Sonoma County lawmaker’s bill aims to honor Native American naming ceremonies

The bill is spearheaded by Assemblymember Jim Wood of Santa Rosa.|

Assemblymember 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 naming ceremonies to practice the custom without disruption from hospital staff.

Current state law gives parents up to 10 days after the birth of their child to submit registration information, including the name of the baby, with their local health department. Parents are required to complete the process to obtain an official birth certificate.

The law, however, conflicts with a sacred ceremonial blessing and naming ceremony that some Native American tribes, including several located 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 who 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 that by allowing adequate time to complete the required registration process,” Wood said in a news release about the bill last month.

The idea for the bill came out of a 2021 project by Providence Humboldt County, a health care provider operates St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna.

The project focused on building equity within the area’s health care system, said Martha Shanahan, director of Community Health Investment for Providence Humboldt County.

The project’s organizers recognized disparities in healthcare within the area’s Native American community, which made up 6% of the Humboldt County’s population in 2020, and decided to conduct interviews with local tribal members about their health care, Shanahan said.

Among the issues those interviews highlighted were 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 naming ceremony.

“The feeling that created for some native people, it was just feeling like they were being pestered,” Shanahan said of those calls. “It was just not respectful.”

Providence Humboldt County reached out to Wood about the issue with the state law last fall and saw he was receptive to making a change to the 10-day requirement, Shanahan said. They were notified of Wood’s proposal to extend the birth registration day earlier this year, she added.

The bill has garnered support from Joseph James, the chairman of the Yurok Tribe. The tribe, the state’s largest at 6,400 members, is situated along the Klamath River in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, James said.

He underscored the significance of the naming ceremony in the Yurok culture, saying the day is dedicated to praying, giving thanks for the child’s birth and choosing a name for the baby.

“At the end of the day, this is a win for Indigenous people and it’s a win 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.”

Assemblymember James C. Ramos, D-Highland, is the principal co-author of the bill. He’s a member of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe and in 2018 became the first California Indian to be elected to the state Assembly.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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