Thursday, March 4, 2010

How Can Online Gaming Foster Positive Self-Identity?

This was one of the questions we faced while creating On the Path of the Elders -- a free, online educational resource that explores Cree and Ojibway history and culture, in particular the signing of Treaty no. 9.

It’s not an idle question:

In 2008, the Educational Policy Institute submitted a report concerning Canadian Aboriginal Self-Identification. It states, “Canada’s Aboriginal population grew 45 percent in the past decade and now exceeds one million people, comprising 3.8 percent of the nation’s population. This population surge can be accounted for in two ways: the high birth rates of Aboriginal people and a population that is increasingly choosing to self-identify as Aboriginal” (emphasis added).

Yet at the same time Health Canada reports “Suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth.”

So, at a time when more people than ever are choosing to self-identify as Aboriginal, the suicide rate amongst Aboriginal youths is sky-rocketing.

We wanted On the Path of the Elders to have an effect on this appalling suicide rate, and we thought an online role-playing game would be a relevant way for youths to celebrate and explore their culture. Even though youths are increasingly using the Internet for socialization, education, and entertainment, there are surprisingly few quality online resources aimed at aboriginal youths.

To be effective, we knew that On the Path of the Elders had to:

1) enable youths to identify with characters, drawn from their culture and history and outside the mainstream gaming personas

2) be based in Cree and Ojibway concepts of negotiation and cooperation, as opposed to the usual “I win/you die” gaming premise

3) and, of course, it had to be fun.

In other words, On the Path of the Elders had to re-conceptualize what it meant to connect education and technology.

On the Path of the Elders is a significant (and entertaining) game. It allows youths to freely explore different facets of Cree and Ojibway culture, to drive their own narrative, and to take control of their own learning process.

But it goes even deeper than that...

The website contains a rich archive of historical and cultural materials. Archival photos, historic audio recordings, video interviews with Elders and a detailed essay examining the treaty from an Aboriginal perspective, all enrich the user’s experience.

On the Path of the Elders is revolutionary, and a groundbreaking resource for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. We hope that On the Path of the Elders is only the first of many such educational games and online resources that help youth explore their culture in a positive, entertaining manner.

Have you come across any online resources you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

Collette Jackson, Content and Marketing Specialist at BlackCherry Digital Media, is writing on behalf of On the Path of the Elders, a free online educational resource that explores Cree and Ojibway history and culture, and the signing of Treaty No. 9.

On the Path of the Elders launches March 24, 2010. Check it out at

For more information, email us at

Created in partnership with the Mushkegowuk Cree, Carleton University, BlackCherry Digital Media, and Pinegrove Productions.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Strategy. Created with additional financial assistance from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Inukshuk Fund.

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