The 10th North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) starts July 15th in Nova Scotia. Lacrosse is one of three traditional Indigenous sports featured in the games – a unique VR experience will showcase its captivating history and let visitors try the game in an authentic and immersive way.

The North American Indigenous Games is the largest gathering of Indigenous youth in North America. Hosting competition in 16 sports within 21 venues across Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Dartmouth, Millbrook First Nation and Sipekne’katik, NAIG brings together more than 5,000 athletes, coaches and team staff from over 756 Indigenous Nations. NAIG brings together more than 5,000 athletes, coaches and team staff from over 756 Indigenous Nations.

As the gold level sponsor of NAIG, and presenting sponsor of Box Lacrosse, RBC wanted to bring a unique and memorable experience to the Games.  Our marketing team felt that working together with the RBC Immersive TechLab would create an ideal solution.  Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), in particular, offer the opportunity to bring stories to life in an authentic way and lean into the power of oral storytelling, which plays a critical role in Indigenous culture.

RBC reached out to Design de Plume, an Indigenous-owned, women-led creative agency focused on inclusive and accessible design solutions for social good, with the idea to use VR  technology as a reconciliation tool. The immersive lacrosse experience emerged from this idea and is being launched at the NAIG this summer.

The Mi’kmaw creation story of lacrosse

While many know that lacrosse is a traditional Indigenous sport, few of the stories about it have been told from an Indigenous perspective. To develop the narrative behind the VR experience, Design de Plume Project Manager Lisa Baer-Tsarfati consulted more than 50 books and articles as well as Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and Elders.

What she found was many Nations had their own creation story – each with their own stick designs, rules and traditions. “Decisions were made to tell the creation story of the Mi’kmaw people,” she explains, given the location of the games this year. Meggan Van Harten, Partner & Strategic Leader at Design de Plume, adds that “while we have multiple nations represented in the game, we have a particular creation story that resonates based on where the North American Indigenous Games are happening. We recognize that each nation is entirely unique, and they all have their unique creation stories – someday I would love to do a VR for every single creation story.”

Lisa further explains that certain aspects of Indigenous cultures should not be shown for the sake of entertainment. “So, we tried to be as respectful as we could, while also celebrating the roots of this game.”

A Virtual Reality Lacrosse Experience at the North American Indigenous Games

Bringing the game to life

In DDP’s initial assessment of current lacrosse   experiences and games, they found only a small number of games and they were highly stereotypical. “We found harmful representations of this powerful Indigenous game – and they definitely did not focus on the creation story,” says Meggan. “So, what started off as a project to tell the history of lacrosse became a drive to tell people this amazing creation story. It was something we wanted to preserve, elevate and amplify through this experience.

Within the experience itself, the design team focused on the environment, bringing in graphics that amplify the story. Jennica Robinson, a creative lead on the project, was intentional about integrating the Mi’kmaw culture into the experience. “The design elements were based on the ancestor objects that Lisa found – such as the woods that were used and the woven netting, the carvings on the sticks, as well as the tails of deer and feathers on the belts of the players. We incorporated different touches from different cultures and brought them into the game.”  The RBC Immersive TechLab then brought the game to life, working in close collaboration with Design de Plume to create a truly stunning experience.

The narration also played an integral part in the game’s authenticity. “Because we were able to collaborate with an OjiCree speaker to bring the narration to life, there’s an immediate and immersive quality to the game,” Lisa explains. “Combining traditional story telling and modern VR into one engaging experience has been so special. The juxtaposition of the two methods demonstrates how far we have come, while respecting the history” Laura Coutts, Regional Manager Marketing and Planning.

A chance to learn and have some fun

The teams feel that athletes and visitors (over the age of 12) at NAIG will all enjoy the game –from learning the history behind the sport, how the sticks were created as works of art, to understanding the mechanics of it. “I think people will appreciate the raw beauty of Indigenous innovation,” says Lisa.

“I think athletes will learn so much about different cultures and maybe where their favourite sport is coming from – they’ll be mind blown about the detailed and rich history behind each and every part of the game,” adds Jennica.

The game includes targets and a leaderboard to make it fun  for all participants.  “  It will be fun for anybody, regardless of age, ability or athleticism. “I hope that people leave having learned something new, while having had fun with a bit of friendly competition.” says Laura.

And it’s not just another game. “It’s a healing tool, in a way. It’s a way to elevate a story that should have been told the whole time,” says Meggan.

“The creative energy, passion, and openness of the partnership between Design de Plume and RBC translates directly into the experience. I’m so proud of the team’s work.” – Rob Homewood, Head, Product Innovation and Architecture, RBC

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