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‘Molly of Denali’ special focuses on the history of North America’s highest summit

Molly, Tooey and Grandpa Nat with caribou in a scene from the special “Molly of Denali: Molly and the Great One.” (Molly of Denali/2021 WGBH Educational Foundation)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The animated series “Molly of Denali” has broken a lot of ground when it comes to Indigenous representation.

PBS will air the special, “Molly of Denali: Molly and the Great One” at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday, June 7. It will rebroadcast at 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 9 and at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, June 11 on New Mexico PBS, channel 5.1. It will also stream on the PBS Kids app.

According to Dorothea Gillim, executive producer, the one-hour special is about Walter Harper.

Harper is an Alaskan native who was the first person to climb Denali, North America’s highest mountain.

“We’re so excited to tell his story,” Gillim says. “His accomplishments aren’t widely recognized. He’s a guiding spirit.”

In the special, Molly learns about her Grandpa Nat’s dream to climb to the top of Denali in honor Harper.

“It is wonderful to demonstrate that despite your age you can still achieve your dreams. It has been a dream of our ancestors to pass along our traditional values and ways of life so our future leaders will remain grounded in our cultures,” says  Yatibaey Evans, creative producer. “Sharing the story of Walter Harper, John Fredson, and Grandpa Nat, shows perseverance in the face of adversity, respect, and gratitude. Our Native values have sustained us for thousands of years and it’s wonderful to share our successes with a broad audience.”

Inspired, Molly tries to persuade Grandpa and her dad, a wilderness guide, to make the climb.

They agree, but tell Molly she’s too young to make the treacherous journey to the top.

Never one to give up, Molly convinces them to let her and her best friend Tooey join them on their trek to base camp and track the climber’s journey.

Trini and Joy hug in a scene from “Molly of Denali: Molly and the Great One.” (Molly of Denal/2021 WGBH Educational Foundation)

Meanwhile, Molly’s friend Trini is busy preparing for another big event: her mom Joy is on leave from the Army and visiting Qyah, Alaska, for the first time.

On the eve of the expedition, an unexpected guest shows up – celebrity outdoorsman Mac McFadden, who’s also intent on summiting Denali.

By foot and dogsled, they make it to base camp and learn more about Walter Harper’s trailblazing expedition. But the trip turns perilous when Mac decides to head out on his own during a storm. Trini’s mom, a helicopter pilot, makes a daring rescue, but is it too late for Grandpa to fulfill his dream?

Gillim says the show has worked at having representation on all spectrums of the production.

With the first season finished, she says it definitely felt like the entire production staff climbed Denali.

“With the special, it feels like we’ve reached it,” she says. “We also wanted to wait to air the special because Walter Harper summited Denali on June 7, 1913.”

There are also online watch parties set for 7 p.m. Eastern on June 11, which will be announced on the PBS Kids social media pages.

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