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May 18, 2018

PBS cartoon to depict life in rural Alaska


Amanda Bohman/ Daily News-Miner

FAIRBANKS — In “Molly of Denali,” an animated series appearing next year on PBS, a 10-year-old Alaska Native girl helps her parents run a general store, bunkhouse and transport hub in the fictional village of Qyah, Alaska. 

The first of 38 half-hour episodes plus a 1-hour special will start in summer 2019 and key roles, including the lead role of Molly, will be voiced by Alaska Native people, a PBS news release stated. 

Live-action segments featuring real children and regions in Alaska will also be part of the series, which was developed with guidance from indigenous people of Interior Alaska. 

 The announcement last week that PBS will be airing the first nationally distributed children’s series featuring an Alaska Native lead character has generated enthusiasm among Alaska Native people. 

“I think it’s really exciting. I think it’s good for the outside world to understand and know our culture,” said Julie Roberts-Hyslop, a member of the council of the Native Village of Tanana.

Princess Daazhraii Johnson, a writer, actor, director and Neets’aii Gwich’in originally from Arctic Village, is creative producer of the series. She currently resides in Fairbanks. 

An Alaska Native working group provided guidance on the program. Members include Adeline Peter Raboff, Dewey Kk’ołeyo Hoffman, Rochelle Adams and Luke Titus. 

Titus is the first chief of Denakkanaaga, a nonprofit organization representing indigenous elders. 

The Minto resident said he is excited for his 14 grandchildren to watch “Molly of Denali.”

“I sure want to see their reaction on what Molly is saying and doing,” Titus said. 

The series will feature an Alaska Native elder as Molly’s grandfather, he said.  

WGBH Boston and Atomic Cartoons are producing the show, which Johnson said “showcases values paramount to all Alaskan Native cultures.” 

“These values will be woven into each storyline and provide important learning moments,” Johnson said in a prepared statement. “I’m especially excited that Alaska Native children will get to see themselves in Molly, who’s such an inspiring role model for all kids. The project’s Alaska Native advisors worked hard to ensure that our children will get to see our beautiful cultures in a respectful light.”

Each episode follows Molly, her dog, Suki, and her friends Tooey and Trini on their daily adventures, including fishing, building snow forts and traveling by dog sled, the news release stated. 

WGBH Executive Producer Dorothea Gillim described Molly as a relatable character who will resonate with children everywhere. 

“Alaska itself plays a key role,” Gillim said in a prepared statement. 

The program is designed for children ages 4-8 and will offer video content, interactive games and real-world activities along with educational  opportunities through informational texts from books, online resources, field guides, historical archives, indigenous knowledge, maps, charts, posters, photos and more, according to the news release. 

“I expect it to be a positive influence on young people all over the country,” said Charlene Ostbloom, vice president of communications for Doyon, LTD., a native corporation based in Fairbanks.“This is a phenomenal step in the right direction.”

Jessica Kozevnikoff, an administrative assistant at the Stevens Village Tribal Government, agreed. 

“It’s amazing. I look forward to it,” she said. 

Amanda Frank, a community organizer and Lower Tanana Athabascan, said she has known about the series for a while. 

“I don’t think it’s only for native people,” she said. “I think anyone from Alaska should be excited. I wish I had something like that when I was a kid.”

The cartoon will appear on PBS stations, the 24/7 PBS KIDS channel and PBS KIDS digital platforms.

The show is being produced with support from the U.S. Department of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the PBS Ready to Learn Initiative, a federal program supporting innovative educational television and digital media for preschool and early elementary school children.