Respect. Love. Courage. Honesty. Wisdom. Humility. Truth. These seven simple words taken directly from the dictionary could serve as the bedrock of any successful children’s television series. However, for an animated show like Wolf Joe, the TVO Kids Original I created some years ago, these words take on even more significance because when coupled with their respective animals, they represent the Seven Sacred Teachings of the Anishinaabe people of Turtle Island (North America).

From the very beginning, all the stakeholders in this project knew that its success hinged on the show’s ability to connect with the spiritual guidance of Indigenous advisors as well as the contributions of Indigenous storytellers and creators throughout the entire production. To that end, Wolf Joe has been unlike any other show I’ve ever created. There have been kids shows about Indigenous culture that have been produced by Indigenous creators.  And to not recognize that would be doing them a great disservice.  But while I’m not an Indigenous creator, my reputation and experience as a seasoned preschool show creator was something that I hoped would afford Wolf Joe a unique opportunity to give Indigenous culture a voice and presence on a global stage.  But to do so would require the kind of authenticity and legitimacy that my experience alone could not bring to the table. 

A crucial step in the journey was for myself and the team to connect with the series’ Spiritual Advisor, the esteemed Anishinaabe Elder, Dr Dave Courchene.  Dr Dave Courchene is the founder of the internationally recognized Turtle Lodge Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness in Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba and he has played an instrumental role in incorporating Anishinaabe customs and culture into the series.  In doing so, it became clear that Wolf Joe would have to focus its lens on an aspect of First Nation’s culture that could be successfully communicated to a preschool audience in a fun and entertaining way, while maintaining accessible and important cultural takeaways that felt universal to kids (and grown-ups) everywhere.  The Turtle Lodge, Dr Dave Courchene and his teachings of Mino-Pi-Matisi-Win (the Anishinaabe Sacred Teachings) became that focus and the cultural learning anchor points for the series as soon as production started.  Watch Dr Dave Courchene’s video statement on the Wolf Joe series here.

In addition to the richness and authenticity contributed by Dr Dave Courchene and the Turtle Lodge, invaluable contributions have been made by Indigenous storytellers and performers.  From an all-Indigenous cast made up entirely of First Nations and Métis performers (most of whom are voice acting in an animated series for the very first time!), to welcoming Indigenous first-time preschool writers so they might contribute very personal experiences that could then be woven into the fabric of our stories, to our Indigenous directing and music composition teams, Indigenous talent has left an indelible mark on this production that I know will resonate with kids in Canada and around the world. 

Finally, after more than a decade producing award-winning shows for broadcasters such as the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network among others, the Métis-owned Winnipeg-based production company Media RendezVous, brought its considerable expertise and invaluable standing in the indigenous community into the mix, to co-produce the series with Amberwood Entertainment in Ottawa.

Alexander Bar

New cartoon Wolf Joe puts emphasis on Anishinaabe culture, teachings

Voice actors say it's important for Indigenous children to see their communities reflected on TV

Lenard Monkman · CBC News

Wolf Joe is a new animated series that follows the adventures of Joe and his two best friends. The show incorporates Anishinaabe teachings and was a collaboration with the Turtle Lodge, an Anishinaabe ceremony and education lodge in Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. (Amberwood Entertainment/Media Rendezvous)
A new animated series that is focused on a First Nations boy and Anishinaabe teachings is giving young Indigenous viewers a chance to see their communities reflected on television.
Brett Huson, who is Gitxsan from Gitxsan territory in British Columbia, is the voice actor for Chief Madwe on Wolf Joe, airing on TVOKids and Radio Canada. After watching the first handful of episodes online this weekend, Huson said his children, ages seven and 10, "are happy to see people that look like themselves."
"I sat down with my kids and watched," he said.
"They heard my voice and they saw my character. It was quite amazing to see my daughter's eyes; it was heartwarming to see."

Voice actor Brett Huson watched episodes with his children. He says the show will help break down stereotypes that non-Indigenous people have about Indigenous peoples. (Brett Huson)
The show was created by Alexander Bar and is a collaboration between Winnipeg production company Media Rendezvous, Amberwood Entertainment and the Turtle Lodge, an Anishinaabe ceremony and education lodge in Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.
To make sure the storylines and direction of the show were in line with Anishinaabe teachings, the producers of the show relied on Turtle Lodge elder and knowledge keeper Dave Courchene Jr.
"It's good wholehearted teachings that come from people who are raised in the culture," said Huson, who is also an children's book author.
"I would say definitely it's a great show to watch regardless of what nation you're from."

Realistic role

Joy Keeper from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba is a grandmother of three and the voice actor of Kokum on the show. She said her character is an accurate reflection of a grandmother's role in Indigenous communities.

