The teacher’s dream of the Blackfoot language “Sesame Street” inspired the art exhibition
An arts festival in Calgary shows how animation can introduce an Indigenous language to new audiences—and perhaps future speakers.
Currently on view at the Festival of Animated Objects is an exhibit of 29 animated cartoons illustrating words in the Blackfoot language.
Created by both students and professional animators, the short, whimsical cartoons teach viewers the meaning of Blackfoot words and phrases, including spelling and pronunciation.
The exhibit was the brainchild of Fort Macleod teacher Celestine Twigg, who dreamed of creating a Blackfoot-language version of “Sesame Street.”
“A lot of our kids are learning English through Sesame Street,” she said. “So why can’t they learn to speak Blackfoot through cartoons?”
Twigg shared her vision with producer Xstine Cook, who is also Co-Artistic Director of the Festival of Animated Objects. They worked to make Twigg’s dream a reality.
In January 2020, Twigg directed a group of ninth grade students at FP Walshe High School who were selected for an animation residency hosted by the Calgary Animated Objects Society.
The animation students worked with Blackfoot language learners who recorded the pronunciation of over 80 Blackfoot words. The students then spent three days in small groups developing concepts and storyboarding their ideas.
“Any language you learn, there’s so much about the culture that you learn from the language,” Cook said.
“In Blackfoot, for example, the words are very action-oriented. Like the word for snake when translated directly is ‘the one that crawls’.”
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the residency to change course, as face-to-face classes were no longer possible for the students.
The organizers went online and invited animators around the world to take on the project. Many Canadians responded, as did animators in the United States and England.
The result was artworks that bring humor and fresh context to a language that some may be hearing for the first time.
“Art has a magical way of translating things for all people,” Cook said.
For Twig, she hopes to be part of similar projects in the future.
“I’m on my way now,” she said. “Nothing stops me.”
The Blackfoot Language Animation Projects is exhibited at cSpace King Edward in Southwest Calgary. The exhibition runs until the weekend.