The Quest for New Arc­tic Vi­sions: Never Alone (Kisima In­gitchuna) and Indige­nous Dig­i­tal Sto­ry­telling

The Quest for New Arc­tic Vi­sions: Never Alone (Kisima In­gitchuna) and Indige­nous Dig­i­tal Sto­ry­telling

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS -

In 2011, the Cook In­let Tribal Coun­cil em­barked on an am­bi­tious project: build­ing a video game that cap­tures the rich­ness and vi­brancy of Iñu­piaq cul­ture in the dig­i­tal realm. The re­sult has cap­tured global at­ten­tion, while cel­e­brat­ing lo­cal roots.

As a tribal non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Cook In­let Tribal Coun­cil (CITC) serves about 10,000 Alaska Na­tive in­di­vid­u­als each year, con­nect­ing them to op­por­tu­ni­ties and ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment and train­ing, child and fam­ily ser­vices and re­cov­ery ser­vices. A lit­tle over ten years ago the board of direc­tors made a de­ci­sion to ex­pand what we were do­ing with so­cial en­ter­prise, which we’ve been en­gaged in since we were formed 35 years ago. We had been look­ing at ad­di­tional ways we could move away from be­ing de­pen­dent on fed­eral and state fund­ing. About five years ago, we were look­ing for our next project and re­al­ized we were com­pletely miss­ing the con­nec­tion with our youth through our pre-ex­ist­ing so­cial en­ter­prises. When we thought about what re­ally res­onated with our youth, our tra­di­tional games came to the fore­front, as well as the fact that we knew they were on so­cial me­dia and us­ing video games—all the places we weren’t as an or­ga­ni­za­tion. That was when our CEO Glo­ria O’Neill said, “Why not video games?” We started the process by look­ing around the in­dus­try to see who was out there and do­ing work that was aligned with our val­ues. E-Line Me­dia kept com­ing to the sur­face as the com­pany that was re­ally push­ing the field in terms of “Games for Change”. So we in­vited them to come to Alaska. Which they did; in Jan­uary, in the mid­dle of a bliz­zard. One of the most fun­da­men­tal steps to pro­duc­ing a game that would hon­our our peo­ple was to have E-Line meet with a group of artists, sto­ry­tellers and youth. What came through in these early ses­sions was that our sto­ries are one of the most im­por­tant ways that we pass wis­dom for­ward, from one group to the next. It was at this time that the choice was made to fo­cus on the Iñu­piaq cul­ture, in part be­cause we wanted to show who we are as peo­ple at a time when the Arc­tic is in­creas­ingly open­ing to out­siders. Through­out the process we had 24 cul­tural am­bas­sadors who worked closely on the game, but we also en­gaged the en­tire com­mu­nity of Utqi­aġvik (Bar­row) through­out the de­vel­op­ment process. In turn, the E-Line team came up to Alaska over two dozen times to share progress on the game, as well as to un­der­take test­ing in the school in Utqi­aġvik. That con­nec­tion was prob­a­bly the most pow­er­ful one. One of the things I am most proud of is that we were able to have a young Iñu­piaq writer, Ish­mael Hope, em­bed­ded with the de­sign team to help write the nar­ra­tive for the game, which is based on a story we call Kunuuk­saayuka. One of the stick­ier points had to do with the Spirit Helpers, and be­cause Ish­mael was there, he was able to guide the cre­ation of that as­pect to re­ally hon­our our val­ues. The other thing that was dif­fer­ent about de­vel­op­ing a game with an Indige­nous com­mu­nity was hon­our­ing tra­di­tional in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, which is a very West­ern term. We had to some­how meld West­ern in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty own­er­ship with our tra­di­tional val­ues. For the Iñu­piaq, we don’t own the sto­ries we tell—they are passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Of­ten times sto­ries can be very sim­i­lar be­tween vil­lages, and we had to nav­i­gate how to walk through that. Robert Nas­ruk Cleve­land is the sto­ry­teller who is most known for the Kunuuk­saayuka story, so we wanted to gain his per­mis­sion, but we knew he had passed away many years ago. We sought out his old­est sur­viv­ing child, Min­nie Gray, who is also a sto­ry­teller and cul­ture bearer in her own right, for per­mis­sion. When I went and vis­ited her for the first time, I asked her what she thought about turn­ing this story into a video game. She said, “Of course you should. This is how my great-grand­chil­dren are go­ing to hear this story.” I think Never Alone has re­ally set the bar for games based on Indige­nous cul­tures and demon­strates that if you’re go­ing to make a game about an Indige­nous cul­ture, you need to make it with them.

