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Snowbird Fund Doubles, Awards First Grant

The logo for the Snowbird Fund from the Montana Community Foundation, art by Persephone Sandoval
The logo for the Snowbird Fund from the Montana Community Foundation, art by Persephone Sandoval

After launching a fund to assist families of missing persons in gathering evidence, Snowbird Fund committee members say public interest in the project has allowed them to double their $50,000 grant fund in just three weeks.

Ivan MacDonald is a filmmaker who’s been documenting the missing and murdered Indigenous women’s crisis for years and serves on the Snowbird Fund committee. At Montana’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force meeting Wednesday he said the fund acts as a bridge connecting families to money they need to respond quickly.

"We know that so often in those missing persons cases or when someone turns up missing, those first few hours are so incredibly important, and research shows that the number one reason that the Department of Justice declines these cases in Indian Country is due to lack of evidence and sort of all of those things, forensic evidence," MacDonald said. "So I think that there's this bridge where there's this immediate ability to search. Regardless of the outcomes, there's that kind of ability for families to start searching immediately."

With grants starting at $500, the Snowbird Fund helps families cover search costs, such as gas for vehicles, drones to survey an area or food to feed search parties.

The Montana Community Foundation hosts the Snowbird Fund, which allows families to fill out a single-page application for cash grants. A committee member like MacDonald will call the family to learn more about the situation and then disburse funds to the family immediately.

Grant applicants must be affiliated with an active missing persons case.

Since launching on Feb. 10, the Snowbird Fund has disbursed one grant and received another application this week, which is pending review.

According to the MMIP Task Force, there are 170 active missing persons cases in Montana as of Tuesday. Thirty percent of those missing are Indigenous. Native Americans make up about 7% of Montana’s population.

Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America Indigenous affairs reporter.

Kaitlyn Nicholas covers tribal news in Montana.