This week, PBS premiered the new animated television show Molly of Denali, which the broadcaster says is the first nationally distributed children’s series with a Native American main character. The show follows Molly Mabray, a 10-year-old Athabascan girl whose family runs a trading post in Alaska.
June Thiele is a Chicago-based writer and actor who is Athabascan and Yup’ik. Thiele was chosen as a script writing fellow for Molly of Denali and is currently creating their first episode for the show. Thiele joined WBEZ’s Melba Lara to talk about writing for Molly of Denali and about Alaska Native representation in media.
On participating in the Molly of Denali script writing fellowship
Thiele: It was me and five other Alaska Native writers from all different backgrounds. It was basically a crash course. They flew us out to Vancouver and taught us how to do script writing for children’s TV, which is something I had never done before. So it was definitely an experience. But it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, just being in a room with Native writers. It doesn’t happen very often.
On reactions to the show from Chicago’s Native community
Thiele: It’s all been really exciting, just thinking about the good representation that it’s bringing. I feel like I came to Chicago feeling pretty alone, without my Native community. And once I kind of got into the Chicago Native community … there’s a greater sense of acknowledgement, and understanding, and acceptance within the Native community. I love the Native community in Chicago. They’re all very excited, and they’re cheering me on. It’s cool. A lot of their kids are going to watch the show.
On Molly as a groundbreaking TV character
Thiele: It’s crazy to think about, but it’s also kind of crazy that it hasn’t happened already, in a way. There’s so little representation. Decent representation, not like, written by non-Native people through their lenses of what they think Native people are and what they do. It explores our culture on a deeper level that I think will bring a lot of things to light. People will have a better understanding, and respectful understanding, of Native culture. Not only Alaska Native culture, but I think it extends down to the lower 48, and Canadian First Nations … Indigenous people.
On what Molly of Denali aims to teach viewers
Thiele: We exist, we’re here, we’re modern. I feel like this show will help teach kids to be respectful. And adults as well.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity by Lauren Frost, who covers news for WBEZ. You can follow her @frostlaur.