I really love games because of the ability for people to interact with them. They’re not like other media where you sit down and just consume it. Games are great for learning because you have to actively engage and think about what you're doing, which is awesome.

Photo courtesy of Eleanore Falck

Eleanore Falck | Menominee, WI

I designed ‘Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game’ to teach middle school students about Ojibwe history and culture. It’s an introduction for young people to learn about treaties, tribal sovereignty and traditional harvesting. The content about harvesting is a more modern take on how people do it today.

The game also teaches that these things aren’t just history, they are happening right now. I find a lot of people tend to have this notion in their head that Native Americans are a thing of the past, which is not true.

I am Oneida from my dad’s side. Growing up I felt a little bit distant from my Indigenous heritage, although it was definitely a big part of my childhood. I would hear stories from my dad and my family and go to powwows and other events. I also had some interaction with Ojibwe culture going to school in Ashland, since we were right outside the Bad River reservation. As a kid, I didn’t feel as connected to Native American culture. It’s only recently that I’ve really started to connect more with my heritage and realize its importance to me. Being an intern at The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) and developing ‘Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game’ helped me become more connected. GLIFWC represents eleven Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan that hold hunting, fishing, and gathering rights. GLIFWC has been supporting these tribes in exercising their treaty rights since 1984. 

In ‘Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game’, players start the game in the role of an Ojibwe youth and go through five levels to learn about Ojibwe vocabulary, history, and culture. The first two levels focus on treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. The second level focuses on collecting maple sap. Then the game takes you through the history and process of spearfishing, and ends with players harvesting manoomin (wild rice). Players walk through the activities and offer asemaa (tobacco) to spirit helpers who offer knowledge in return. Then, players meet people who ask them about what they have learned. I think the levels that focus on harvesting are the most fun, because it’s an interactive way to introduce it to kids who might not have not known about it. 

I made ‘Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game’ while I was an intern at GLIFWC. I used their existing resources as a basis for the information presented in the game. My supervisor at GLIFWC, Dylan Jennings, gave me advice on how to rephrase certain things to be more accurate and approved all of the final content. A lot of the game came from my experience with my family, as well. We’ve made maple syrup for a few years now, and I’ve been ricing pretty much my whole life. Teachings about asemaa (tobacco) were also part of my life growing up. Having all of these experiences was helpful for creating animations and planning game mechanics.     

I was also influenced by my own experience in school. For example, I don’t remember talking about the spearfishing controversy, when, during the 1980s, protests occurred in northern Wisconsin over the Ojibwe exercising their right to spearfish.  I felt it was really important to include that in the game because a lot of people don’t know about it or don’t know the real facts.

Since ‘Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game’ was released, I’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback. Recently, my middle school had me come talk to some classes. They have a week-long Ojibwe unit and they played the game as part of it. It was awesome to talk to people who were learning from it. I know that there are other schools using it as well; currently the game has over a thousand downloads on Android and 4,500 browser plays, which is amazing to me.

I’m about to start my senior year in college. I go to UW-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin. My major is Game Design and Development-Art. My goal is to be a 3D environment artist. An exciting opportunity for me this summer is that I will be a part of the Games for Change festival. I will be talking on a panel with other Indigenous game developers. My session is called Reframing Education Games Through an Indigenous Lens. Recently, I’ve been connecting online with other Indigenous game developers and I’m really grateful that I’ve been welcomed into this community, where I am both a student and a teacher. I’ve found artists willing to mentor me and I’ve shared my knowledge with others. It’s really inspiring.

Eleanore’s story was produced by Ma’iingan Wolf. You can check out ‘Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game’ on a web browser here and on Android devices hereYou can check out Eleanore’s work here.

Image of ‘Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game’

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