NatGeo show features Navajo family from Farmington

The latest episode of the six-part series "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman" shows the Shiprock pinnacle and a Navajo family from Farmington reenacting the womanhood ceremony for Navajo girls

Noel Lyn Smith
From left, DeAndra Barber and Zachariah Ben, as Navajo "First Woman" and "First Man," go searching for a crying baby in a reenactment of the first Kinaaldá in this image provided by the National Geographic Channel. A new episode of the show that airs on Sunday features a Navajo family from Farmington.

FARMINGTON — A new episode of the National Geographic Channel series "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman" that airs Sunday will feature a Farmington family and familiar sites around Shiprock.

The six-part series explores religions across the globe. It premiered April 3, and new episodes air each Sunday.

Sunday’s episode will show viewers portions of the Kinaaldá, the womanhood ceremony for Navajo girls.

Executive producer James Younger said filming took place near the Shiprock pinnacle in late November with actor Morgan Freeman, whose production company, Revelation Entertainment, produced the series with the National Geographic Channel.

Freeman traveled to locations around the world to explore different cultures and religions to uncover the meaning of life, God and explain the similarities among different faiths.

The series focuses on "looking at religion in a unifying way," Younger said in a telephone interview Thursday.

On the last day of the Navajo Kinaaldá ceremony, Kinaaldá girl "Changing Woman" Maysun Peterson holds a piece of the sacred corn cake in her hands and shares a laugh with Morgan Freeman in this image provided by the National Geographic Channel. Peterson, of Farmington, is featured in Sunday's episode of the series "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman" that will air on the National Geographic Channel.

Sunday's episode — "Who is God?" — examines the Kinaaldá and how the four-day ceremony is a form of communication and insight between the young woman and Changing Woman, one of the Navajo Holy People.

Michele Peterson’s 12-year-old daughter, Maysun Peterson, is the young woman featured in the episode.

In a telephone interview on Friday, Peterson, who lives in Farmington, said her daughter had her Kinaaldá ceremony in early November, and the portion filmed for the series was a reenactment.

Her family was contacted by a local team that was helping producers find a family to be featured in the episode.

“When they first told me, I was walking around in a fog,” Peterson said about her family's selection for the series.

She said her family consulted with a medicine man to find out if the ceremony could be filmed, and, if so, which details could be shared with the television audience.

Peterson said it was a delight to meet and work with Freeman, who was “very curious” about the ceremony and was not afraid to ask questions.

“I think he was in awe of us,” she said.

In one scene from the episode, Freeman asks a medicine man about songs during the Kinaaldá and whether they help guide the young woman as she completes the ceremony.

The medicine man explains the songs provide the young woman strength as she continues the transition into adulthood.

Morgan Freeman assists the Peterson family in pouring the sacred corn cake batter into the pit oven to be baked in the ground overnight in Shiprock in this image provided by National Geographic Channel. The Peterson family, of Farmington, is featured in a new episode of "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman."

Freeman is also shown watching Maysun’s family members remove the alkaan, the corn cake she prepared during the ceremony, after it is cooked in an earthen pit.

“Be proud. Your cake is good,” Freeman said to Maysun after the cake is removed.

He also explains the cake cannot be consumed until after it is blessed by Maysun.

“I can take a bite of it?” Freeman said after the cake is blessed.

“Don’t burn your tongue,” Maysun replies, watching Freeman sample the cake.

Summer Joe, as Navajo "First Woman," listens for a crying baby in a reenactment of the first Kinaaldá in this image provided by National Geographic Channel.

Peterson said her daughter enjoyed the experience and tells people, “That’s my friend Morgan.”

The family showed their appreciation to Freeman by presenting him with a turquoise necklace, which he wore at the Golden Globes in January and the Academy Awards in February.

Younger, the executive producer, said the Peterson family appears in about eight minutes of the 50-minute episode that airs Sunday.

The episode also shows Freeman examining the birth of monotheism in Egypt, exploring Hinduism in India, and undergoing an examination by a neuroscientist to see if a mental imprint of God occurs, according to a National Geographic Channel press release.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.