Sesame Street’s Elmo spotted at baby celebration at Leech Lake

Megan McClary and her son, Sam, meet Elmo at the Leech Lake Welcome Babies Ceremony. (Photo by Beth Tennessen.)

By Dan Ninham

Elmo from Sesame Street joined tribal leaders and elders welcoming the newest members of the Leech Lake Reservation and other Native communities at the “5th Annual Welcome Babies Celebration” held on June 27, at the Veterans Memorial Powwow Grounds in Cass Lake, MN.

First held in 2018, the ceremony welcomed infants and new families into the community and provided resources related to maternal health and early childhood development. The event was supported by Leech Lake’s Family Spirit and Empowerment Program.

The event offered a platform to share Anishinaabe principles, traditions, and stories. A drum group performed a birthday honor song for the babies. This year families met and took photos with Elmo, and had access to Sesame Street books and coloring pages provided at the resource table hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health.

The Family Spirit and Empowerment Program “is designed to be delivered by tribal paraprofessionals with a core strategy to support and educate Native American families in daily life skills in an Ojibwe specific manner”, according to their website. This program was free to all federally recognized tribal members and their descendants or caretakers of babies and children of federally recognized tribal members and their descendants.

Over 160 communities from 24 states across the country have been trained to use Family Spirit, with training, technical assistance and curriculum materials managed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health.

Birdie Lyons is an LPN and Program Manager and one of six staff members for the Family Spirit and Empowerment Program. “Our program is an Ojibwe culturally-centered Home Visiting Program,” said Birdie Lyons. “This is for pregnant women and children up to age three years old or anyone raising our babies. This component uses paraprofessionals from the community as home visitors and is Ojibwe culturally focused by use of strength-based curriculum as a core strategy to support our families and those raising our babies. Families gain knowledge and skills to promote a healthy and positive lifestyle by use of 63 lessons which are instilled with Ojibwe stories, crafts, and life skills such as gathering and harvesting along with learning Ojibwe family language and values.”

Lyons said, “A long time ago, the Chief of a Band or community visited with a family who gave birth and always gave gifts to the new baby and mother to let the baby know how important their arrival to the Tribe was and thanked the mother for being the sacred pathway for the arrival of this new member to the Tribe. The men always started a fire for the coming baby and sang songs of welcome, the men kept the spirt of ‘fire’ alive in their women and children by keeping them safe and happy. They also built a fire and sang when their people left to journey home back to spirit world we came from.”

“So the celebration is to let our babies know we are excited and so happy they came to be with us at Leech Lake and we want to make them feel they belong with us. We want to let our mothers know we greatly appreciate how sacred they are, in fact, let all women know they are sacred. We celebrate baby and mom with gifts and words from our chairman and representatives to encourage a good life for our new babies and their families,” said Lyons.

“This year we had the privilege of Sesame Street sending us Elmo to help us celebrate our new babies and their families,” said Lyons. “We wanted the children to be happy and to know we are still very thankful they are here in our tribe with us. We hope this will assist our new generations to know they are wanted and loved in hopes of a better future where they will not want to self-medicate or harm each other because they will know a whole tribe celebrated their arrival.”

“As the Family Spirit Program staff of Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, we are hoping to assist our leadership, communities, and families to heal our nation in small and humble ways,” added Lyons.

According to the the Sesame Workshop and the Center for Indigenous Health, the program “will take place over the course of a year and include new play spaces for Indigenous communities featuring favorite Sesame Street characters and learning tools such as books, videos and interactive games tailored in collaboration with the Center for Indigenous Health to reflect Indigenous cultural values, empower families, and inspire a healthier future. Many of these materials will be distributed through the Center’s Family Spirit early childhood home-visiting program that reaches thousands of Indigenous families every year.”

Lisa Martin, (Sault Ste. Marie Ojibwe) is the Senior Research Associate at Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health and is based at Sault Ste. Marie, MI. Martin is on the leadership team for the Family Spirit and Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health/Sesame Workshop Partnership.

A component of that partnership between the Family Spirit Program through the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health and Sesame Workshop was to make available Sesame Street Character visits to Indigenous community events from across the country.
Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, is partnering with the Family Spirit program to co-create uplifting, educational, and empowering resources that reflect Indigenous values and Indigenous community considerations. In addition to two new videos featuring Indigenous children and their families sharing traditions from their culture and ways they stay healthy, printed materials will be available to families participating in the Center’s Family Spirit home visiting programs.

To view videos created by Sesame Street for this program, see:, and

For more info about the Leech Lake’s Family Spirit Program, see their website at: