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Molly Of Denali Teaches Multi-Cultural Understanding

Molly of Denali and her dog Suki
Molly of Denali and her dog Suki

An animated PBS Kids program becomes the centerpiece of a virtual Native American cultural outreach.

A well-known PBS Kids program has become a valuable cultural resource, both for native Americans and anyone who wants to have an appreciation of that heritage.
If you - or your kids - are regular Public TV watchers, this may sound familiar. (sound clip of show open)
It's the theme for Molly of Denali, an animated PBS Kids program that debuted in July of 2019. Molly is a ten-year old indigenous native of Alaska. The show is about her adventures and interactions with her family, friends Tooey and Trini and her dog Suki. The program airs on PBS stations all over the U.S. as well as over the CBC in Canada. But Haley Babcock, the education and outreach coordinator for Tallahassee PBS affiliate WFSU, says her station did more than just include Molly of Denali on the station's broadcast schedule.

"So we have this grant to help us continue with educational initiatives in the community and I believe Tasha Weinstein, my wonderful boss, had this idea."

Weinstein, the station's educational engagement manager, had a unique idea.

"Take Molly of Danali and our family and community learning workshop that is usually an in-person workshop that families go through to learn about and talk about their traditions, their values, important people in their family and communities and turn that into pillars of this museum," Babcock explained.

A museum in Tallahassee that is run by this person:

"Misty Penton. Right now I'm just the education director and curator for the Muscogee Nation Florida Museum."

The genesis for which, Penton said, was sparked by a conversation she had with Weinstein quite awhile ago.

"She had met me a couple of years previous and knew I was working on modern native culture at the Fred George Museum because, as it turns out, a lot of people in this area really don't know much about the natives who live here. And it turns out my tribe tasked me as the traditional storyteller and historian, to share that information."

Thus began a one-of-a-kind collaboration. Molly of Denali became a multi-media vehicle for multi-cultural understanding. Penton said the project was even able to adjust its formats to the virtual environment mandated by the pandemic.

"It takes the very old school kind of traditional thoughts and ideas and interfaces through this modern technology, (which) was a very fun thing and then basically having Haley make it soar - I told her she gave us wings - it is amazing the type of richness that is available through this digital museum and I guess that's the whole point."

Thus promoting cultural understanding in a positive, enjoyable context that has universal appeal.

"It's illustrating a Native American family and worldview and perspective that is very wholesome and harmonious and that frankly, everybody can recognize as healthy."

The initiative has attracted considerable attention among educators and the PBS community. WFSU's Haley Babcock saw this as a possible lead-in to other projects.

"It's really exciting to think about all the stretches of where this could go. And then therefore what else we could do with it and other things in the future."

In the immediate future, WFSU will offer a virtual family and community learning workshop series using the Molly of Denali content starting this week. Go to WFSU.org to find out more.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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