Big Sky producers respond to criticism from Indigenous groups

Maureen Lee Lenker
·3 min read

Big Sky producers are responding to criticism from Indigenous groups over the show's lack of representation for Native and Indigenous women.

On Tuesday, executive producers of the new David E. Kelley ABC series issued a statement in response to an open letter from a collection of Indigenous groups, including the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and the Global Indigenous Council.

“After meaningful conversations with representatives of the Indigenous community, our eyes have been opened to the outsized number of Native American and Indigenous women who go missing and are murdered each year, a sad and shocking fact," they said in a statement shared with EW. "We are grateful for this education and are working with Indigenous groups to help bring attention to this important issue."

The statement came in response to an outcry from Indigenous groups, including an open letter to Karey Burke, ABC's Head of Entertainment, and the show's creator David E. Kelley. The open letter came from a collective of Indigenous organizations behind the film Somebody's Daughter, a documentary that addresses the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women with a particular emphasis on Montana.

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Tom Rodgers, president of the Global Indigenous Council, released a statement in response to ABC's remarks. "ABC Studios claimed it is working with Native Americans to fix the problem of ignoring the epidemic of violence against Native American women in its series, Big Sky," it reads. "We have not heard from the honchos at Big Sky, ABC Studios, or parent company Disney. We have no idea what they are talking about, but we would be very interested to hear from ABC on its ideas for remedying the injustice done by its series, Big Sky. So we’re interested in learning who ABC is working with, since it is curious that no purported Indigenous partners are named in its statement. In our culture, trust can only be earned, not promised.”

Based on a series of novels by C.J. Box, Big Sky is a crime thriller about the hunt to find two young girls (white women) who go missing from a Montana highway. "We write with serious concerns of at best, cultural insensitivity, and at worst, appropriation, in respect to the soon- to-be premiered series, Big Sky," the original open letter read. "We understand that the plot of Big Sky is based on C. J. Box’s novel The Highway. Unfortunately, neither Big Sky nor The Highway address the fact that the disproportionate majority of missing and murdered women in Montana are Indigenous, a situation replicated across Indian Country, which has made this tragedy an existential threat to Native Americans. To ignore this fact, and to portray this devastation with a white female face, is the height of cultural insensitivity, made even more egregious given the national awakening to the need for racial justice."

According to the letter, while Indigenous people make up only 7 percent of Montana's population, 26 percent of the state's missing persons are identified as Native American. The letter requested that the team at ABC and producers enter into a dialogue with the indigenous organizations, including adding an information frame at the end of future Big Sky episodes directing viewers to the Somebody's Daughter documentary.

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