2022 Indigenous Communities Fellowship


Reclaim! A game that unites Ojibwe language, land and beings

A video game in the Ojibwe language to support Indigenous learners

Team Lead

Mary Hermes

Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Grassroots Indigenous Multimedia

What is the name of your solution?

Reclaim! A game that unites Ojibwe language, land and beings

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

We are creating, with community input, an adventure game that strengthens the relationships between all beings, requiring the use of Ojibwe language.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

See footage from the Community Game Design Camps and the "Forest Walks,"  on our Youtube site. One documentation archive can be found here.

Situated in the movement of humans to understand themselves as part of a web of relationships,  instead of exceptional beings, this project focus on Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) land and language relationship restoration. This movement is expressed as indigenous land and language reclamation, environmental activism, food sovereignty and many other creative forms. We work in the land+ language niche.

A nearly universal problem for learners of the Ojibwe language is a lack of opportunities to put into practice what they have learned and reinforce their knowledge by having actual interactions in the language with speakers and with other learners. This applies to language learners with many varied backgrounds, including young people who have recently completed Ojibwe language immersion education, adults who have taken formal classes in a university setting or who have participated in adult immersion programs, and people who are geographically removed from Ojibwe communities and therefore rely mainly on online and print resources.

This research seeks to understand how intergenerational Indigenous community-based game design can be applied to Reclaim with the aim of restoring relationships between land and language. Playing digital games in classrooms can offer immersive interaction, but, unfortunately, many misrepresent Indigenous people and appropriate cultures (Lagace, 2018; Mir & Owens, 2013). Representations frequently fall back on stereotypes without involving Indigenous communities in the design process (Author, 2017). Games may misrepresent Indigenous people while also objectifying land (Bigelow, 1997). This issue extends into colonial values being reinforced through design, such as rewarding players for ‘discovering’ or ‘claiming’ land on a map (Dillon, 2008) or taking from and using the land for self-gain (Bigelow, 1997, p. 87).

What is your solution?

We draw on language documentation and reclamation research, decolonial literature, language education, and multimodality to highlight a growing consensus around the dynamic, relational nature of language as well as the need for more research on the practices associated with language use in place across generations. We look to community design-based research and games as digital pedagogies to open Indigenous ontological and epistemological spaces for learning, and to contribute to understandings of human development and learning more generally.

"Reclaiming Indigenous Lands and Language" seeks to understand the Indigenous community-based game design process of augmented reality aimed at restoring relationships between land and language. Based on a multimodal interaction analysis of an innovative Ojibwemowin documentation project conducted by members of the project team (National Science Foundation (NSF/DEL), 2017), hereafter referred to as “forest walks,” we have detailed descriptions of what interactional accomplishments look like across generations in collaboration with land, in the Ojibwe language (Author, et al., 2020). This study aims to reconceptualize language and meaning-making with land as a relative through game design to understand what Indigenous community-based knowledge construction can look like.

With their interweaving of code, design, art, writing, and sound, digital games offer robust spaces for Indigenous community-engaged learning (Hermes, 2014). As Gee (2008) advocates, studying digital games and their design "may give us deeper insights into human thinking and learning, as well as new ways to engage learners in deep and engaged learning" (p. 28). Designing a digital game is thus akin to designing a learning activity system (Bellotti et al., 2011; Kamarainen et al., 2013; Paras & Bizzochi, 2005; Soute et al., 2013; Su & Cheng, 2013; Tarng et al., 2015). Combined with lessons regarding design for games as digital pedagogies (Admiraal, 2011; Author & Author, 2019; Michael & Chen, 2005; Squire, 2011), Reclaim builds on prior work in utilizing games for language learning (Godwin-Jones, 2016; Holden & Sykes, 2011; Hsu, 2017; Liu et al., 2016) and for engaging youth in land (Alakärppä et al., 2017; Kamarainen et al., 2013), with particular emphasis on augmented reality games (Godwin-Jones, 2016; Hsu, 2017; Hwang et al., 2016; Litts & Lewis, 2019; Liu et al., 2016).

In designing Reclaim, we expand on prior interaction analysis work between elder-youth-lands on forest walks, captured in an Ojibwe language documentation project, to inform co-design that collaboratively engages Indigenous youth, families, and community members in applying documentation to digital pedagogies for intergenerational language learning on Ojibwe lands, both urban and rural. Community-participatory game design will lead to iterating design principles, bringing to fruition an augmented reality mobile game integrating visual and audio content with real time environments. Community design meetings, data collection, playtesting, and theoretical innovations will inform Reclaim with the intention of use by Ojibwe people as well as reaching a wider audience also interested in reshaping learning around principles of reciprocity.

Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit? In what ways will your solution benefit this community?

