Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, is spearheading a bill that would give California families more time to register the birth of a child, a change that would allow Native Americans who celebrate baptism ceremonies to practice the custom without being disturbed by hospital staff.
Current state law gives parents up to 10 days after the birth of their child to submit registration information, including the baby’s name, to their local health department. Parents are required to complete the process to obtain an official birth certificate.
The law, however, conflicts with a sacred blessing and baptism ceremony that some Native American tribes, including several on California’s northern coast, observe 10 days after a baby is born, Wood said.
His proposal, AB 2176, would extend the number of days parents have to register their baby’s birth in California to 21 days to better accommodate and respect tribes that practice the naming ceremony, Wood said.
“These sovereign nations, and others throughout California, have their own specific beliefs, traditional practices and ceremonies and the state must respect this by allowing sufficient time to complete the required registration process,” Wood said in a press release about the bill last month.
The idea for the bill grew out of a 2021 draft by Providence County Humboldt, a health care provider that operates St. Joseph’s Hospital in Eureka and Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna.
The project focused on creating equity within the region’s health care system, said Martha Shanahan, director of community health investment for Providence Humboldt County.
Project organizers recognized the health care disparities among the area’s Native American community, which made up 6% of Humboldt County’s population in 2020, and decided to conduct interviews with local tribal members about their health care, Shanahan said.
Among the issues highlighted by these interviews was how the state registration requirement created conflict between hospital staff, who were calling families about the 10-day deadline, and Native American families celebrating the sacred baptism ceremony.
“The feeling that it created for some natives was just that they felt like they were being harassed,” Shanahan said of those calls. “It just wasn’t respectful.”
Providence Humboldt County contacted Wood about the problem with state law last fall and saw that he was willing to change the 10-day requirement, Shanahan said. They were made aware of Wood’s proposal to extend birth registration day earlier this year, she added.
The bill garnered support from Joseph James, the chairman of the Yurok tribe. The tribe, the largest in the state with 6,400 members, is located along the Klamath River in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, James said.
He highlighted the importance of the naming ceremony in Yurok culture, saying the day was dedicated to prayer, giving thanks for the birth of the child and choosing a name for the baby.
“At the end of the day, it’s a victory for indigenous peoples and it’s a victory for the state in recognizing tribal traditions and customs,” James said of Wood’s proposal. “We won’t have to break our cultural norms to please the state.”
Assemblyman James C. Ramos, D-Highland, is the lead co-author of the bill. He is a member of the Serrano/Cahuilla Tribe and in 2018 became the first Indian from California to be elected to the State Assembly.