About the Work

When Rivers Were Trails is an artwork that you can play! This video game is inspired by other point-and-click adventure games like Oregon Trail. However, instead of telling a story from the viewpoint of European settlers, this game tells a story from the perspective of an Anishinaabeg in the 1890s.

The Anishinaabe are several groups of Indigenous peoples connected by shared culture and language. This name can also be spelled Anishinabe, Anicinape, Nishnaabe, Neshnabé, Anishinaabeg, or Anishinabek. To learn more about the Anishinaabe, watch this short video, or read some of the resources on The Anishinabek Nation Website.

When Rivers Were Trails teaches about Indigenous people being forced out of their home territories as European settlers came to North America. While this game focuses on events that took place in the United States, similar things happened in Canada as well.

When Rivers Were Trails is featured in an online exhibition called THERE IS NO CENTRE, curated by Katie Micak. This exhibition will be online until May 24th, 2023.

About the Artist

Often, video games are made by a whole team of people rather than one artist. Over 30 Indigenous writers, artists, and musicians helped make When Rivers Were Trails come to life!  

Two main groups worked together to make this game: the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Michican State University’s Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab. The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians helped fund this project. 

The game features over thirty Indigenous contributors: 

  • creative directing by Nichlas Emmons,  
  • creative directing, design, and user interface art by Elizabeth LaPensée, 
  • art by Weshoyot Alvitre 
  • music by Supaman and Michael Charette.  
  • Writing by Weshoyot Alvitre, Li Boyd, Trevino Brings Plenty, Tyrone Cawston, Richard Crowsong, Eve Cuevas, Samuel Jaxin Enemy-Hunter, Lee Francis IV, Carl Gawboy, Elaine Gomez, Ronnie Dean Harris, Tashia Hart, Renee Holt, Sterling HolyWhiteMountain, Adrian Jawort, Kris Knigge, E. M. Knowles, Elizabeth LaPensée, Annette S. Lee, David Gene Lewis, Korii Northrup, Nokomis Paiz, Carl Petersen, Manny Redbear, Travis McKay Roberts, Sheena Louise Roetman, Sara Siestreem, Joel Southall, Jo Tallchief, Allen Turner, and William Wilson, Toiya K. Finley and Cat Wendt. 

Things to Think About 

  •  Does the style of some the game’s artwork look familiar to you? Some of the artwork takes inspiration from the Woodland School of Art. This art style was made popular by Norval Morrisseau, an Anishinaabe artist. 
  •  Like many other video games, this game gives you some stats to keep track of. When Rivers Were Trails asks you to keep track of your foods, your medicines, and your wellbeing. What do you think is meant by wellbeing? How is tracking your wellbeing different from the goals in other video games? 

Studio Activity

This week’s Studio Sunday Online is a little different! Try playing the online video game When Rivers Were Trails, and thinking about it as a work of art. This point-and-click adventure might remind you of old educational games like Oregon Trail. However, it focuses on Indigenous life and the effects of colonization in the 1890’s. This game is part of the online exhibition THERE IS NO CENTRE curated by Katie Micak. 


  • Computer 


  1. Download the game When Rivers Were Trails here: https://indianlandtenure.itch.io/when-rivers-were-trails . You will need to unzip the file.
  2. Open the unzipped file, and click the application named “GEL-WhenRiversWereTrails” to run and play the game. 
  3. Try to answer these questions as you play the game, or after playing it: 
  4. Did you learn anything new about history while playing? 
  5. What was your favourite story in this game? (All the stories you collected can be reviewed from the game’s main menu.) 
  6. How was experiencing stories in a video game different from reading them or listening to them? 
  7. Did you learn any words in Anishinaabemowin (the Anishinaabe language)? 
  8. What was the most difficult decision you had to make in this game?