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Beacon of Hope

Missoula Project Beacon offers unwavering support with the intention of a stronger community

Picture a silo: stand-alone, isolated, perching tall against the surrounding landscape, impenetrable from outside or in.

Now, envision a beacon: a beaming light, shining prominently as a guide, drawing people in, signaling hope and celebration.

Missoula Project Beacon walks alongside Indigenous survivors of human trafficking, moving the healing process away from loneliness and into community, living up to its name.

Skye McGinty serves as Executive Director of All Nations Health Center—of which Missoula Project Beacon (MPB) is a part—and describes MPB as a part of All Nations’ holistic service offerings, all aimed at (according to the All Nations mission statement) “providing sustainable healthy lives for our Native people and the surrounding community through culturally based, holistic care.”

Initially funded by a Department of Justice grant in 2019, Missoula Project Beacon provides technical assistance and training on what trafficking looks like in Native communities, working with law enforcement, health care providers, and educators. In addition to education efforts are direct services offered to survivors of trafficking: all based in Native tradition and culture.

Human trafficking is especially prevalent in Native communities, a result, Skye said, of long-standing racism. Poverty plays a role, too, pushing many victims into desperate situations in attempts to survive.

“A lot of people assume [Native trafficking] is a tribal problem, but it’s most common in urban areas,” Skye explained of the need for MBP in a city like Missoula. “Many survivors feel a lot of shame. We want to bring them back to tradition and culture and healing.”

Skye relayed the story of a young woman who’d always dreamed of attending the University of Montana but found her goal seemingly out of reach due to circumstances revolving trafficking. Through a connection with MBP, she was invited to be a part of a “talking circle:” a group of domestic violence and trafficking survivors. Skye said the woman had been hesitant, afraid her tribe wouldn’t accept her because of her past.

“We work really closely with American Indian Student Services at UM. Through that partnership, we were able to help her complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and start college at UM,” Skye said. “She came in, all smiles, ear-to-ear, and said, ‘I never though I could do this.’”

These success stories offer motivation and encouragement to keep going, to continue the MBP work, even with a shoe-string staff of two and the uncertainty of long-term funding. The program’s federal grant was renewed in 2022 and while that provides the bulk of funding for three years, Skye said that funding remains a challenge.

“Sustainability is, quite honestly, not there,” she explained. “We are seeing a collective buy-in from our community and as awareness builds, we’ve seen an explosion of grassroots donations.”

Montana ranks fifth in the nation for Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) cases, making the efforts of MBP especially crucial on both fronts of prevention of, and healing from, human trafficking.

“If I were able to wave a wand, I’d get rid of racism,” Skye said. “If we were able to humanize each other and take care of basic needs like housing, food, and safety, people wouldn’t be in desperate situations. We need to build awareness. This is happening to our neighbors.”

Despite intergenerational traumas, Skye is encouraged by the healing and progress she sees happening through the work of MBP.

“I do see the needle moving, even if it’s just a little bit,” she said, pointing to the All Nations Health Center’s focus on holistic health, centering on the idea of a four-quadrant medicine wheel.

“We weave culture into everything we do. Culture is a huge protective factor in our health,” Skye explained. “It is both the seed and blossom of our health.”

Skye emphasized the importance of community understanding, awareness, and involvement in Missoula Project Beacon’s work and is also quick to point out that while trafficking and generational injustices are traumatic, there’s much to celebrate.

“Our Native community also has joy and happiness and we express that joy and happiness,” Skye said. “While we do offer these programs to provide a place for survivors to feel safe and honored and dignified and while we address age-old problems and traumas in our community, we want to laugh together, build together, and create together.”

Missoula Project Beacon collaborates with numerous organizations across the Missoula community and surrounding areas. Skye encourages community members to extend help in any way they can, whether through donations of material goods to places like Mountain Home Montana or the Poverello Center, financial donations to Missoula Project Beacon, or by volunteering to help with searches for missing Indigenous people.

“Caring goes a really long way,” Skye said. “Whatever it is, whether it’s financial help, or volunteering for a search, there’s a lane for everyone in advocacy.”

“We weave culture into everything we do. Culture is a huge protective factor in our health,” Skye explained. “It is both the seed and blossom of our health.”

Missoula Project Beacon can be found online at AllNations.Health/Missoula-Project-Beacon/.