PABLO — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes felt compelled to share the potentially exploitive actions committed by the makers of the Big Sky television series.  

Days after being taken to task for leaving Natives out of a show about human trafficking in Montana, an issue that greatly impacts Indigenous communities, the show runners claimed their “eyes were opened.” 

What Big Sky makers did was plan an unauthorized shoot depicting CSKT’s buildings and leaders – with no consultation with the Tribes. 

An employee of the show contacted CSKT Wednesday around 3 p.m. with an email asking for help in insuring the accuracy of a military seal that was to be used during the taping of a fictional Council woman from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. No previous notice was provided to CSKT and as far as we can tell no efforts were made to reach out to tribal leadership. 

“CSKT has no interest in appearing in the Big Sky show. We find it insulting and ridiculous to find out they’re planning to depict our tribes and government without ever once consulting with us,” said CSKT Chairwoman Shelly R. Fyant. “This is a slap in the face of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples efforts.” 

Coincidently, Tribal Council and community leaders are working with federal officials this week at finalizing a Tribal Community Response Plan containing protocols to respond to missing persons cases that arise from the Flathead Indian Reservation. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were selected as the first tribal partner in Montana to pilot this program, largely because of the efforts of their CSKT MMIP working group which was established in January 2019.  CSKT was also co-producer on the film, Somebody’s Daughter, which stands as the definitive account of the MMIP crisis in Montana. 

CSKT has joined the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders, Global Indigenous Council, Coushetta Tribe of Louisiana, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association in reaching out to Big Sky production staff. Earlier this month, makers of Big Sky put out a statement saying they were working with indigenous groups to help bring attention to the MMIP issue and went on to say, “Our eyes have been opened.” 

Evidently, saying their eyes are opened means they are repeating the ugly legacy of telling a peoples’ story against their will and falsely in a brazen attempt to exploit the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 

In a letter sent to show makers, CSKT’s Chairwoman signed a letter that stated, “In this age of social justice, with great strides made in the Me Too movement and Black Lives Matter efforts, this is not how you connect with a sovereign nation. You should have the grace and dignity to reach out to our leaders to seek their guidance and wisdom, and you conduct yourself with compassion and self-awareness. A less-than three-day heads up to make sure you get a seal depicted correctly to cover a window is stomach turning.  

You have not asked for permission to use images of our buildings. We must hope you would eventually ask for forgiveness. You haven’t offered to share the script, and you have not hired any Native filmmakers. It seems the studio that brought us the animated Pocahontas will continue to tell American Indian stories without indigenous writers or filmmakers.  

Lastly, your last minute and ridiculous request is at best, insulting. At worst, it’s indicative as to the continued embarrassment you will bring program creator David E. Kelley. Shame on you for your unacceptable behavior. Please reflect upon what you have done.”

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