West indian culture

Puppets aim to teach Navajo children about language culture / public information service

It was a little “Muppet Show”, a little “Sesame Street” and a lot of community pride that sparked the idea for a television series to teach Navajo children about their language and culture.

Pete Sands’ new project, “Navajo Highways,” will feature a Navajo puppet family where children learn about their culture through language. Sands is already a volunteer Navajo Nation activist and said he was delivering supplies to neighbors during the pandemic when he noticed a trend.

“A lot of older people couldn’t talk to their grandchildren because the older people only spoke Navajo most of the time and the younger ones only spoke English,” Sands observed. “There is a huge disconnect. I saw this issue and knew I had to do something.”

Sands explained that he and his small team recently began producing the first of 10 episodes of the first season. He had financed the show out of his own pocket, but pointed out that they had started a GoFundMe page to help pay for equipment and production expenses.

Sands noted that the seed for the idea was planted a few years ago when he attended a workshop in New York by Sesame Street growers. From what he learned there, life-size puppets named Sadie, Ash, Grandma Sally, and Uncle Al were created for the show.

“I have four different puppets,” Sands explained. “There are two cousins, a boy and a girl, and they have a grandmother and their uncle. The young children will learn to speak Navajo, so the public will learn with the young children.”

Sands pointed out that each episode will have a different theme, with the first focusing on introducing characters and learning about Navajo culture. He added that people seemed to be rallying around the project.

“From what little I’ve shown people here about the Navajo Nation, especially in the community, they’re so happy to see this because they see where this can go,” Sands remarked. “And nothing like that has yet been done for our language, so there’s a lot of optimism.”

The group has done several live performances in the country and clips from the program have been posted on YouTube, but they are still in negotiations on when and where the show will air.

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