As I put the finishing touches on creating the first season of The Treasure Chronicles, and outlining the plans for the next nine seasons, the ideas for more interactive stories swirl around my mind. The possiblities seem limitless with a new way to spin traditional narrative themes. Science fiction, Horror, Mystery, and even comedy. They could all be adapted to our new way of storytelling. Imagine a horror series in which you can finally tell the idiots on the screen what they need to do to survive. Or perhaps we could put you in the role of a detective trying to solve a grisly murder. Be careful, or you'll end up being the next victim.
However, one story keeps coming to mind. This story has its roots in a childhood spent digging for arrowheads and in black and white photos of American Indian warriors on the walls of secret clubhouses, far from the eyes of meddling adults. I developed a fascination with the people who once inhabited the wild places I roamed as a child. At that time, my view of the Indian was shaped by the old western movie I watched on Sunday mornings. The ones in which hapless pioneers in a wagon train would be ruthlessly attacked by indians who were bloodlessly killed in what amounted to suicide attacks. In those films, they always seemed to me to be much less like human beings and more like some kind of mythical manbeast. This image was replaced later with the romanticized concept of the noble savage living as one in harmony with nature, almost like a recent version of paradise lost. Certainly the image portrayed in later films, such as Dances with Wolves, reflected the evolution of public perception, but mine had already been reshaped by extensive reading and researching about the history and culture of the first people of America.
It is from this lifelong fascination that the idea for the interactive series Ghost Dancer arose. Ghost Dancer is a mystery/action interactive series in which the audience must guide an FBI agent investigating a bizarre death on the lands near Glacier National Park in Montana. The story is one of mystery and intrigue, hatred and love, history and fantasy, all linked to a modern portrayal of life in and around the reservation of the Blackfeet in northern Montana. Why the Blackfeet? My personal connection to northern Montana has led to many journeys to that part of the world. The splendor of Glacier National park pulls me back again and again, but always I eyed the plains to the east of Glacier and wondered about the people who lived there. I certainly had no notion they still lived like the indians of my childhood memory. But I did wonder: Would I be welcome there? Was there any lingering animosity towards the race of people who had nearly committed genocide against so many of their ancestors?
I decided that the story needed for me to answer those questions. To understand, at least in some small measure, what life on the Blackfeet reservation is like. I embarked upon a volunteer mission with the charity group Global Volunteers and set off for a week of helping and learning on the reservation. My expectations were exceeded in so many remarkable ways! For me, the stunning beauty of the reservation was enhanced by the strong sense of an historical link to the past. To be in that place, living and working with people who had such a connection to the land was very intense. I also got to see the realities of life on a reservation in a remote place with a harsh climate. To quote one Blackfeet member: "Being an Indian is hard." It was clear to see that they faced the same difficulties we all face, but with many additional challenges that are unique to being an American Indian.
The trepidation I felt about how I would be received on the reservation being so...white, turned out to be unfounded. They matched neither the views of my childhood, nor the more romanticized notions of the eco-friendly native. They were, however, extremely welcoming and very eager to share their world with me. I will call our by name, two people who made the greatest impact on me. Brothers Tom and Marvin Crawford. I met Tom during an outing to experience the spiritual ceremony called 'The Sweat'. This is a purification ritual in which traditionally only men have attended. This is because men are generally in need of more purification. Think of a sauna on steroids. Prayers are offered and chants performed, and the process goes late into the evening. Afterwards, I was invited (as were other volunteers in my group) to participate in preparations for an upcoming ritual called the Sun Dance. The Sun Dance was being held on Marvin's ranch on the reservation.
The Sun Dance is a ceremony practiced differently by several North American Indian Nations, but many of the ceremonies have features in common, including dancing, singing and drumming, the experience of visions, fasting, and, in some cases, self-torture. It is an incredibly important religious ceremony to many of the Plains Indians. In an effort to curb such practices, the United States government outlawed the Sun Dance in 1904. It is being revived amongst many of the tribes and I felt incredibly fortunate to be asked to participate in the preparation of the Sun Dance Lodge. It is difficult to put into words the experience I felt that first night as we gathered in a large ceremonial tipi to greet the dancers and to bless items to be used during the dance. This was followed by a communal meal, singing in Blackfeet, playing drums, and words spoken by elders. At one point, I felt like I had been transported back hundreds of years. The shadows from the fire pit created a sense that the altar I was seated in front of had actually risen.
I did not stay for the Sun Dance ceremony itself, though I wish I had. However, I came away from the entire experience more invigorated than ever to bring Ghost Dancer to life. The inspiration for the story came from the land in and around Glacier National Park. However, it was my connection with the people on the Blackfeet reservation that truly breathed life into the characters and the story lines. I look forward to bringing this remarkable story to you.