When Sharon Firth first saw herself in animation, she fell in love.
“I loved it. I loved me. They really made the character look like me,” she said.
“I wanted the clothing to reflect the Dene style, with the mukluks and the fur — just to make it real life for when northerners see it. That’s the way we live.”
After years of work and a lot of waiting, Sharon and her late sister Shirley will be immortalized Saturday as cartoons on the latest episode of Molly of Denali.
Still in its first season, Molly of Denali follows the life and adventures of 10-year-old Molly Mabray, a Gwich’in / Koyukon / Dena’ina Athabascan girl who lives in rural Alaska with her family. The family runs the Denali Trading Post, serving the locals, tourists, trekkers and scientists who pass through.
The show is produced in partnership with CBC Kids and PBS Kids.
Firth says she was first approached by the show’s creative producer about appearing on the show four or five years ago.
“She interviewed me. I pretty well told her my story. She just came up with script. We went back and forth many times, editing and getting it right,” Firth says.
“Hopefully it will really inspire people. Especially in the difficult times we have now, we need positivity.”
From Aklavik to the Olympics
Born twin sisters in 1953, Shirley and Sharon, originally from Aklavik, N.W.T., were part of the first women’s cross-country ski team to represent Canada at the Olympics. As members of the Gwich’in Nation, they were also among Canada’s first Indigenous athletes at the games.
They both made their national debuts in 1968 as 15-year-olds, and began winning races in Canada, Alaska and Sweden.
After 17 years on the national team, the Firths had amassed 79 medals at national championships and competed at four consecutive Winter Olympic Games — the only Canadian women skiers to have done that.
Shirley died of cancer in 2013.
Firth says she was honoured when she found out the show’s creators wanted to tell her and her sister’s story.
“This is a really good way to inspire the Indigenous population. They get to watch cartoon characters too!”
“It doesn’t matter where you come from or how you live. It’s what you do with your life.”
One of the perks of being featured in the episode is Firth got a sneak peak.
“Molly’s mother heard about Shirley and I and that I was coming to Alaska. Molly was all excited and she’s never skied in her life. She gets ready to race … you’ll have to watch the rest!”
Molly of Denali plays every Saturday and Wednesday morning on CBC television or can be streamed on-demand on CBC Gem.