This research study is placed in the Great Lakes region, otherwise known as Ojibwe lands and waters, is where Ojibwemowin grows and lives (Treuer, 2001). Our design partners are primarily based in Minnesota and Wisconsin where there has been vibrant work and scholarship in Ojibwe language revitalization across universities, Tribal nations, and local community groups like the Minneapolis Public Schools, Minneapolis American Indian Center, Bdote Learning Center, and Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion School (Author, 2005; Author et al., 2012; Geniusz, 2006; Treuer, 2001). Our community-based design research with these partners focuses on the process of creating an augmented reality Ojibwemowin game and language use community called Reclaim (Bang et al., 2015; Hermes, 2014). We intentionally work across these heteroglossic communities to bring together intergenerational groups of speakers, 1st and 2nd language learners of Ojibwemowin, elders, parents, and children in our design.

The ideas of land, language and racism, often isolated through academic expertise, are restoratively interwoven in this project. Co-design is heterogeneous, in our case centralizing learning and use of Ojibwe in intergenerational communities across revitalization movements in the Twin Cities and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe (LCO) reservation. Gameplay will be aimed at engaging a new generation of learners through emerging mobile technology on the land. By gathering communities to collaborate in the design process, we will bring together youth and elders who are speakers and learners of Ojibwemowin, urban and reservation based, in order to think through what a game for using Ojibwemowin on land could look like. Across iterations and paralleled with biskaabiiyang methodology, we propose to create a space for meaning making across generations and differences on land, thinking deeply about the implications for learning exhibited in moment-to-moment interactions.

Our iterative design phases include consulting Elders, engaging with families at LCO reservation and having steady standing meetings (weekly) with a core design team (described elsewhere). Currently we have held two in-person, two day long "game design camps" at the Lac Courte Orielles Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. Our core design team has a design document and as we are currently writing plot, short challenges and world building (in the Ojibwe language and English).  We hope to have two "writing" workshops this spring/ summer, in order to include both Minneapolis/ St Paul Ojibwe Folks (to be held at the Science Center of Minnesota) and a follow up workshop to the first two at LCO, Hayward, Wisconsin.  The interactions between community, design team (also community members, Elder will expand after the prototype is finished and we begin play testing. There we will draw extensively on the Waadookodaading Ojibwe immersion school community and their alumni families, and their networks, to play test the prototype widely and create community interest in the finished game.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

GIM web site

We started GIM in 1998, and have an excellent track record of working across reservation and urban boundaries, with Elders, schools, teachers and creating materials. We started with documentation of Elders (funded by DEL/ NSF) and we have a wealth of informal communicative language - as we pioneered capturing of informal everyday conversations. We used semi-scripting, generated funny scenarios with Elders, allowed them to improvise language and invited all ages to our "movies camps."  These were good times, we had more speaking Elders then. And yet, the movement grows, we have young speakers now, and we old second language learners have gotten better.

I (Mary Hermes) was a co-founder of Waadookodaading Ojibwe immersion school, involved heavily in the first five year start up. This school is now thriving and has been for 20 years - there are a wealth of families, teachers, and most importantly young speakers who come from this group - they are one of our central communities we are working with and ensure very high level and quality ojibwe language, and also engage the excitement of the youth.

We are a small and nimble non-profit that knows how to work with community, has successfully pulled off many productions in the past, for example, see our software. We are good at follow through, respectful of ojibwe protocols, and known and loved by many (not all) people involved in the language movement.


Anangokwe Hermes-Roach, They/them or she/hers, is our Lead on the project. She is an early graduate of the Waadookodaading school, graudated from Macalester College in Math and Computer science and is enrolled but taking a leave, as a graduate student in Computer Science at the University of Minnesota. She is an avid gamer and experienced Unity Coder. She is a Bad River Ojibwe tribal member and lives in Minneapolis.

Aadeng Muldrow, is the grandson of a well-known Ojibwe language pioneer and learned to speak by hanging out with her. Aandeg is just about to finish his Masters degree in Linguistics at University of Minnesota.  

Jordyn Flaada, Niigaatikwe, is a long time (7 years) staff at GIM, highly proficient Ojibwe language speaker, long time participant in ojibwe language revitalization movement. She has a stockpile of great stuff from Speakers who has passed on, including a "little black book" of really juicy stuff, that she may never be able to publish.

Asiniwaabikwe Trotterchaudeg and Niizhoodewii Denomie, Both high school seniors, attended Waadookoaading through 8th grade (that is where it stops) and have been great fun, gathering community for workshops, having design ideas and they got really excited about virtual reality.  They come in and out of standing meetings (since they are in high school) but will help lots with the next workshop, maybe some digital art, and hopefully lead on playtest and going around to other communities to spread the word on the game we are making.

Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Hayward, WI, USA

Our solution's stage of development:


How many people does your solution currently serve?

7000 enrolled users on our on-line software

Why are you applying to Solve?

