Fort Smith youth create new board game to preserve Cree language and culture

Like the board game Snakes and Ladders with a traditional twist, Trails and Overflow tests players' Cree vocabulary as they race to the end of a South Slave trap line.

Trails and Overflow tests players' Cree vocabulary as they race to the end of a South Slave trap line

Ryan Schaefer and Eyzaah Bouza of Fort Smith are the brains behind a new Cree language board game Trails and Overflow. They designed the game to be like Snakes and Ladders with a traditional twist. (Heather Heinrichs/WAMP)

A new N.W.T board game is bringing Cree language and culture to northern communities. 

Ryan Schaefer and Eyzaah Bouza, both 20 years old from Fort Smith, created the game to be like Snakes and Ladders, with a traditional twist. 

Named Trails and Overflow, the game takes players through a South Slave trap line where their knowledge of Cree animal names and numbers are tested in a race to the finish line. 

Schaefer and Bouza developed the game at a 2018 workshop joining language revitalization with game development. Schaefer said he never expected the product to come to fruition.

When he heard the concept that he and Bouza created would be brought to life, Schaefer was thrilled. 

He hasn't yet seen the prototype in person, but said the art and game pieces "look amazing," noting Yellowknife artist Cody Fennell's design. 

"It's pretty cool, something that me and my buddy made a few years ago, joking around, actually turning into something big," he said. 

Schaefer, left, and Bouza are the brains behind the Trails and Overflow board game. The two 20-year-olds from Fort Smith created the game at a workshop in Thebacha in 2018. (Davis Heslep/WAMP)

As an avid hunter and trapper growing up, Schaefer said he's excited to showcase a piece of his home to future players. 

"I hope they get a little bit of awareness of Cree language and stuff that goes around in the North," he said. 

The workshop that inspired the new game was a collaboration between the Northwest Territory Métis Nation and non-profit arts organization, Western Arctic Moving Pictures (WAMP). 

Vance Sanderson is languages manager with N.W.T. Métis Nation. 

He and Davis Heslep, the workshop director with WAMP, plan to travel the territory in August showcasing a prototype of the game for feedback. 

The game was born out of a 2018 workshop encouraging language revitalisation through games. Vance Sanderson, N.W.T Métis Nation languages manager, says the game can be adapted to different communities around the North. (Heather Heinrichs/WAMP)

Sanderson said the game could easily be adapted to promote culture and language preservation in regions across the N.W.T. 

Projects like these are important to make that work fun and accessible, he said. 

"In the end, it's all about learning the language, having fun and being with family and friends playing a game that could definitely help anyone with their fluency, speak better and have more confidence in their culture and their language." 

Since the game promotes Cree language and culture, its development is supported by the organization's funding through the department of education, culture and employment. As a result, Sanderson said Trails and Overflow would be free for anyone who wants to own a copy. 

Residents can let him and Heslep know they're interested when the workshops are in their community. 

Sanderson, left, and Davis Heslep are the workshop facilitators that brought Trails and Overflow from concept to reality. The pair plans to showcase the game this summer throughout the territory for feedback before finalising the product. (Vance Sanderson/N.W.T Métis Nation)

Heslep said that the partnership between WAMP and Métis Nation was natural since both groups value digital skills as a tool for story telling and developing knowledge-based economies. 

Projects like Trails and Overflow "empower people to reflect themselves and their culture and their identity," he said, noting the importance of of northern audiences being reflected in their own pop culture. 

"We're just excited for people to get excited about this game because, you know, it's kind of like a homegrown project," he said adding the game will "hopefully reflect the portion of the N.W.T in a really awesome way."