tony drews game creator

Minnesota Native Harnesses Power of Games for Ojibwe Cultural Revival

In an effort to safeguard the fading Ojibwe language and culture, Tony Drews, a member of the Leech Lake Band, has taken a creative approach. He turned his passion for his ancestral heritage into an innovative educational tool: Nashke Native Games.

Drews’ journey to cultural preservation began when he received his Ojibwe name, Chinoodin, as a young child. However, his father’s protective measure against racial discrimination discouraged him from sharing this significant part of his identity at school. This sparked Drews’ compelling journey towards reinvigorating the Ojibwe language and culture.

Nashke Native Games: A Tool for Cultural Awareness

While studying American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota and working as an Indian education adviser in Anoka-Hennepin schools, Drews noticed a lack of awareness about their own culture among Native students—an issue he sought to counteract with Nashke Native Games.

The Nashke collection—meaning ‘look, behold!’—comprises various parlor games designed to promote Ojibwe language use and awareness about its cultural practices, history, traditional imagery. The games are already being used in 15 school districts across the state and include innovative card games and puzzles that introduce words from the Ojibwe dialect.

Ranging from Bineshiiyag (Ojibwe word for birds) focusing on different bird species to Mii Gwech (translates to thank you) teaching about fur trade era objects such as beaver hide and moccasins; these games offer a fun way to learn about the rich Ojibwe legacy.

Traditional Anishinaabe Games Reimagined

Other offerings draw inspiration from traditional Anishinaabe games like Bagese—a dice game—and Makizinataagewin or Ginebig—the Moccasin Game or Snake Game respectively. Meanwhile, Giiwen is Nashke’s first modern board game that takes players through the seasonal activities of the Anishinaabe people while teaching them words associated with numbers, geographical landmarks and tools.

Despite challenges in preserving endangered Indigenous languages like Ojibwe—which now has fewer than 1k speakers—Drews remains hopeful. With financial support from Finnovation Lab via a $50k fellowship stipend and distribution partnership with Montana-based Native Teaching Aids company committed to indigenous language revival; half of Nashke’s profits will be donated back into native community initiatives.

Drews’ approach has sparked wider interest among educators realizing potential beyond typical classroom methods towards more engaging ways like gaming for imparting cultural education. His great efforts have surely marked him as a cultural hero himself in this mission of preserving an invaluable part of human heritage before it fades out entirely..

Featured Image Credit: Alex Kormann, Star Tribune