Viewpoint: Awareness of MMIW continues to grow, but still needs your support
By Ivan MacDonald, Anna Whiting Sorrell, Marilyn Zimmerman and Whitney WilliamsMarch 7, 2022
A year ago, we launched the Snowbird Fund to help families and friends of missing and murdered Indigenous people by providing immediate financial assistance (no questions asked) to search for their loved ones.
Since then, the fund has not only survived, it has doubled its cash amount and increased its fundraising capacity – all during a pandemic and tough economic times.
Meanwhile, through the tenacious efforts of Indigenous communities and families across the state and nation, the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people has drawn increased attention from tribal, local, state and federal authorities, including Secretary American Home Secretary Deborah Haaland, the first Native American woman to serve as Cabinet Secretary.
But this cancer continues to spread and we regularly learn of another missing Indigenous person whose loved ones are deprived and left to search for them and find answers to their disappearance.
The Montana Missing Native Persons Task Force, the statewide collaborative network that includes participation from each of the eight federally recognized tribes, state and federal agencies, and order, notes that Native Americans are four times more likely to disappear than non-native residents. .
Teaming up with the Montana Community Foundation, we launched the Snowbird Fund in February 2021 to directly support Indigenous families by providing immediate financial assistance – a tool previously unavailable to families – to search for missing loved ones in urban areas and reserves. The fund was the first of its kind in the country.
Direct payments of up to $1,000 are made to individuals to offset the considerable expenses incurred by families and friends while searching for a loved one. Assistance can cover anything from money for gas, meals, hotel stays, cell phone payments, tools like metal detectors and drones, organizing trips a community vigil and the conduct of a targeted awareness campaign.
In its first year, the Snowbird Fund awarded 11 cash scholarships for:
- family support during research
- family reunion
- travel and accommodation
- search and rescue efforts
We have provided financial assistance in these communities:
- Polson 1
- Burnishing 5
- Duton 1
- Old Box 1
- Hardin 1
- lame deer 2
We are encouraged that others are engaging on this issue. Tribal, Blackfeet Community College and state officials have launched an online portal to report and track MMIP data and provide helpful resources.
As tribal, state, and federal authorities work together through the MMIP Task Force to overcome reporting and communication gaps and increase law enforcement’s response to this issue, we will do our part to help families in their most difficult time by providing immediate cash assistance for their tracing efforts.
We recognize the need for increased community awareness about the fund, especially in tribal communities. So we’re identifying more ways to connect with individuals, agencies and organizations working directly with those who do research so that we can better deliver this resource to those who need it, when they need it.
It’s the least we can do – and the most we can hope for is that our help brings a little support and a lot of hope.
We hope you will join us and spread the word so that together we can end a crisis that has been overlooked for too long.
(To apply, go to mtcf.org/grants/apply-for-a-grant/snowbird-fund. Applications for assistance are reviewed by an all-Aboriginal Grants Committee. Requests over $1,000 are accepted and approved on a case-by-case basis. A decision is made by the fund committee and payment for approved applications is made within two weeks.)
Ivan MacDonald is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, filmmaker and advocate for criminal justice reform. Anna Whiting Sorrell is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Marilyn Zimmerman, PhD, (Nakota, Dakota, Ojibway, Newe) is Senior Director of Policy and Programs at the National Native Children’s Trauma Center at the University of Montana. All three sit on the review committee for the Snowbird Fund.
Whitney Williams is a Montana businesswoman who helped create the fund.