Poundmaker Cree Nation not happy with chief's portrayal in Civilization video game

A Saskatchewan First Nation isn't happy with the portrayal of a historic chief in a strategy video game.

First Nation says it was not approached by 2K Games about portrayal, accuses company of cultural appropriation

An image of Chief Poundmaker from the video game Civilization VI: Rise and Fall, alongside a photograph of the historic chief. (YouTube/Submitted Photo)

A Saskatchewan First Nation isn't happy with the portrayal of a historic chief in a strategy video game.

In the upcoming game Civilization VI: Rise and Fall — the latest in the long-running video game series, in which players build up historic civilizations in a quest for world dominance — the Cree civilization is ruled by Chief Poundmaker, a real-life political figure who worked as a peacemaker between the Canadian government and First Nations in the late 19th century.

While Poundmaker Cree Nation Headman Milton Tootoosis was initially excited about Chief Poundmaker's inclusion, he quickly soured on the idea.

"It perpetuates this myth that First Nations had similar values that the colonial culture has, and that is one of conquering other peoples and accessing their land," he said. "That is totally not in concert with our traditional ways and world view."

Speaking to CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning, Tootoosis said he's very sensitive about how First Nations are portrayed in the media.

"This is not new," he said. "Hollywood has done a job for many decades of portraying Indigenous people in a certain way that has been very harmful."

Tootoosis says video game publisher 2K Games, which is behind the Civilization series, should have formally approached the community, offering tobacco and speaking to elders. He says no one from the First Nation was consulted about the project.

"It's a little dangerous for a company to perpetuate that ideology that is at odds with what we know," he said. "He was certainly not in the same frame of mind as the colonial powers."

However, Tootoosis said Poundmaker's portrayal isn't all negative. In a preview video of the game, Poundmaker is cited for his work as a bridge between settlers and First Nations.

Currently, the Cree Nation is working to formally exonerate Chief Poundmaker for a treason conviction he received after the 1885 North-West Resistance. Tootoosis hopes the video game might be able to aid in their work.

"It could go either way," he said. "I certainly hope it helps more than it hurts the cause."

The Poundmaker Cree Nation plans to consult with elders before it formally contacts the company. The game is scheduled to launch Feb. 8.

2K Games has not yet responded to a request for an interview.

With files from Saskatoon Morning