First-Yurok Investigator for Missing Indigenous Persons Initiatives Focused on Cold Cases Wields Ford Explorer-based Office

KLAMATH, California – Julia Oliveira is making history as the first law enforcement officer in California dedicated solely to investigating cases for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People initiative. As a member of the Wyandotte Tribe, she has been hired by the Yurok Tribe, located in Northern California, to tackle unsolved killings and disappearances within their territory, which extends through Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

The vast tribal reservation presents challenges, with limited cellphone service and Oliveira’s “rolling office,” a Ford Explorer, serving as her main workspace. She’s taken on a difficult task as Indigenous people, particularly women, suffer from violent crime at higher rates than the rest of the U.S. population.

The Yurok Tribe’s hiring of Oliveira marks a unique effort to address the endemic issue of missing and slain Indigenous people. With funding from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the tribe has assembled a team of prosecutors and investigators, working in collaboration with the U.S. Marshals Service through a federal pilot program called the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative.

Over the past three years, the tribe has documented 105 cases of missing and slain Indigenous persons in Northern California alone, sparking a comprehensive effort to address the cases. This includes gathering data, providing new approaches for solving the cases, establishing a tribal prosecutor’s office, and initiating partnerships with federal law enforcement agencies.

Oliveira, now the first full-time investigator of missing and slain Indigenous persons in California, has begun to develop and dig into approximately 15 case files related to missing or slain Yurok people, including Emmilee Risling, a young mother who went missing on the reservation in 2021. Though no cases have been solved yet, the endeavor is ongoing as the team continues to acquire necessary equipment and resources.

The Yurok Tribe is determined to build its capacity for solving cases independently, with the assistance of the Marshals Service, aiming to connect with experts in federal law enforcement to bolster their efforts. The tribe’s focus is primarily on bringing closure to families and ensuring that every possible effort is made in the investigation process.

In conclusion, as the epidemic of missing and slain Indigenous people continues to be a grave concern in California, the Yurok Tribe’s proactive steps in collaboration with Oliveira and federal law enforcement agencies reflect a crucial effort to address the longstanding issue.