Leaders from several tribal nations have joined together to denounce the new ABC show Big Sky, which inexplicably puts white faces at the center of a crisis that in reality disproportionately affects Native American women.
Based on the 2013 novel The Highway, Big Sky focuses on the kidnapping of two sisters along a Montana highway. While the sisters—and later, various other victims—are depicted as white in the show, Montana does have a well-documented history of missing and murdered Indigenous women. In fact, census data has shown that while Native Americans account for just 6.7 percent of Montana’s population, they comprise an average of 26 percent of its missing persons cases.
On Wednesday, the The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association joined a growing list of tribal coalitions condemning ABC for what it calls, “at best, cultural insensitivity, and at worst, appropriation.”
“Making the abduction and trafficking of women for primetime entertainment is bad enough. Erasing the real life tragedy of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) crisis is unconscionable,” wrote A. Gay Kingman, executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, in a statement. “We live with the consequences of this loss and trauma on a daily basis, but ABC won’t even acknowledge it, even after they’ve been given an opportunity to do so.”
The criticism is an extension of that leveled last week by the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, which represents Montana’s eight federally recognized tribes. In its own statement from November 20, the council raised concerns about “ABC’s cultural insensitivity, lack of compassion, and its decision to film Big Sky not in Montana, but in unceded Indigenous territory in British Columbia.”
“Institutions from law enforcement to the entertainment media must engage and consult with First Nations when they are addressing violence against women and girls, and understand the importance of not ignoring the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) tragedy,” wrote Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of UBCIC.
ABC has yet to respond to the criticism, or acknowledge it in any way.