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Hutterite TV show provokes anger

National Geographic series 'make-believe'

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PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. -- A Saskatchewan author is condemning the National Geographic Channel for a TV documentary series they broadcast 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," said Mary-Ann Kirkby, author of I Am Hutterite.

Kirkby spent the first 10 years of her life growing up in the Fairholme Hutterite Colony near Portage la Prairie. Her book focuses on her personal experience.

"We are all deeply upset about this show," she said of the 10-part series American Colony: Meet the Hutterites.

Bishops from three Hutterite sects, John Stahl, Peter Entz and John Waldner, who represent around 50,000 followers and 500 colonies in North America, have also complained about the show 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," Stahl said 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," Kirkby said.

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

Kirkby alleges some storylines were fabricated, including an episode in which teens from the colony visited Canada for a wedding.

The 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 honoured 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.

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," she said. "But besides that, that is so unfair to depict our culture in this way. We have been maligned and misunderstood for so many years."


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2012 0

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