The colonization of Indigenous lands and peoples in what is now called California included the state-funded genocide of 90 percent of Indigenous populations and the accumulation of land and wealth among white settlers.
According to Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy, an associate professor and chair of Native American Studies at Cal Poly Humboldt, this genocide was also a "gendercide" because white settlers enforced gender binaries and enacted patriarchal violence, slavery, and trafficking of women and girls for sexual and labor exploitation.
These legacies continue: Indigenous women are roughly 1 percent of the United States population, yet they are most likely to go missing, be murdered, and be sexually abused.
Tribal communities across California are addressing gender-based violence, including the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, through ceremony, culture, and policy change. Return of land to Indigenous stewardship, cultural revitalization, and solidarity from non-Indigenous communities are all critical components of a multifaceted solution to end and heal from the epidemic.
For example, in 2019, the Wiyot Tribe gained back full tribal stewardship of Tuluwat (Indian Island) — sacred ceremonial lands where 150 Wiyot people, mostly women and children, were murdered by white Humboldt County residents in 1860. In 2014, the Flower Dance celebrating girls' coming of age was performed on Tuluwat for the first time in 150 years, a monumental effort to revitalize sacred songs, dances, languages, and stories and ceremonially assert the value of Indigenous young women and the community's commitment to protecting their safety and well-being.
Communities working to end gender-based violence across California are taking inspiration from these efforts. The Safety Through Connection project, stewarded by Prevention Institute, brought local collaboratives together in 2022 to learn from Dr. Risling Baldy. Dr. Risling Baldy, in addition to her roles at Cal Poly Humboldt, is active in cultural revitalization and "land back" movements, and wrote the 2018 book, We Are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women's Coming-of-age Ceremonies.
Collaboratives from McKinleyville (in Humboldt County), Richmond, Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego are collectively embracing decolonial solidarity and cultural revitalization as pillars of our work to end domestic violence. We are acknowledging the need to heal from colonization in the United States, as well as from colonization in other countries that has harmed many immigrants and refugees now living in the United States.
Collaboratives are continuing their learning and evolving gender-based violence prevention efforts, adding more elements of creativity, play, and ceremony, and approaching coming-of-age practices as an opportunity for generational healing while shining a light on the commodification and sometimes enormous expense of cultural traditions such as quinceañeras.
The Safety Through Connection Learning Community encourages California communities to deepen solidarities with Indigenous communities for collective healing from colonial, racial, and gender-based violence. One way to do this is to attend and support the upcoming second annual Missing and Murdered People's (MMIP) Summit and Day of Action in Sacramento on February 12 and 13, organized by the Yurok Tribe and Wilton Rancheria.
On Monday, tribal leaders, MMIP survivors, and a wide range of stakeholders will come together to identify solutions. Tuesday will feature a cultural exchange, speakers, a walk around the state capitol building, and meetings with legislators. You can learn more about and register for the summit on this page, or contact the Yurok Tribe to support these efforts in financial and other ways.
Lisa Fujie Parks is an Associate Program Director, and Sofia Betteo is a Program Assistant at Prevention Institute, a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Oakland, California.
Prevention Institute builds prevention and health equity into key policies and actions at the federal, state, local, and organizational levels to ensure that the places where all people live, work, play, and learn to foster health, safety, and wellbeing. The Safety Through Connection project is supported by Blue Shield of California Foundation.
Editor's note: The ideas expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the Othering & Belonging Institute or UC Berkeley, but belong to the authors.