I am apply, even though I only received this application recently, because the networking -especially technical - is crucial right now. We are finishing our design document and will soon need to hire at least one programmer and one excellent digital (ojibwe?) artist. These are hard people to find, especially ones familiar with indigenous cultures - we could use help with this big step of making the prototype. It would not hurt to have more money to offer these folks as well.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Mary Hermes, Waabishkiiimiiwan

Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your Team Lead.

Lac Courte Orielles community member

Is the Team Lead a resident of the United States?


Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Drive positive outcomes for Native learners of any or all ages while supporting culturally grounded educational opportunities on and/or off reservations.

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

Indigenous language reclamation in schools (immersion schools) does not bring language transmission back to the families, homes.

A game could do this, it would be a start.

Many people think learning happens in school, and language learning in a classroom.  Many of us are more than ready to bust out of that after the pandemic, if Native people ever believed it in the first place? Its pretty colonial, even when we use our indigenous languages there.

Our "solution" as a piece of a larger puzzle, would be one of the first productions to be in the "fun" category. (See Manu, a Maori example.). We need a place to learn/use language and come together for fun. We have some schools, we have ceremonies, we even have some radio shows and some dubbing of sponge bob.  But an interactive game, that will have the "content" overlap with what they are learning in ojibwe classes in schools?  This could tip us over to get families excited about using ojibwe, while validating the idea that we just one of many creatures here (all the seemingly "inanimate" objects in our game speak - rocks, trees, animals, etc.). De centering humans, putting us back in the living web, speaking ojbiwe to our relations. That the vision.

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

We are in near the end of the first year of a five year grant from the Spencer Educational Research foundation, in five years (leveraging this grant for more funding - ie - what i am doing right now) we will have a created a game that is out there, and hopefully creating a buzz. We would like to do more ambitious projects if this one is a success. For example, the Arapaho are using Virtual Reality to reclaim sacred sites - we would love a VR or WEBX project - but the technology too unstable and our resources too narrow for that at this moment. In five year, much is possible. 

We are one of many creative efforts to lift up indigenous people, giving them access to their language, that so many are hungry for.

A big impact in Minneapolis/St Paul and Hayward / LCO - would reverberate across the nation and maybe internationally.   We have strong connections world wide with the Hawaiian, Maoris, and aboriginal groups in Australia.  We would love to make this game open source/ open code - sharing all the back end and art - you could put it in your own indigenous language and run with it.

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

Tracking statistics on users for game would be available.

Some current indicators:

Ojibwe Conversations - 7140 downloads 

Indigenous Materials Center - to open at University of Minnesota, fall 2022

Ojibwe 7000 - 7000 users enrolled


What is your theory of change?

"god is change" - Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

We just do our best, we are all kinds of imperfect, but we figure out how to be okay with that and continue to build relationships, with each other (and all our all kinds of oppressed and traumatized) and now again, I mention with our Mother, the Earth.

I hope this is not too far out for you, but there is climate change and crisis. I think of my part, our GIM part, as just the little bit we can do. Everyday i speak ojibwe, do my stuff, and I see change come in unexpected places. It is cyclical, iterative and unexpected - it grows - if you just keep at it and keep your focus and attention on what is important.  

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Our current design discussions have lead us to creating an action adventure game, using simple Unity programming and building an immersive environment ( a world.)

We have experimented and investigated using Augmented Reality (but many of our people cannot afford phone plans.)

We are excited about Virtual Reality (and nearly went this way) but the means to distribute this is currently proprietary (facebook) and limited.

So we are going to purchase a good 360 camera, so we can film Elders speaking in Ojibwe on land, about those places, before they have to go -but We don't have the funds to edit or create something deployable for that - yet.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Software and Mobile Applications
  • Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 14. Life Below Water
  • 15. Life on Land

In which states do you currently operate?

  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin

In which states will you be operating within the next year?

  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?


How many people work on your solution team?

3 full time staff, 1 part time, 2 interns, Elders and consultants as needed

How long have you been working on your solution?

20 years

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

We treat all with respect, our current staff 75% identify as queer, and 75% as indigenous. We try to be aware of classism, racism, and issues that effect us as we work in community.

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

We do not charge for our software, we give away many of books, specifically to prisons and families, and we always pay our Elders as well as we can.

we are not great capitalist, but have managed to keep the employees paid.

I leverage my position at the University, as this work overlaps with my research, making my time affordable. 

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

we have been invited to become a research and development center, at the University of Minnesota. An "indigenous materials center" that is sustainable, and includes other languages, like Dakota and Hmong, soon. There is an endowment for this purpose.

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

We have received many grants over the years, Bush Foundation, Spencer Foundation. Research grants like NSF, and Department of Education.

We have generated income working for Tribes and Schools -which is our target audience. We have produced 20 children's books, which will sell on our web site.

The grants chasing game has been difficult, that is why we are moving to partner with the University.

Solution Team

  • Dr. Mary Hermes Director GIM/ Professor UMN, Grassroots Indigenous Multimedia
to Top