three Indigenous historians to help revamp the iconic educational
Game developers consulted
with historians to create accurate depictions of 19th-century
Native American life. The new version features playable Native
The iconic video game "The
Oregon Trail" is back with a new versionand a more nuanced
approach to the story of white settlers traveling across the American
West in 1848.
As Kimber Collins reports for WKRG,
the updated iteration, created by Gameloft,
is now available through the Apple
Arcade subscription service. First
launched in 1971 as a computer game, "The Oregon Trail" lets
users step into the role of wagon leader. Players struggle to keep
people and oxen alive in the face of starvation, dysentery and other
The new game opens with a message
from developers acknowledging that earlier versions of "The Oregon
Trail" failed to depict Native American perspectives and cultures.
"For Indigenous Peoples, westward expansion was not an adventure
but an invasion," they write.
The game now features playable Native American characters. Developers
Native American historians to help design the virtual figures'
appearance, speech and roles.
"Initially, all of the Native people [in the revamped game] had
Huettl, a historian at the University of Nebraska who helped
advise the team, tells Anna King of NW
News Network. "And I think we suggested, maybe they don't all
have to have braids."
Game designers also removed stereotypical flute and drum music.
While the team had originally seen bows and arrows as a fun game
mechanic, developers soon learned that these weapons weren't realistic
for the historical moment depicted. Huettl says Native American
trappers at the time the game is set were more likely to have carried
rifles, making bows an outdated stereotype.
"That wasn't our intention at all, obviously," Gameloft Brisbane's
creative director, Jarrad Trudgen, tells NW News. "We were just
coming to it sort of as a naive 'bows and arrows are cool' angle."
As Jazz Halfmoon says to NW News, she played "The Oregon Trail"
at her school on the Confederated Tribes
of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in northeast Oregon, years
ago. (The game was frequently incorporated in history lessons in
American schools between the 1970s and 1990s.) Despite the limited
graphics, students were excited to receive time playing on the computer
as a reward for good work. But Halfmoon, who's now 38, says she
viewed the game differently than users playing outside of the reservation
"I remember being like, 'Oh, like the Indians killed off somebody
in your wagon train' ... and then being like, 'Oh, we're Indians,
you know,'" she explains.
In the new version, writes University of San Diego historian T.J.
Tallie for Hyperallergic,
"Indigenous North Americans are no longer background characters
in what was, upon reflection, a wildly solipsistic game. In historically
accurate clothing, fully playable and realized Indigenous characters
respond to settlers as equals, have full dialogue, and even their
own game play scenarios."
"The Oregon Trail"
was used as an educational tool in classrooms across America
for decades. (Gameloft)
The updated iteration of "The Oregon Trail" is not the first video
game to address Native Americans' experiences with westward expansion.
The 2019 game "When
Rivers Were Trails" depicts the adventures of an Anishinaabeg
person who is displaced from the tribe's land in Minnesota in the
1890s and travels west to California. Players can hunt, fish, canoe
and meet people from different Native American nations.
As Jennifer Billock wrote for Smithsonian
magazine in 2016, the real Oregon
Trail brought more than 400,000 people out west between 1840
and 1880. The trail ran for 2,170 miles, from Independence, Missouri,
to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Today, visitors can still see
ruts from wagon wheels in a number of spots across the country.
The United States government encouraged white settlement in Oregon
to strengthen the country's claim on the land, wrote Eric Cain and
John Rosman for Oregon
Public Broadcasting in 2017. Without permission from any of
the 60-plus tribes that lived there, Congress passed the Oregon
Donation Land Act, which offered 320-acre parcels to migrants,
in 1850. Settlers claimed 2.8 million acres over the next five years.
White miners, ranchers and other settlers killed hundreds of Native
American people, and many more died of diseases brought by the newcomers.
"That settlement of Oregon then was initially just a theft of land,"
Oregon State University anthropologist David
Lewis, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde,
tells NW News. "By and large, the experience of Native people was
one of continual loss for the first 70 or 80 years."
All Indian tribes have names for themselves. The largest
Indian group in Minnesota calls itself Anishinaabe, which means
"the original people." Europeans named them Ojibwe. No
one is exactly sure how this name developed. Perhaps it came from
the Anishinaabe word "ojib," which describes the puckered
moccasins worn by the people. Some Europeans had trouble saying
Ojibwe, pronouncing it instead as Chippewa. But both these names
refer to the same people. In Canada, the Anishinaabe call themselves
Ojibwe. In the United States, many tribal members prefer the name
Chippewa. So that is the name we will use in this history of White
Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Before European contact, the members of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and
Walla Walla people were 8,000 members strong. Our people lived in
the Columbia River region for more than 10,000 years, moving in
a large circle from the lowlands along the Columbia River to the
highlands in the Blue Mountains to fish, hunt and gather food.