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Cree puppeteers create humour from everyday life

The Bighetty & Bighetty Puppet Show brings laughter, healing to International Children's Festival of the Arts
Trapper and The Chief from The Bighetty & Bighetty Puppet Show pose for photos prior to presenting their showcase as International Childrens' Festival of the Arts from May 30 to June 2.

The International Children’s Festival of the Arts largely focuses on increasing cultural awareness. But in addition to fostering a broader global stage, the festival empowers and nurtures children by providing a fresh crop of ideas and crafts. 

This year, The Bighetty & Bighetty Puppet Show, Cree puppeteers from Pukatawagan, Man. (about 700 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg), make their debut appearance at the festival. 

The three Bighetty brothers, Ken, Kelsey and Daniel, are the creative minds and performers behind the project. Each of their character puppets deliver hoots of laughter in both Cree and English.  

“It’s improvised. We write a script, but we don’t usually follow it,” said Ken Bighetty, whose puppet is named Chief. The Chief is easily recognizable wearing a sparse headdress fashioned from crow feathers. 

In fact, he equates the laughter puppets draw from people to healing of the mind, body and soul. 

“Respect the puppets  — they are medicine,” he said, describing the importance of humour and laughter in Cree culture.

The brothers are in-demand performers at schools, conferences, festivals and community gatherings from Ontario west to Alberta and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. The Bighetty puppets were also headliners at the World Puppet Conference in Calgary. 

As youngsters, the boys would stage plays and sock-puppet shows at their house, often to entertain themselves, family and friends. Their characters organically grew out of child’s play. 

“We would play and talk the story out. We were so used to playing together, it was easy to perform,” Ken said. 

As children, the brothers were big fans of Sesame Street, The Muppets and Fraggle Rock. But despite the variety of puppets created for these innovative shows, they never saw an Indigenous character. 

One of the puppeteers' defining moments arrived when Daniel, working as a security guard at a health centre, found an old puppet. He began goofing around with it and created a character and a new voice. Ken filmed the improvised hijinks and posted them online. 

The first videos they made for social media platforms were about 30 to 40 seconds. Within a short while, the modest videos were streaming at 2,000 views and have continued growing. These visual treats are a slice of their life in various capacities: promoting the Cree language, visiting mountains, hunting, being treed by a bear, and even ordering at McDonald's, to name a few. 

During the festival’s 45-minute show, the three puppeteers will engage audiences through interactive conversations that relate to issues children face in our stress-based world. 

“One of the things we like to tell children is to pray at night," Ken said. "It doesn’t matter who you believe in. Just pray. Don’t carry anger. Don’t carry sadness. Let it go. Talk it out with your Lord. A lot of kids say ‘I hate life.’ We want to teach kids to let go of the anger regardless of who you are." 

Other topics the puppeteers like to push are the importance of getting a good night’s sleep, going to school, and minimizing video games. 

“Don’t get lost in video games. And we tell them to exercise, do yoga and eat healthy food. My puppet even teaches kids to use their lungs properly when breathing. If you concentrate on your breath, it makes stress go away.” 

But mostly, the show is about laughing and having fun. 

“Bring your camera. Bring your phone. We’ll play to the audience.” 

The Bighetty & Bighetty Puppet Show runs May 30 to June 2. For tickets visit or call 780-459-1542.

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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