Puppets Aim to Teach Navajo Children Tribe’s Language, Culture

Mark Richardson | Public News Service
Pete Sands and two of his puppet creations, Sadie and Ash. The puppets will be the stars of "Navajo Highways," a TV show to teach children about the Navajo language and culture. Photo Credit: Pete Sands

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

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

“A lot of the older people couldn’t talk to their grandkids because the older people only spoke Navajo most of the time and the younger kids only spoke English,” Sands observed. “There’s a huge disconnect. I saw that problem and I knew I had to do something.”

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

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

“I got four different puppets,” Sands outlined. “There’s two cousins, a boy and a girl, and they have a grandmother and their uncle. The young kids are going to be learning how to speak Navajo, so the audience will learn along with the young kids.”

Sands emphasized each episode will have a different theme, with the first focusing on introducing the characters and learning about the Navajo culture. He added people seem to be coming together over the project.

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

The group has done several live performances in the nation and snippets of the program have been posted on YouTube, but he still is in negotiations about when and where the show will be broadcast.