PA author rebukes National Geographic series

By Sarah Stone
June 22, 2012 - 6:43am

A Prince Albert author is condemning the National Geographic Channel for a TV documentary series they aired depicting the Hutterite culture from a sect in Montana.

“The program was intended or promised to be a factual, accurate documentary, and this of course is nothing like it. It’s obvious a reality show,” said Mary-Ann Kirkby author of I Am Hutterite.

Kirkby has a personal connection to the culture; spending the first 10 years of her life growing up in the Fairholme Hutterite Colony near Portage la Prairie, Man. Her book I Am Hutterite focuses on her own personal experience living in that lifestyle.

Kirkby’s opinion of the documentary is based on the first few episodes. “We are all deeply upset about this show,” she said. “We couldn’t believe our eyes, that’s how most Hutterites feel.”

Having lived both in and outside of the colony, Kirkby said National Geographic has warped the truth, and she is not alone in this feeling. Bishops from three Hutterite sects, John Stahl, Peter Entz, and John Waldner representing around 50,000 followers and 500 colonies in North America, hold the same sentiment. They stated in a press release they’re "deeply disappointed" in National Geographic Channel's 10 part series entitled American Colony: Meet the Hutterites  and are demanding an apology from the network.

“What was promised by the producers to be a ‘factual documentary’ is in fact a distorted and exploitative version of Hutterite life that paints all 50,000 Hutterites in North America in a negative and inaccurate way,” stated Stahl in a news release . “Scenes and dialogue were contrived resulting in a “make believe” depiction of how we live and the spiritual beliefs we cherish.”

Kirkby said she has spoken with the bishops and they want action.

“What I understand is (the bishops) would love to have it pulled from the airwaves, but they are asking that in fact the National Geographic Society admit publicly that this is not an accurate portrayal of the King Ranch Hutterite colony or Hutterites anywhere and that it is, in fact, a reality show that was staged at the King Ranch colony.”

She explained situations that happened on the ranch would not be tolerated in any sect. She was even told by people on King Ranch that producers of the show had extras dress up in Hutterite attire to make it look like there was more people.

“The storylines were fabricated. The producers created certain storylines,” she said describing an episode where teens from the colony visited Canada for wedding.

“Even the people at King Ranch have admitted that 75 per cent of this show was staged.”

National Geographic Channel defends show

Although the executive producer of the series, Jeff Collins could not be reached for comment, a statement was issued on behalf of the network.

“National Geographic Channel fully believes in our new series American Colony: Meet the Hutterites,” it read. “An incredible group of individuals who have been fully supportive of the show since its inception, the King Colony was gracious enough to let National Geographic Channel cameras into their homes to provide perspective into who they are as individuals and a community, and we have nothing but the utmost respect for their way of life.”

The statement said the producing partners at Collins Avenue worked closely with the leaders on King Ranch colony and have portrayed their daily lives in an authentic and accurate manner.

“As a result, the show is a truthful representation of the struggle between the younger generation and the colony leaders. In fact, the letter from the Bishops is a perfect example of how this struggle plays out in their community, which is not scripted in any way, and we are honored that they have chosen us as an avenue to share their stories.”

The release stated the Hutterites of the King Ranch colony are excited at the opportunity to allow the outside world get a glimpse at their lifestyle.

The documentary started airing last month in the United States.

Kirkby said their culture is like many others—imperfect and there are small cases of unacceptable behaviour, but not on the scale the series is portraying.

“We are not Utopia. We, like every society, face many challenges … but besides that, that is so unfair to depict our culture in this way. We have been maligned and misunderstood for so many years,” Kirkby said.

“To turn around and see it exploited in this way is something we will not stand for.”

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Twitter: @sarahstone84

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