New “Finding Nemo” film gets a Navajo translation

What an exciting film…

The Finding Nemo second film is getting Navajo translation and opens in theatres soon. Finding Nemo with a Navajo-language version opens in select theatres in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and screenings are part of a larger cultural initiative to keep the native language alive through film

Andy Harvey was reading the Navajo Times one day when he spotted a casting call for the Disney Pixar film Finding Nemo and his children thought he would be a shoo-in. it is not because he has acting experience but because he is fluent in Navajo which is the language of his people.

Finding Nemo is the second film to be dubbed in Navajo which is the indigenous language spoken by members of the Navajo Nation. It debuts Friday in select theaters in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah where it will be shown free.

The voice roles were performed by members of the Navajo nation such as Harvey who have no professional acting experience. They worked with Navajo linguists alongside senior vice president of Disney Character Voices Rick Dempsey to bring the roles to the big screen. The film will also feature an original song by ‘Fall Out Boy’ front man Patrick Stump, who is not native sung in Navajo.

It is a joint effort between The Walt Disney Studios and the Navajo Nation Museum. The Navajo Nation Museum Director Manuelito Wheeler said that the translation has been in the works for more than a year. It will be part of a larger cultural initiative to keep the native language alive through film following the success of the 2013 translation of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Wheeler said they are at a tipping point with their language and they have enough fluent speakers now that they need to use them to help save their language. Using both pop culture and film culture to connect the younger generation to their language is a huge leap forward in getting the awareness out there and getting kids interested.

Navajo suffered a drastic decline in the number of speakers after the arrival of European settlers just like all the indigenous languages of North America. The remaining members lost their language through cultural assimilation once war and disease decimated the population. It is in 20th century that the trend began to reverse because of bilingual programs in schools for children and adults. Navajo was the only indigenous language to experience such an upturn and becoming a model for other indigenous people according to the UCLA Language Materials Project. The number of Navajo speakers has fluctuated over the years from according to statistics from the U.S. Census.

Harvey who lives in the Navajo community of Mitten Rock, New Mexico learned the language from his parents. He is a single father of two sons and a daughter and he speaks it in the home around his children but they are not as fluent as he is. He auditioned for the small role of Bruce the great white shark but didn’t get it but he received a call back a few weeks later asking him to read for another role.