Conflation of non-white races, cultures, and communities often happens in the USA and other western countries. You see this in games as well and the latest example of this is Waka Tanka. When the art for the game released, it created enough of an issue that it was changed for the US release. Although the cover art changed… the native tribes conflation remained intact. Whether you want to call the treatment of tribes romanticizing, simplification, appropriation, racism, or insensitivity… it is undeniably conflation.
Here’s a short (and incomplete) list of the root of the appropriated content to help us remember that “Native Americans” are actually a diverse group with cultures, religions, practices, and symbols reflecting their geography, ceremonies, and histories. They deserve respect, even in games.
Waka tanka – Lakota meaning, loosely, “The Great Spirit”
Totem Pole – Tlingit and other Northwest Tribes
Feathered headdress – Sioux
Horned Bonnet – Sioux
Dream Catcher – Ojibway
There is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Waka Tanka is an example of a game that appropriates First Nations religions, images, iconography, and languages with disregard to their roots and meaning. It’s disrespectful and unnecessary. Does this mean non-First Nations people can’t make a game about Native American culture? Not necessarily. But such an endeavor should be tackled with thoughtfulness, research, consultation, and respect. There’s no evidence Waka Tanka took that approach.