Carl Petersen, Lakota, is a Dakota State University student that has long been influenced by the world wide web. He tells Indian Country Today that his father was the first tribal resident on the Cheyenne River rez to have a cable connected to his computer in the 90s to check his email. The monthly bill Petersen says ran his father a grand total of $1800.
Though the bill was outrageous, Petersen says it sparked a thirst for knowledge of technology as well as a desire to jump into the world of the internet, and eventually online gaming.
“I got hooked on World of Warcraft in Junior High and logged 6,700 active hours, though I was a monogamer, I really do appreciate the open worlds and interactions of online gaming,” Petersen told Indian Country Today.
Petersen has also spent 13 years of his life learning his Lakota language. With a combined passion for his traditional language and desire to grab onto technology, he enrolled at Dakota State University as a computer design major.
He wanted to explore a world not often seen done respectfully, the world of online games and Native Americans. Knowing that this was the field he wanted to delve into, he worked with a mentor, Justine Kougl, to apply for a grant to help him achieve his dreams.
The Billy Mills Dreamstarters’ grant would start Petersen on his way to achieving his dreams.
In March of 2019, Carl Petersen was one of ten recipients of a $10,000 Dreamstarter grants offered by Running Strong for American Indian Youth. The Dreamstarter grants and grant program were started by Gold medal Olympian Billy Mills, co-founder of the non-profit organization that, according to their website, “Running Strong helps American Indian people meet their immediate survival needs while creating opportunities for self-sufficiency and self-esteem in American Indian youth.”
According to Dakota State University, an initial game idea from a class at DSU. “Tipi Builder,” a 3D game about putting a traditional Lakota Tipi together with instructions available in the Lakota language, explained Petersen. The idea was inspired by his own experience in learning the Lakota language.
Petersen’s grant has got a lot of attention nationally and his story has made it into a considerable slew of media outlets. But while Petersen says he is extremely appreciative of the support, he really wants people to sign up for his email list at www.NorthernPlainsGames.com.
"It’s just a landing page right now, but people can sign up for my email list for upcoming projects and more," he told Indian Country Today.
Petersen, who was a contributing writer to When Rivers Were Trails — a Native American-themed roleplaying video game, conceptually similar to the original The Oregon Trail computer game —has been working to create a new game he calls Tipi Builder, a video game built with the UNITY video game engine framework. In the game, participants would build a traditional Lakota tipi using instructions in the Lakota language.
“I took Lakota language for 13 years in school, but after 13 years I wasn’t much more fluent as a senior in high school than I had been as a third grader,” said Petersen in a release from his university. “It’s meant to be a tool to help teach that language in the classrooms and to individuals who have a hard time finding fluent teachers.”
With the Dreamstarters $10,000 grant, Petersen is looking to add Lakota narration and hire Native American artists. Once the game is ready he wants to offer the game in schools that offer Lakota in their curriculum. He also hopes to get his game into computer game retailers such as Steam and itch.io.
“Right now, there aren’t really any game design studios in South Dakota, much less on a reservation,” he said in the release. “So, I’d like to have a studio on the reservation that can provide jobs and train people in a skill set – there are a lot of artistic people who just don’t’ have opportunities and I want to provide those opportunities.”
Petersen told Indian Country Today it's about providing a non-romanticized, non-stereotypical option to the world of online gaming.
He wrote to Indian Country Today in an email, including his formal traditional Lakota introduction about his stance regarding Native appropriation in video games:
Hau, Carl Petersen emaciyapi yelo. Oóhenúŋpa Thíthuŋwaŋ naíŋš Lakóta un Očhéthi Šakówiŋ hemáčha. Wan Wakpá Wašté emátaŋhaŋ. Wambli Paha Elwati. Wanietu ni Wacemena Numpa na Wanzi.
For a long time, be it in museums, literature, film or any other media, creators have appropriated parts of Native cultures for their own gain, often romanticizing and degrading Native people as either "Noble Savages" or just plain "Savage and less than human." Recent video games have been no different. Even with games like Red Dead Redemption II, which tried to make relatable Native characters ... With Natives telling our own stories, we may now be able to Čheslí kaȟʼól héye wičhákaȟwokiŋ , Throw that shit to the wind, . Don't paint me as the first person doing this; I'm not. Thinking that way is wrong in that it disrespects my elders, those who have come before me breaking into the entertainment industry to tell Native and Indigenous stories. I walk on the shoulders of giants. To retake the image of Native people to help revitalize Lakota culture and language and to honor my ancestors — those are my reasons to make this game and then another and another.
Sign up for his email list at www.NorthernPlainsGames.com.
On Friday, March 1, 2019, Billy Mills awarded the fifth class of American Indian youth to receive $10,000 Dreamstarter grants. The ten individuals will be traveling to Washington DC at the end of April to meet with Mills.
The 2019 – 2020 Dreamstarters are:
Aukea Ka’aekuahiwi, Native Hawaiian, 15, Kapaau, HI
Dreams of expanding his business producing, selling and teaching youth about traditional pork products.
Taylor Eddie, Navajo, 16, Spanish Fork, UT
Dreams of an agriculture career and teaching youth how to raise animals.
Kevin Belin, Navajo, 29, Crownpoint, NM
Dreams of creating and selling educational materials to strengthen Navajo language comprehension.
David Fraser, Oglala Lakota, 25, Kyle, SD
Dreams of building and opening his own tire repair business, in the footsteps of his great grandfather.
Hope Gamble, Navajo, 14, Nazlini, AZ
Dreams of creating and selling comic strips about Navajo creation stories.
Jacob Crane, Tsuut’ina Nation, 29, Provo, UT
Dreams of expanding his Indigenous-led media production company, creating videos that empower Native youth.
Carl Petersen, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, 20, Parade, SD
Dreams of creating a video game designed by and for Native people.
Parrish Pipestem, Eastern Band of Cherokee, 15, Tulsa, OK
Dreams of expanding his business by investing in infrastructure that will streamline his processes.
Joshua Smith, Osage Nation, 29, Portsmouth, VA
Dreams of creating a Native-owned and operated, socially-conscious coffee roasting business.
Freddy Gipp, Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, 25, Lawrence, KS
Dreams of helping communities increase economic opportunity through cultural programming.
More information about the fifth class of Dreamstarters and their projects is available at http://indianyouth.org/2019Dreamstarters.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling
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