Cree video game streamers create space for Indigenous gaming community
'I definitely felt that it was lacking an Indigenous presence,' says Marlon Weekusk
Two Cree video game streamers are using moose calls and rez humour to carve out their own space in the gaming industry and are creating a loyal community in the process.
"With the absence of things like powwows, with the absence of tribal days or hockey tournaments or any sporting event, they're all here meeting, competing and getting to know one another," said Jon-Ross Merasty-Moose.
Video game streaming is an increasingly popular form of entertainment where people record themselves playing games live on apps such as Twitch and Facebook.
Merasty-Moose is Cree from O Pipon Na Piwin Cree Nation (South Indian Lake) in Manitoba and is the content creator and founder of Moose Tree Gaming.
Almost every day thousands of people are tuning into his streams, hearing rez humour and battling it out for bragging rights on games like Call of Duty's Warzone.
Although a good portion of the people who follow his account are other Indigenous gamers from across North America, Merasty-Moose said there is a large number of non-Indigenous people watching and learning as well.
"A lot of the stuff is the same [as mainstream content creators], but a lot of it is opportunities where we can share about our culture, and where we're from," he said.
During his live streams, Merasty-Moose does "moose calls" when people donate "stars," a Facebook currency that people can send to financially support streamers.
He uses signature catchphrases such as "Welcome to the herd, ya heard" when people follow his page, and he said that he has created a community of gamers throughout the pandemic.
"It's not an exclusive group only for First Nations, but it's an opportunity for a lot of us to connect and be able to share our stories or our culture with non-First Nations people."
'An Indigenous presence'
At the beginning of 2020, Merasty-Moose was living in Brandon, Man., and working as a phys-ed teacher. He was also coaching a high school girls basketball team, a minor basketball team, an elementary school team where he worked, and Brandon University's men's team.
When the pandemic shut down team sports in the province, Merasty-Moose and his family moved to Thompson, Man., and he invested in the equipment and time needed to become a streamer.
He reached out to another content creator Marlon Weekusk for advice on how to get his page going.
"Seeing this wave of Indigenous streamers pop up and the amount of messages that I get, whether it's support or whether it's asking me things like 'How do I do this?' 'Where do I start?' ... It's awesome to see. I love it," said Weekusk.
Weekusk is Nehiyaw from Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and is the founder of Marmar Gaming. Weekusk is in his third year of a bachelor of commerce program at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
He grew up playing video games and spent a lot of time watching other streamers before he decided to get into the mix himself.
"I definitely felt that it was lacking an Indigenous presence," said Weekusk.
"And I always questioned like ... Why can't we have more Indigenous people doing this? So I decided to just put myself out there and see where I can take it."
Both Marmar and Moose Tree Gaming have their own logos and sell merchandise. They have been able to make money through merchandising sales as well as paid subscribers.
When Weekusk first started streaming, he had to deal with people trolling the comments during his live streams, with most of the early criticism coming from the Indigenous community.
To keep the content friendly, both Weekusk and Merasty-Moose rely on volunteers to moderate the chats.
One of those volunteers is Sherrise Pard. Pard is an educational assistant from Pincher Creek, Alta. She is a lifelong gamer and joined "the herd" on Moose Tree Gaming after her son started watching the streams.
"It's kind of like an escape from your everyday life," said Pard.
She said that she has been able to watch the growth of Weekusk and Merasty-Moose and said that people can relate to the content.
"We've all gone through the same stuff growing up, being Indigenous, like with racism … [Merasty-Moose] he's so down to earth and he's so welcoming. What's good about his stream is the positive vibes that he brings to it," said Pard.