California’s First Indigenous-Focused Investigator Julia Oliveira Dives into Cold Cases Working for Yurok Tribe

KLAMATH, California – Julia Oliveira, a member of the Wyandotte Tribe, made history as California’s first law enforcement officer solely dedicated to investigating cases involving missing and slain Indigenous people. Her role with the Yurok Tribe of Northern California involves delving into cold cases across the tribe’s vast reservation, which spans through rural Humboldt and Del Norte counties, covering a 2½-hour journey.

The initiative comes as Indigenous people, particularly women, face disproportionately higher rates of violent crime compared to the general U.S. population. California, with the most Indigenous people of any state, has witnessed an alarming wave of missing and slain Indigenous individuals, with a 2020 study documenting 105 instances in Northern California alone.

Oliveira is part of the Yurok Tribe’s response to this crisis, joining a small team of prosecutors and investigators funded by grant money from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. The tribe has also partnered with the U.S. Marshals Service as part of a federal initiative to address the issue.

The effort is still in its early stages, with the tribe supplementing the work of county law enforcement by digging into old cases and seeking new approaches to solve them. Oliveira has been pivotal in investigating about 15 case files related to missing or slain Yurok people. Despite the slow daily grind and challenges posed by the region’s remote nature, she remains committed to bringing resolution to these cases. In the end, the tribe’s goal is to build its capacity for independent case-solving.

The initiative’s importance is underscored by the entrenched generational trauma and the need for fresh eyes to uncover the true extent of the problem. The work is a testament to the determination of Indigenous communities to seek justice for their stolen relatives. With the partnership with the U.S. Marshals Service and internal efforts to address the issue spanning three annual reports, the Yurok Tribe is making headway in its mission to bring closure to affected families.

Overall, as the first full-time investigator dedicated to missing and slain Indigenous persons in California, Oliveira’s commitment and the tribe’s collaborative efforts are a crucial step in addressing this epidemic and bringing justice to the forefront.