Spirituality – and how we know we chose the right people

We’ve had a busy few weeks. As we recently posted, we received a USDA Phase II grant for $450,000. Of course, being notified you’ve received the grant and getting the money deposited in your account are two different things. The last couple weeks started with our CEO and accountant starting every morning checking to see if the money was in our account yet, then swearing when it wasn’t and getting back to work. Yesterday, it was.

We sent out an email to our entire staff letting them know – we’d only gotten a couple dozen emails over the last few weeks to ask if we’d gotten the funds.

Most of the emails were what you’d expect. Smiley face emoticon, virtual cheers of yes! That kind of thing.

But I also got an email from Debbie, our cultural consultant from Turtle Mountain. It read,

“Spirits hear our prayers and sometimes get busy right away, time is different here then in their world.  You’re doing good Maria, keep smiling, your good energy goes into the universe, returns to all, thats the circle of life.”

We have carefully selected each member of our staff. We don’t want to work with a bunch of jerks, but more than that, we want to work with people that truly understand and believe in what we’re doing. It’s essential to our mission.

Debbie embodies one of those people. As a cultural consultant, it is her job to make sure that our portrayal of her people is culturally and historically accurate. She speaks Ojibwe and does much of the dialogue for our upcoming game Fish Lake. One example of a recent catch that went around was to make sure we did not have our male Ojibwe characters in the game wearing earrings. That’s not a thing they did.

But more than just providing a this works/that’s not right/here’s how you pronounce this perspective, Debbie also brings a holistic view and perspective to our project, the kind of intangible that we believe helps set our staff apart.

A few weeks back, our lead cultural consultant Erich said Debbie had contacted him about the possibility of doing a ceremony around our game. Spirituality is a core component within the Native American nations we work with. Debbie believed the game was going to be a major undertaking that could positively impact the lives of many children and wanted to if it would be possible to perform a ceremony to ask the Creator’s guidance as we worked on this project. Our answer, of course, was a resounding yes.

We asked Erich to tell us a bit about how the ceremony went:

Most Indian tribes are very spiritual in an unassuming way. Everything they do, they do a ceremony before or after to ask to the creator or his helpings, ask the creators guidance for everything we do. Before we do something, we go to a person who does those ceremonies and give them tobacco. Not the kind of tobacco you might think of, but it’s made up of different types of bark.

Debbie wanted to make sure [this ceremony] was done. [Erich, another of our consultant’s Carol Davis and her husband] went up [to Turtle Mountain] and took tobacco. We did a ceremony that consisted of prayers and smoking and passing of the pipe. [There was] singing, a hand drum. It was really a profound ceremony. During the ceremony, Debbie asked the creator to guide us because the work we’re doing is going to have a lot of impact on many children and adults around country, and that’s a big responsibility. Kids will either learn a lot from us or might not like math if the game isn’t doesn’t right

She asked that He guide us and help us to do the job right with a good heart. There was a lot of sincerity. She asked that He bless the children that are recipients of the game. Water is always involved [in Ojibwe/Chippewa ceremonies]. Chippewa consider water sacred. Hard for me to explain. Indian ceremonies make you feel the presence of Wakan Tanka [the Dakota term for the Creator].

The ceremony was right outside on the porch. That’s the beauty of our ceremonies could be held any place any time. No right or wrong the way you can say things.

We’ve written a lot about tech and the life of a startup on this blog. We also have talked about how we’ve tried to be almost neurotic about making sure we have everything culturally accurate.

As you probably know, we have worked hard to make sure our cultural consultants are the best people we can find. Not just members of the tribes we’re portraying, but experts on their tribal culture – and just as importantly people who believe in and care as much about our game as we do.