Story of the Fund
The Snowbird Fund was established at the Montana Community Foundation by Montana businesswoman Whitney Williams. Whitney recently opened the fund, the first of its kind in Montana, after hearing from, among others, a Crow tribal member, Grace Bulltail, whose 18-year-old niece, Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, was found murdered in Big Horn County in August 2019.
Kaysera Stops Pretty Places was reported missing on August 27, 2019. Her body was found two days later by a passerby in the backyard of a Hardin, Montana home. Bulltail and family members felt law enforcement wasn’t doing enough to investigate the case, which was deemed “suspicious” by authorities. Stops Pretty Places’ family’s advocacy helped to ultimately build support for a march for missing persons and a local task force to investigate such cases.
“I would like to speak to Whitney about her plans for addressing the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in Montana,” Bulltail, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, wrote to Williams when she was running for Montana governor in 2020. “My niece Kaysera Stops Pretty Places just turned 18 and was about to start her senior year of high school when she was murdered in Big Horn County in August. Every level of the justice system in Montana has been dismissive of my family in our attempts to seek justice for Kaysera. Whitney, if you want my family's vote as well as other MMIW families in Montana, we need you to have serious plans that will dedicate resources to helping our families.”
Whitney spoke to Grace and others who had lost family members in an effort to better understand the priorities and needs of these families and hear from those organizing grassroots efforts to search for their loved ones. Though Whitney did not win the primary race for governor, she remained committed to helping as a private citizen. She reached out to the Montana Community Foundation for help in launching the fund to directly give resources to families.
Whitney long has been involved in Indian Country. She helped to establish the first native language program at the University of Montana, where she received a minor in Native American Studies. Marvin Weatherwax Sr. of Browning, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, was an instructor at the University of Montana and said he gave Williams the name Snowbird “Issstotsistakii” (the name of the fund) because snowbirds (Juncos) are resilient and smart birds that don’t leave Montana in the winter.