDOCINO Co, CA, 5/5/23 — May 5 this year was named Mendocino County Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP), in recognition of the outsized violent crime committed against indigenous people both locally and nationwide. The day has been recognized nationally since 2017. County staff and officials wore red in acknowledgment, and an announcement at a Board of Supervisors meeting in early April drew attendance from tribal members and leaders around the county.
Diana Billy-Elliott, vice chairwoman of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, worked with Supervisor Maureen Mulheren to create the proclamation.
“We don’t get the attention through the media and the news that many others do,” she said, adding, “When this happens to one of our tribal communities, it happens to all of us.”
She was joined in addressing the board by Debra Ramirez, tribal chairwoman of the Little River Band of Pomo Indians and shelter director for Project Sanctuary, who emphasized that domestic violence and sexual assault are intertwined with other violent crimes, including murder, in native communities.
One man, Priest Martinez, led the room in a moment of silence for the many indigenous people in Mendocino County who have died or gone missing. In March, 20-year-old Nicholas Shehli Whipple of the Round Valley Indian Tribes (RVIT) was found dead from a gunshot; weeks later, 16-year-old Ruby Sky Montelongo of the Round Valley Indian Tribes was killed. The Round Valley Tribal Council has since declared a state of emergency.
“Nearly all of our native families are touched by this atrocity in our native communities,” said Patricia Ray Franklin, a descendant of the Cahto tribe and member of the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians and RVIT. She shared that she was named for her aunt, who was murdered.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall spoke at the meeting, too.
“The communications between tribes and local government, I don’t believe has ever been better,” he said. Later he added, “We’re going to work hard to make sure that we take care of each other in the fashion that we should. I want to thank all these folks for being here today.”
Buffey Wright Bourassa, equity administrator for Mendocino County Public Health, a member of the Racial Equity and Justice Committee and of Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians, spoke in favor of improving intergovernmental relationships in the community. She also highlighted work Public Health is doing to create tribal consultation policies and procedures.
“This will start building a more equitable reach between all of us as we move forward,” she said.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.