Tribal Council express concern about ABC TV series Big Sky producers filming the headquarters complex without permission

Char-Koosta News 

PABLO — Last week the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ governing body expressed its concern and dismay that the producers of the ABC TV series, “Big Sky” had, without Tribal Council knowledge, filmed portions CSKT headquarters complex. It is standard protocol to request permission from the Tribal Council when people or entities want to use CSKT land for such things as that, as well as posting of political campaign posters, or schools wanting to access tribal lands without permits for educational purposes. 

The CSKT also requires that non-CSKT members must purchase a permit to access tribal land for recreational purposes and must purchase additional permits to fish and bird hunt on the Flathead Reservation.

An example of respecting CSKT protocol, Flathead Nation Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant said the producers of the “Yellowstone” TV series reached out to the Tribal Council seeking permission to rent the Gray Wolf Peak Casino in Evaro for an episode of the series. The Tribal Council honored the request and granted its permission for the filming.

“That is our protocol, as it is with any sovereign nation, [that people come] to the Tribal Council first and you introduce your project and seek permission,” said Fyant said, adding that the Tribal Council eventually received a pair of emails from the producers last week saying they were going to use our Tribal Council complex and footage of the Eagle Circle Veterans Memorial. “Just out of left field came these two requests.”

Fyant said the emails didn’t request to meet with the Tribal Council and ask for permission to use the footage.

“We’re really insulted that they didn’t come to the Tribal Council first,” she said. “We were ignored in the process.”

The Tribal Council was unaware of the filming of the Tribal Complex, that included the CSKT Veterans Eagle Circle Memorial, until they received an email from Brooke Swaney, a Salish tribe descendent movie producer living in Browning, a couple of weeks ago.

The show is a crime series on ABC TV based on author C.J. Box’s novels about the search for a pair of young white women who go missing in Montana. However, it is mostly filmed in the Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada area. 

Fyant also expressed concern that the TV show planned on modeling a fictionary role of a tribal councilwoman based on the CSKT and would use the military seal on the Eagle Circle Veterans Memorial. The role would be played by a woman of Okanogan and Salish tribal blood ties.

Fyant said the CSKT does not want to be associated with the TV series in any manner, especially being a “token tribe,” and in light of the real darkness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous people in Montana and nationally. American Indians comprise 7 percent of Montana’s population but account for 26 percent of the state’s missing persons.

Last week the CSKT met with representatives from the Department of Justice, and other federal officials as one of six tribal nations in the United States tapped to participate in the Tribal Community Response Plan for addressing the Missing and/or Murdered Indigenous People.

The culturally appropriate pilot project is aimed at developing MMIP response guides entitled TCRP that will be utilized by other Tribal Nations. The TCPR can be amended and tailored to the distinct needs of each Tribal Nation.

The TCRP working group will meet today to iron out the wrinkles in of the pilot project.

The CSKT are also involved in the production of the film “Somebody’s Daughter” that focuses on the MMIP epidemic.

In early December, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and the Global Indigenous Council issued a joint statement about “Big Sky.” The group expressed its concerns about cultural-insensitivity and -appropriation in the series. 

“We understand that the plot of ‘Big Sky’ is based on C. J. Box’s novel ‘The Highway,’” the statement reads. “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.”

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