On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the newly produced Navajo language dub of “A Fistful of Dollars” will be screened for free at the KiMo Theatre in downtown Albuquerque. This dub, produced through a partnership between the Navajo Nation Museum and MGM Pictures, is part of an ongoing effort by the museum to bring awareness to Navajo language preservation efforts through classic films.

The idea of using films to call attention to Indigenous language preservation came from a conversation between museum director and project leader Manuelito “Manny” Wheeler and his wife, Jennifer Wheeler, a doctorate-holding English and Navajo-language teacher. After she translated the first five pages of “Star Wars,” Manny Wheeler contacted Lucasfilm, and after waiting two years, they began the process of dubbing their first film.

This is the third time the Navajo Nation Museum has partnered with a major studio to produce a dub of a classic film, with the first two being “Star Wars” and Disney’s “Finding Nemo.” Each was dubbed by an all-Navajo group of translators and voice actors who worked tirelessly to adapt the scripts and dialogue to fit the language and match the actors’ mouths, according to Manny Wheeler.



“We want people to naturally be interested in these projects. At some point in the future, I’m sure they will be used — and are used already — as a teaching tool, but right now, our primary focus is to help bring awareness to the issues that surround Navajo language and Native languages,” Wheeler said.

The event will also be filmed by the New Mexico Public Broadcasting Service and Providence Pictures as part of the upcoming second season of their docuseries “Native America,” which focuses on ancient Indigenous history and culture as well as contemporary Indigenous voices and communities.

The episode, which will focus on Native language and premiere in late 2023, is directed by series producer and Quechan tribe member Daniel Golding, who was first drawn to Manny Wheeler’s work due to its creativity and innovation.

“He’s thinking outside the box on how to create ways for people to be exposed to language, for young people to be exposed to language. I thought it was just a great story,” Golding said.

According to Golding, work like Manny’s that calls attention to and helps to preserve Native languages is essential, especially at the current juncture.

“With a lot of communities, their fluent speakers are probably 50 and up … We’re in a crisis situation, and I’d like to see more investment by outside resources to invest more into language preservation and revitalization. It’s really a national treasure, and we need to do as much as we can, however we can, to preserve it,” Golding said.

For Manny Wheeler, the value of work like his lies in the way it preserves Indigenous cultures through language.

“There’s inherent values in all languages around the world because cultures are embedded in their language. Concepts, ideas, even abstract ideas are embedded in the languages that are unique — to fully comprehend a lot of cultures around the world, it’s through their languages. When languages are lost, a part of the culture will go with it,” Wheeler said.

Free tickets for the 7 p.m. screening can be reserved online.

Spenser Willden is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @spenserwillden