Alaska Native lead in new PBS Kids show

Anchorage, KTUU - A new PBS Kids show, debuting in summer 2019, is turning out to be a big deal in Alaska. That's because it's not only about Alaska, but it also features an Alaska Native as the lead character, a fictional Athabascan girl from interior Alaska.

"Molly of Denali" is an animated, adventure comedy set in the fictional village of Qyah, where Molly and her family run a general store.

"I think it's timely and it's about time," Princess Dazhrail Johnson, the show's creative producer and a Fairbanks resident, said of the new endeavor.

Alaska is already well known as home to Denali, North America's highest mountain peak. Soon, it will be known worldwide for a different view: the life and adventures of a fictional young girl, carrying big messages.

"This is the first ever nationally broadcast show that features Alaska Natives and Native Americans," said, Dorothea Gillim, WGBH Executive Producer and a show executive. She emphasized PBS's long commitment to education, inclusion and diversity.

Indeed, it was nearly 50 years ago that Mr. Rogers himself went to Congress with his own message about the value of public broadcasting, and of kids.

"I give an expression of care every day to each child," Rogers told a Senate subcommittee during a soft-spoken but impassioned plea for money to his and similar programs going.

Now, Native children will get to see themselves caring for the world, even though earlier generations haven't been so sure the world cared about them.

Ayyu Jorie Paoli grew up identifying with celebrities like Kristie Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, one Japanese, the other Chinese, because there were no Alaska Native lead figures in media to fulfill that role. Over time she found that the invisibility, and often the negative messaging associated with Alaska Natives, had unintended consequences. She internalized the disconnect, not realizing it until she was an adult and seeing the impact of that early messaging play out in the way she treated herself.

"It affected how I saw my people and it made me question 'Is something wrong with us?' And by extension, 'Is something wrong with me? With my family," said Paoli, who is with First Alaskans Institute.

"It's all about those children and getting to see a representation of themselves and to feel good about that positive image," Johnson said.

"I was actually just talking with my kids about this this morning; not only to love and value who we are and why, but to also value other cultures," Paoli said during an interview with KTUU about the show.

Qyah, Molly's fictional village, will be diverse and busy. She'll be active doing a lot of things that will feel very familiar to Alaskans.

"Molly loves to play basketball. They go to fiddle festivals. Molly's really interested in nature and birds, so she goes bird watching," Gillim said.

According to a press release about the show, Molly will also have a loyal pet dog, and travel by dog sled and make snow forts. Ordinary things the team behind the show hopes will have extraordinary impact.

"I really think the world needs our cultural values right now -- caring for one another and caring for the land and the water and the animals, of sharing, of just being really good relatives to one another," Johnson said.

The show, aimed at literacy and learning, will feature real-life Alaskan kids from around the state between its animated segments. Molly will also have a vlog, there will be an app and classroom texts. The idea is to reach kids around the world wherever they may be.