Indigenous

Kanesatake sisters develop video games to promote Kanien'kéha

Kahentawaks and Wennekerakon Tiewishaw are among 132 semi-finalists in the annual Pow Wow Pitch competition.

Kahentawaks and Wennekerakon Tiewishaw are semi-finalists in the Pow Wow Pitch competition

Kahentawaks (right) and Wennekerakon Tiewishaw are sisters from Kanesatake, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community located northwest of Montreal. (Submitted by Kahentawaks Tiewishaw )

Sisters Kahentawaks and Wennekerakon Tiewishaw grew up playing video games with their siblings, and now they're making their own games that are rooted in Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) culture, stories, and language.

"Having video games be such a big part of my childhood, it would have been super helpful to be able to play games in Mohawk to reinforce the things I was learning," said Kahentawaks, who is from Kanesatake, northwest of Montreal.

"I just want to be able to provide those things for the next generation."

Kahentawaks, 30, studied computation arts at Concordia University in Montreal. In 2020, she co-founded Revital Software, along with her sister and their friend Frederyk Kowalczyk.

The company specializes in the creation of Kanien'kéha language revitalization games and resources. For Kahentawaks, it's about bringing the skills she learned in university back to her community. 

Kahentawaks Tiewishaw's first mobile game is called Karihonniennihtshera (Teachings) and was was exhibited at the 2019 ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. (Submitted by Kahentawaks Tiewishaw)

"We're encouraging our youth to stay in school and to pursue their interests but a lot of us end up leaving and then maybe never coming back," she said.

"This is my way of bringing it back to the community and engaging with my culture in my own way."

Creating content for children

Kahentawaks's first mobile game, called Karihonniennihtshera (Teachings), was exhibited at the 2019 ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto. 

It's a bilingual interactive storybook playable in both English and Kanien'kéha, following a young girl named Ietsistohkwaroroks as her grandmother teaches her about the flora and fauna in their territory, and the importance of taking care of Mother Earth.

During the pandemic, Wennekerakon, 28, decided to quit her job in early childhood education to join the company, with the goal of creating content for children to connect with their language and cultural knowledge in a fun and interactive way.

Karihonniennihtshera is an interactive storybook following a young girl named Ietsistohkwaroroks as her grandmother teaches her about the flora and fauna in their territory. (Submitted by Kahentawaks Tiewishaw)

"That's really important to me because it's something I wish we had when we were growing up. I think it's really cool that we can provide that," said Wennekerakon.

"I really love making art for it, but I also enjoy the educational side of it and what it means for our communities to have these resources."

Pow Wow Pitch semi-finalists

To date, the two sisters have made seven games as a company, with most developed for a school in Kahnawake. Their goal is to create an online library of Kanien'kéha games that is available to the public.

To make that become a reality, they've been applying for different grants and also are a semi-finalist in the technology and innovation category of the Pow Wow Pitch.

The pitch competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs offers a total of $200,000 in prizes for successful businesses. Those who reach the semi-finals are paired with mentors and receive training to pitch their businesses to a group of judges for a chance to win prizes and advance to the finals.

"Even if we don't win, it's worth it just for the experience," said Kahentawaks.

"You kind of win no matter what because at the end of the day, you work through thinking about what your business is — you know very clearly what you're lacking and what you have to work on."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.

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