College student creates game to help preserve Lakota language

By Natasha Rausch Forum News Service

MADISON, S.D. — Dakota State University student Carl Petersen has a new way for indigenous people to engage with their language and culture: a computer game.

The game is called “Tipi Kaga,” which means “to make a tipi” in the Lakota language. In it, players will listen to the voice of an elder speaking in the Lakota language and giving them instructions on how to build a tipi. Traditionally, tipis were a form of family housing that the nomadic Lakota people could build and take down in about 15 minutes as they trailed buffalo herds.

“For those who don’t have access to fluent speakers and to formal Lakota classes, this is just another way to learn the language,” Petersen said. “It’s not meant to be a cure-all, but just that step in the right direction.”

Petersen, a senior computer game design and computer science major with a minor in mathematics, will present his game at the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada, taking place Tuesday through Oct. 27. The event is the world’s largest festival showcasing multimedia made by indigenous creators, according to a press release from Dakota State University. Petersen said he’s excited to “get on the ground floor” with other indigenous creators.

“If I can’t break into the traditional western games, I might as well make something meaningful and have fun doing it,” he said.

The game, Petersen said, will give learners another opportunity to interact with Lakota, an indigenous language that lost thousands of fluent speakers as a result of forced assimilation policies and boarding schools.

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