Mar 23, 2015 - A Critical Look at Native Appropriation in Monte Cook Games, By Morning-Star Angeline
Since March 11, 2015 I have made various small efforts to bring Monte Cook’s RPG Game “The Strange” recursion called “Thunder Plains”, to the attention of my fellow Native American’s as well as to those who are against cultural appropriation in video games. As a Native American woman who has biological links to Shoshoni, Nez Perce, Blackfoot, Chippewa Cree & Dine’ tribes, I found their materials to be extremely inappropriate and harmful to not only myself but to my Native community; especially our youth. I personally, rarely enjoyed playing video games because I saw them to be dominated by men. I heard many horror stories by women who have had rape threats thrown at them for merely participating in games. Although I do not play games often, I can still acknowledge that they are not bad by nature, rather bad when game developers, designers, writers, and programmers produce games without proper research and feedback. I appreciate the craftsmanship in creating these games and the fantasies which they can include when made responsibly. I do not believe Monte Cook’s recursion “Thunder Plains” to be apart of responsibly made games and I feel it is my role to try to educate those who have no understanding of why I, and many other Native American’s find this material detrimental to Native American cultures and communities.
In order to move forward deconstructing our perspective, I need to explain who played a role in the petition and what those roles entailed as Monte Cook Games continues to get the facts incorrect and share them as truths. On or about March 11, 2015 I was contacted via Tumblr and Twitter by @threelittlemonkeybutts. She directed me to the content which was released on Monte Cook Games’ “Thunder Plains”. Those images can be found HERE. After analyzing the images and their content I then spoke with @threelittlemonkeybutts further regarding the current status. She briefly explained that she had corresponded with Monte Cook Games and brought her concerns to their attention about a year earlier. Monte Cook Games made it clear then, that they would not be open to offering an apology and only offered a place to give input on how the game should be changed. She did not accept that offer because under those conditions Monte Cook Games would not be taking responsibility for their mistakes and publishing of disrespectful, detrimental and irresponsible material. With that information, I then tweeted Monte Cook GamesTHIS conversation.
I made the decision to make the same requests as @threelittlemonkeybutts as I found her demands to be extremely fair under the circumstances. Monte Cook Games did not acknowledge that demand and only reiterated the terms that previously informed me of. After that correspondence I was then blocked by Monte Cook Games and some of their affiliated twitter accounts. I had only spoken to MCG’s main twitter and had made no efforts to speak to others, yet I was still blocked. I then felt extremely disrespected by their company because I felt it is their responsibility to give concerns, especially of this magnitude, the time of day. The idea of a petition was born because of Monte Cook’s decision to decline us the courtesy of contact. It’s near that time that Danielle Miller joined in on our conversation via Tumblr and Twitter. I asked them if they would both be willing to make writing contributions to the petition as they were both far more knowledgeable on the issue at that point in time. My role was to provide the space, organize it and post it within a timely manner. Ms. Miller then proceeded to write the article “Cultural and Intellectual Property: It’s Not a Game” while @threelittlemonkeybutts wrote out the petition. They both asked me to review their writings, and once we reached agreements those writings were posted via Last Real Indians and Change.org.
Since posting our petition Monte Cook Games has demonstrated severe degrees of disrespect, intentional ignorance, dishonesty, and at best amateur professionalism which only serves to discredit their point of view. Monte Cook Games has since unblocked my account, but continues to block Ms. Miller as well as many other Native American’s and petition supporters who spoke out against their game via Twitter. Monte Cook Games has since carried the conversation to Facebook and Google+ pages. Myself, and many others thought that behavior to be extremely questionable for many reasons. The first being that they declined initial contact, and only extended it on their terms and their territory. When petition supporters entered the conversation through these outlets they were immediately verbally dismissed by many MCG supporters. A MCG administrator on these outlets proceeded to delete numerous threads created by petition supporters which varied in content. Some of which were justly deleted while others, promoting educational materials/opinions were unjustifiably deleted as well. We found the move to Facebook extremely problematic because many Native American’s cannot use FB due to it’s “real name” policy. Many Native American peoples have names non-natives do not often use (i.e. Crow, Little Bear, Singer etc.) and those names are not recognized by FB.
