Char-Koosta News

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Let's play a game Native Teaching Aids fills native language education gap

By Sam Sandoval
Char-Koosta News

>Arlee Tribal Council Representative Shelly Fyant, center, and James Parkin of the Salish School of Spokane, right, listen to a game participant guess the correct answer to the Sli Qisp Indigenous History game. (Sam Sandoval, photo)Arlee Tribal Council Representative Shelly Fyant, center, and James Parkin of the Salish School of Spokane, right, listen to a game participant guess the correct answer to the Sli Qisp Indigenous History game. (Sam Sandoval, photo)

Participants played the Salish Indigenous History card game, a language phrase builder game, and a matching game presented by Native Teaching Aids in one of the many breakout sessions at the three-day 2016 Salish Conference in Spokane, Washington last month.

“You think you know a lot about the history, but then you learn so much more,” said Arlee Council Representative Shelly Fyant during the history game demonstration at the Salish Conference. “This is great.”

The Salish Indigenous History game is one of many card games created by Native Teaching Aids owned and operated by Rebecca and Brandon Goff.

Rebecca Goff, a Minnesota native and University of Montana linguistics graduate, recognized the lack of teaching aids as she created language materials through an Americorp graduate project for the Blackfoot language immersion school. She wanted to provide teaching tools that freed teachers to focus more on the student.

“Teachers that are teaching the language are wearing many hats where they’re teaching the students, grading their work, but they’re also creating the curriculum, sometimes the night before,” Rebecca Goff said.

Daryl Kipp, the late Piegan Institute founder and Blackfeet language preservation, along with a UM professor, convinced her to continue building her business instead of pursuing her Ph.D.

Owners Rebecca and Brandon Goff work closely with tribes that come to them for different learning tools. (Sam Sandoval, photo)Owners Rebecca and Brandon Goff work closely with tribes that come to them for different learning tools. (Sam Sandoval, photo)

“Since then we’ve grown steadily and are bringing more products to the table with more tribes,” Goff said. With her husband Brandon, NTA produces games, multimedia development, interactive dictionaries, and online lesson systems.

NTA approached the Salish-Pend O’reille Culture Committee with a history game of the Salish and Pend O’reille tribes. The SPCC made corrections and secured a grant to create a language game and an online dictionary. The Salish Culture Committee told NTA they would create the content and the History Game was finalized last November.

When the Little Shell Chippewa contracted NTA for their own history game, they handed them a book of their history to use for the cards. “Each client is different,” Rebecca says.

While NTA creates, designs and publishes the games, they do not own the content. “When a tribe comes to us, they keep the copyright of their content,” says Rebecca.

The cards are designed, printed and packaged at NTA. Brandon says this is for cost reasons. “Printing and packaging in-house lets us lower the cost,” said Brandon. “Each deck can cost 15 to 20 dollars, and we can print of one deck, or more. We recently completed an order for 500, which was our largest order to date.”

While the card games have been the focus, NTA will to offer board game creation this year. Special cutting dies – blades formed into specific shapes – will be available to allow NTA to design, print, and package board games for language preservation. The Blackfeet have begun the design process, and Rebecca hopes to create more games. “I have one I’m working on that’s based on Candy Land.”

The Sli Qisp Indigenous History game challenges players to correctly recall historic events. (Sam Sandoval, photo)The Sli Qisp Indigenous History game challenges players to correctly recall historic events. (Sam Sandoval, photo)

In addition to card games, NTA works on creating interactive computer games and online resources. Brandon started a web development company in Minnesota and ran it for 12 years for clients such as Harley Davidson, General Mills and Target. In recent years he worked building interactive media teaching platforms. “I met Rebecca and followed her here (to Montana),” says Brandon. Brandon and Rebecca worked with the Blackfeet to create an online Pikuni dictionary.

Rebecca and Brandon realized the dictionary architecture could be customized for other tribal languages and allow educators to modify their own interactive online language lessons. “The (Salish Pend O’reille) Culture Committee approached us and we were able to reformat it to accommodate the Salish language,” said Rebecca. “We had to make sure the architecture could withstand those changes and modification,” said Brandon. The structure of the online dictionary is built so that if a change is made to the words or definitions, it will update the rest of the dictionary and lesson plans to reflect the change.

In the future, NTA has video games in their sights. “I’ve been working with James Parkin of the Salish School of Spokane,” says Brandon. “We’re looking at modifying Torchlight 2 to the Salish language, and hopefully have more Salish themed characters and settings in the game.” The original Torchlight by Runic Games is being modified by Parkin and will be available from the Salish School of Spokane.

The Goffs present a concept for a Blackfeet-themed board game. (Sam Sandoval, photo)The Goffs present a concept for a Blackfeet-themed board game. (Sam Sandoval, photo)

Rebecca and Brandon lead a small team at Native Teaching Aids. Rebecca is the Linguist Consultant and Project Manager; Brandon is Creative Director; Tom Koefod is Lead Software and Web Developer; University of Montana professor Dr. Mizuki Miyashita is a Linguistic Consultant; Brooklyn Wetzel is the Social Media and Public Relations Specialist; Shawn Burke is Interactive Software Engineer; and Avery Old Coyote is a production assistant. The Goffs hope to integrate more local art and images in their products.

The Goff’s St. Ignatius business design, prints, laminates and packages the cards within feet of each other. This works fine, says Rebecca, as their client base is fairly local, with most coming from Montana. However, Rebecca notes they are expanding their reach. The Isleta Pueblo tribe in New Mexico and the Yavapai Apache in Nevada have expressed interest in their products and more tribes are sure to call.

The Salish History Card Game is sold at Hastings and Rockin’ Rudy’s in Missoula, Cenex in St. Ignatius, and the People’s Center in Pablo. It can also be ordered at Nativeteachingaids.com/shop or by calling (406) 745-2145.

On the web: http://www.nativeteachingaids.com. Find them on Facebook.

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