Amy Fre­deen

Ex­ec­u­tive Vice–Pres­i­dent/Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer, Cook In­let Tribal Coun­cil, Inc.; Lead Cul­tural Am­bas­sador, Cul­tural In­sights, Never Alone (Kisima In­gitchuna)

I grew up hear­ing some of our tra­di­tional sto­ries, but was not fully aware of the val­ues em­bed­ded in those sto­ries. Be­ing a part of the team that made this amaz­ing game has been a gift. I have re­con­nected with sto­ries long for­got­ten, and have been able to re­al­ize how im­por­tant sto­ry­telling is for pass­ing on wis­dom and val­ues. Amy Fre­deen Lead Cul­tural Am­bas­sador, Cul­tural In­sights

From the very beginning, this project was a part­ner­ship. We made a com­mit­ment to spend a lot of time in the com­mu­nity, both in An­chor­age and Utqi­aġvik. But they also at­tended game shows and re­ally im­mersed them­selves in this com­plex and evolv­ing medium. All of this went into, what we now call, an In­clu­sive De­vel­op­ment Process. Alan Ger­shen­feld Founder and Pres­i­dent, E-Line Me­dia

It was im­por­tant to me that the game rep­re­sent the Iñu­piat authen­ti­cally. One of the big­gest inspiratio­ns for me was be­ing able to talk with artists and to look closely at the art and other cul­tural ar­ti­facts. We did a lot of this work in the col­lec­tions of the An­chor­age Mu­seum and the Iñu­piat Her­itage Cen­ter in Alaska and the Seat­tle Art Mu­seum and the Burke Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory and Cul­ture, both lo­cated in Washington State, near our stu­dios. Inuit art has a very strong voice through its use of ma­te­rial and its aes­thetic ap­proach, and it was im­por­tant for me that this be re­flected in the fin­ished game. Dima Veryovka Art Di­rec­tor

Our lan­guage is pre­cise. In the Iñu­piat lan­guage, there’s a spe­cific word for each thing. Many of our kids now have lost the lan­guage, but some are try­ing to learn. This game is part of that, and, by help­ing to trans­late for it, I am able to be part of that too. Anna Nageak Trans­la­tion, Cul­tural In­sights

I be­lieve that through this game, some­body might be­come in­ter­ested in the lan­guage. It could give them a spark of the pos­si­bil­i­ties in the Iñu­piat lan­guage—in any lan­guage. You have to learn a new phys­i­ol­ogy of how sounds are made to learn a new lan­guage. Never Alone could make some­one want to do that. James (Mu­miġan) Nageak Trans­la­tion, Voice Over, Cul­tural In­sights

I want peo­ple to know that we are rich in oral his­to­ries and that we are at the fore­front of the un­for­tu­nate ef­fects of cli­mate change up here. I hope the game suc­ceeds! I hope […] peo­ple get to learn of the Iñu­piat cul­ture and the sto­ries [we have] passed down. Tommy Nageak Founder and Pres­i­dent, E-Line Me­dia

I have a four-year-old grand­son, so I’m learn­ing video games. If Never Alone [can reach] the young peo­ple, whether they live in a vil­lage or out­side, it will make them want to con­nect to their her­itage and learn more. I did this be­cause of my grand­son. I want him to play a game that has the his­tory of where he comes from. Ag­gie (Patik) Kel­lie Cul­tural In­sights

A vast num­ber of sto­ries of Indige­nous El­ders—as it was told in the lan­guage— are works of pure beauty and po­etry. The team has found a story from such a sto­ry­teller: Robert Nas­ruk Cleve­land. Though it would re­quire more deep in­ves­ti­ga­tion than one video game to fully un­der­stand, it is per­son­ally sat­is­fy­ing to me that we were able to el­e­vate and cel­e­brate one of the world’s great­est sto­ry­tellers. Ish­mael (An­galuuk) Hope Writer, Sto­ry­teller, Cul­tural In­sights

Work­ing on this game has been in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing. The abil­ity to be both a teacher of my cul­ture and a stu­dent of game cul­ture was tremen­dous. I hope peo­ple ev­ery­where en­joy play­ing and learn­ing through this work. Ron­ald (Aniq­suaq) Brower, Sr. Iñu­piat Trans­la­tion, Voice Over, Cul­tural In­sights

TOP Sean Vesce in Utqi­aġvik, May 2014 ALL IMAGES COUR­TESY OF NEVER ALONE

MID­DLE Sean Vesce re­search­ing in the vaults of the Smith­so­nian Mu­seum, 2014

BOT­TOM El­der Min­nie Ali­itchak Gray with He­len Roberts record­ing voice-over for Never Alone

ABOVE LEFT The main char­ac­ter Nuna with her Arc­tic fox in the Icy Caves BOT­TOM LEFT Nuna speaks to the Owl Man

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