As the “discussion” continued, MCG associated accounts like Shanna Germain’s (@ShannaGermain) published statements such as “I’ve got good armor and a lot of power. It would be more awesome if we could both be heroes, but if you need a bad guy, I’m your girl… I’m very happy to be the villain in this story if it helps eradicate even one bit of racism, homophobia, transphobia or sexism” only to be deleted shortly after. Ms. Germain’s rhetoric is extremely concerning, especially coming from a professional. In two brief tweets she managed to not only speak out against racism but also utilize her own white privilege to defame honest efforts of those working against racism.
Mr. Bruce R. Cordell (@BruceCordell), another MCG affiliated Twitter user, was at the same time also using his Twitter page to voice his opinions. “I should stick with my own culture when writing fiction? Luckily I have native family members…” Mr. Cordell said in response to statements/suggestions by Twitter users that he should not utilize a culture he does not understand. Although I was not pleased with Mr. Cordell’s response, I was happy he exemplified the ignorance many non-natives and Native American’s themselves have when discussion cultural appropriation.
Having Native American blood/family does not denote knowledge on Native American cultures nor does it mean the opinion of that individual is equal to the opinion of Native American’s who practice and are more knowledgable on Native traditions/customs. There are many, many Native American’s who have been disconnected from their cultures and communities for various reasons. Sadly, it is these Native American’s, those most unfamiliar with their cultures, who are often chosen for an cultural appropriating agenda. We have seen this demonstrated in the argument over the term “Redskins” when many of the teams utilizing the term claimed some Native American’s were okay with the term “redskin” thus “redskin” was not a racial slur. This argument represents a bigger problem all minorities have faced at one point or another, and that is the assumption that one voice can speak for an entire race or group of races. Yes, some Native American’s do not find the term “redskin” to be offensive, but have they ever been called a “redskin” in an offensive manner? The term “redskin” first began to be used as an offensive term when James Fenimore Cooper used it in his 1823 novel The Pioneers. Later in In 1915, the poet Earl Emmons released Redskin Rimes. which set the tone for the word through the 1900’s. That means those who primarily heard the word used in a derogatory form were those born in the early to mid 1900’s, also known as our Native American elders and ancestors. Is MCG utilizing the same techniques the “Redskin’s” supporters used to belittle our arguments/voices further? Yes. Mr. Cordell’s link to the heritage itself is not a valid reason to think “Thunder Plains” is appropriate or valid.
Many have made a point to argue that “Thunder Plains” is a work of fiction and thus cannot be held accountable for historical/cultural accuracy. I would argue that “Thunder Plains” fails to be a fantasy for multiple reasons. First being that the design does not include enough original content. It is extremely lazy and offensive to steal from a race’s actual culture to only “redefine” the words used (i.e. medicine man, thunderbird, etc.) to suite your agenda. MCG cannot claim to have created a fantasy when they included so many aspects of a culture that actually exist and actually have meaning. You cannot claim words and symbols which have been apart of the very fabric of cultures/spiritual beliefs because you change the meaning for a game.
Another careless mistake MCG made is that they failed to take into account that Native American’s are not a singular race. There are over 566 tribes recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (the actual figure is even bigger, however many tribes are still fighting to get recognition). All of these tribes have different customs, traditions and beliefs. Additionally, Native American history is a particularly sensitive historical time which has not been properly acknowledged by America. It was stated in the White House’s Native Youth report that “despite the United States’ historic and sacred trust responsibility to Indian tribes, there is a history of deeply troubling and destructive federal policies and actions that have hurt Native communities, exacerbated severe inequality, and accelerated the loss of tribal cultural traditions.” Additionally, false information on the happenings during the colonization are still being taught in American schools today. MCG’s failure to take these facts into account before producing this game and also before making efforts to defame the character of those Native American’s or Native American sympathizers who voiced their opinion on this matter is extremely disheartening.
Would we be okay with a game about Africa before Transatlantic Slavery which manipulated many African traditions/spiritual beliefs by only utilizing stereotypes? I hope not. I know many people would not be okay with a game that uses a central character named Jesus Christ, and strips all meaning and history behind what many people believe he did, said and stood for. Native American ceremonies are our church’s and “bibles” and we have had to fight to even practice them. Up until 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed, Native American ceremonies were forbidden in America. That means 37 years ago American Indians on reservations had no religious rights and were specifically barred from practicing traditional ceremonies (more info HERE).