"There's something going on in the community — she's got to get over to the hall. She's got to control everybody at the hall. She's making food and the bannock is coming out of her oven," she said.
"I think those kinds of messages were so realistic in terms of how the women, the kokums, the mothers, are leaders in the community and they run the community."
Joy Keeper is the voice of Kokum on the show. She says the portrayal of her character is a realistic representation of grandmothers in Indigenous communities. (Joy Keeper)
One of the producers from Media Rendezvous, Charles Clément, said he hopes the show inspires children around the world, but especially Indigenous youth.
"The message of the show is it's about Joe, a young First Nations boy and his community called Turtle Bay, and so it's Joe and his friends who who take on and overcome all of life's daily challenges that little kids and older ones like us have to overcome every day," said Clément.
There are currently 46 11-minute episodes that have been produced. Viewers can find the show on TVOKids cable and YouTube channels, the Knowledge Network and Radio Canada.

January 14, 2021
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The Turtle Lodge partners to launch Wolf Joe - A New Indigenous Animated Series for Kids

The Turtle Lodge takes great pride in being a founding partner and collaborator for Wolf Joe - a new animated action adventure series, and a TVOkids Original.

This exciting and brand-new animated series follows the daily adventures of Joe, a young First Nations boy who, with his two best friends, is inspired by the universal values of The Seven Teachings Wheel to explore his Indigenous culture, heritage and identity.

Created by Alexander Bar with Cultural Consultant, Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Wolf Joe is a collaborative partnership between the Turtle Lodge, Media Rendezvous and Amberwood Entertainment.

TVOKids will premiere the show on January 10, 2021 (Sunday) at 7:05 am EST (6:05 am CST) with repeats Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:10 am EST (10:10 am CST).

Wolf Joe will launch on the Knowledge Network January 11, 2021at 11:45 am EST (10:45 am CST).

Wolf Joe has also been licensed to SBS Australia, a major network group that emphasizes Indigenous culture.

Check out Wolf Joe with your kids and be inspired by The Seven Sacred Teachings!

January 12, 2021
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Video Statement by Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Cultural Consultant for ‘WOLF JOE’

“Boozhoo! Aniin! N’Dinaymaaginitook! ”

(Greetings!  All My Relations!)

“Nii Gaani Aki Inini N’Digoo. Kinew N’Dodem. Sagkeeng N’Doonji.  Anishinaabe N’Dao.” 

(My spiritual name is Nii Gaani Aki Inini, which means Leading Earth Man,  I come from the Eagle Clan.  My community is Sagkeeng First Nation.  I am from the Anishinaabe Nation.”)

Watch video of Elder Dr. Dave Courchene speaking about “Wolf Joe”, as transcribed below

A Message from Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Cultural Advisor to the Wolf Joe Series 12 Jan 2021

“The children’s series of Wolf Joe was created in collaboration and partnership with the Turtle Lodge, Media Rendezvous and Amberwood Entertainment.

My participation was to share what I believe is the foundation of our identity as the First Peoples of our homeland that we call Turtle Island.

We held a ceremony at the Turtle Lodge to begin the process of sharing our Seven Sacred Teachings in the Wolf Joe series, to ensure the Spirit would guide us.

The animals that are associated with these teachings remind us that Nature teaches us many things. We are to treat the Animal World with respect for all it brings to our lives. Not only do the animals bring teachings, they also work hard to keep the balance on the land.

In the order of Creation, we were the last to arrive, as Human Beings.  The Animal World preceded us, so that they could greet us and bring us the teachings that we should live by.

We cannot survive without the Animal World.

These Seven Sacred Teachings are about being a good Human Being. When we live the spirit of these teachings, we can take care of each other, showing kindness, being friendly, generous and considerate of all life.

All these teachings are good for your heart.

My hope with the series of Wolf Joe is that children will receive an understanding of a belief system of the Indigenous People.

We have been a People that has evolved with a close and sacred connection to Mother Earth. Our way of life as a People is embedded in our languages and the land. That is why we sprinkled a few words of the Anishinaabe language into the series. The language adds spirit to the stories we are sharing.

These teachings, learned and lived, can change the world.  We can all learn to love each other and to treat each other with respect and dignity. We can all learn to treat Nature with respect. Everything is connected. Nature gives us everything we need to live and to survive.  What happens to one happens to all.

If the children can be introduced to these teachings from the Animal World, they will learn to be kind. Other people will want to be around them. Their parents and their Elders will be proud of them.

There is nothing more important in life than to live these Seven Sacred Teachings. They will bring you a good life and abundance.”

January 12, 2021
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Amberwood’s Wolf Joe in production with TVO

The concept for the First Nations-themed series comes from the mind of Alexander Bar, creator of Mike the Knight (pictured).

By Jordan Pinto
June 27, 2016

Ottawa, Canada-based Amberwood Entertainment’s latest project, Wolf Joe, is in development with Canadian pubcaster TVO. The animated preschool series from Mike the Knight creator Alexander Bar follows Joe, a young First Nations boy who embarks on adventures in the northern wild with his three best friends. The concept for the series was inspired by the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, which is located near Dryden, Ontario.

Wolf Joe is aimed at a three- to five-year-old demographic, and sets out to teach preschoolers about Canada’s indigenous culture, heritage and identity.

Bar’s Mike the Knight currently airs on Treehouse TV in Canada, CBeebies and Tiny Pop in the UK, and on Nick Jr. in the US. Amberwood and TVO recently collaborated on Shutterbugs, which was also produced and created by Big Jump Productions.

From Playback.

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