Indigenous Groups Urge ABC to "Enter Into a Dialogue" About Representation in 'Big Sky'

Big Sky

Several Indigenous organizations have penned an open letter to ABC asking the network to "enter into a dialogue" about representing the outsized number of Native American and Indigenous women who go missing and are murdered each year in its new series focused on abductions in Montana, Big Sky.

The letter, sent this week and signed by Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council executive director William F. Snell, Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana chairman David Sickey and Global Indigenous Council president Tom Rodgers (all of whom helped produce the upcoming documentary Somebody's Daughter, about the crisis of missing and murdered Native and Indigenous women in the U.S.), expresses "serious concerns of at best, cultural insensitivity, and at worst, appropriation, in respect to the soon-to-be premiered series, Big Sky." The letter is addressed to ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke, executive director of corporate social responsibility David Ambroz, series executive producer Matthew Gross and series creator David E. Kelley. ABC has declined to comment.

Based on C.J. Box's 2013 novel The Highway, Big Sky follows a private investigator (Kylie Bunbury) as she works with an ex-cop (Katheryn Winnick) to investigate the disappearance of two sisters and other abductions at truck stops in Montana. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter this week, Burke said that Big Sky was "a story that is realistic about the fact that violence against women exists in our country. It’s owning it and it’s telling a story of women that are victims of it that ultimately triumph over it."

The Indigenous organizations' letter expresses disappointment that "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." The letter adds, "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 FBI's 2019 Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics report, 10,447 missing person last year were of "Indian" descent; however, many community leaders and activists argue that this data does not represent the true number of the population that goes missing. Last November, Attorney General William Barr announced a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative that enlists more resources and personnel to combat the issue at U.S. Attorney's offices.

"Please be aware that Indigenous people constitute 7 percent of Montana’s population, but the state identifies some 26 percent of missing persons as Native American," the letter states, citing recent Montana Department of Justice statistics.

The signatories add, "It is our sincere hope that you will enter into a dialogue with us to discuss including an information frame at the end of future Big Sky show credits that directs viewers to the Somebody’s Daughter documentary and factual information on the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women crisis."

The letter concludes, "We believe that such an inclusion will be an important signal of your willingness to work with other entities to ensure that the magnitude of the MMIW crisis is not diminished … It would be extremely unfortunate for you to miss this opportunity to tell the entire, truthful story."