The last and most important reason why content like “Thunder Plains” should be denounced is it’s negative effect on Native American individuals, specifically the youth as well as other ethnic groups. “Studies show that regardless of their intention, [use of inaccurate/racist Native imagery does] not honor American Indians, but instead bring to mind negative thoughts associated with them as a group of people… Furthermore, other studies with mostly white samples have found that people exposed to American Indian mascots are more likely to negatively stereotype other ethnic groups as well.”
Native American’s have long been coined the “warrior savage” by most American media. This depiction goes back to literature/advertisements which were released at the start of colonization and content reiterating those ideas continues to be produced today. Let’s review and look at a few other related issues Native American’s face today:
The American education system is not teaching historical facts when related to the colonization of Native American’s but rather focuses on a story which paints Christopher Columbus as a hero and father of America;
Native American’s stories/events/tragedies are often left out by news/media outlets which are not ran by Native American’s themselves;
Most non-natives affiliate contemporary Native American’s with John Wayne movies, alcohol and casino’s;
More than one in three American Indian and Alaska Native children live in poverty;
The impact the above issues have is monumental and extremely concerning. When the world around Native American’s constantly demeans their culture and invalidates their very existence, how can that not have a negative impact on their sense of self worth? How can a mass lack of self worth within Native American individuals not impact the communities as a whole?
The American Indian/Alaskan Native high school graduation rate is 67 percent, 3 the lowest of any racial/ethnic demographic group across all schools. And the most recent Department of Education data indicate that the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools fare even worse, with a graduation rate of 53 percent, compared to a national average of 80 percent;
Suicide is the second leading cause of death—2.5 times the national rate—for Native youth in the 15 to 24 year old age group;
“Native Americans are most likely to be killed by police, compared with other racial groups. Native Americans make up about 0.8% of the population, yet account for 1.9% of police killings.” (http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/24/opinion/moya-smith-native-americans/)
The above information is why I chose to participate in this ordeal. Monte Cook’s actions are NOT part of an isolated incident as Ms. Miller discussed in her article via The Last Real Indians. This is a part of a bigger issue which has not been properly addressed by those involved (those being the American government and American people). I strongly believe MCG as a money making business should be held to higher standard than an independent individual. Companies like Monte Cook Game’s are expected to produce responsible material proper for consumer purchases because that is what a respectable business does. I have seen multiple posts by MCG supporter’s which state something similar to, “I know MCG to be a responsible company. These claims of blocking opposers to “Thunder Plains” is preposterous”. Statement like that only lead me to believe that MCG supporters place a great deal of trust in MCG to act with great integrity and I believe MCG has betrayed that trust through their multiple unprofessional actions.
The only direct response I will make to Monte Cook’s response to the petition is the following: The lack of signatures does not validate MCG’s argument, but detours it as it again shows how ignorant they are to the problems at hand. In locations like the Pine Ridge Reservation almost 40 percent of the people live without electricity, over 90 percent live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate exceeds 80 percent. This means that a staggering amount of Native American’s also do not have regular access to a computer or the internet. News often takes far longer to travel across Native American businesses/blogs/media outlets for those reasons. How can I expect thousands of signatures when a vast amount of the targeted audience does not have the ability to see it? I will not comment on their response further because I believe their rhetoric within the article yet again demonstrates their unprofessional behavior.
For further information on these subject please review the references linked within the article as well as the below links:
MorningStar Angeline was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA to Rita Rose Wilson and Ethan Sean Chippewa. Her ancestry includes Native American tribes Shoshoni, Blackfoot, Nez Perce, Blackfoot, Chippewa Cree, as well as Mexican American and European.
MorningStar began acting at an early age and continued mild theatre work until her freshman year at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, CA. She then attended Pierce Community College and studied acting, philosophy and photo journalism. In 2012 MorningStar dropped out of college to pursue acting and photography full time in Los Angeles. She worked for companies such as Happy Place, Inc. as a behind the scenes photographer and shortly after received the role of Nizhoni Smiles in Drunktown’s Finest which went on to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2014.
Later in 2014, Ms. Angeline won Best Supporting Actress from the American Indian Film Festival for her role in Drunktown’s Finest which also won Best Film.