By Michelle M. Sharp, Founder and Content Creator of Meet the Minnesota Makers
This was a new word for me.
“Nashke translates to ‘behold’, ‘look’, ‘check it out’,” explained Tony Drews of Nashke Native Games. “This is to say, check out what we are doing over here with games and our language and culture.”
Tony was one of Anoka-Hennepin school district’s Native Education Expert for several years. It was his responsibility to provide cultural enrichment to improve the academic success of Native American students in the district. “Getting our native students enthused about learning and retaining Ojibwe and culture was a little more difficult than I expected,” reflected Tony. “Trying to transfer this knowledge on the chalkboard—to make them appreciate their culture by explaining it to them—wasn’t working.”
Tony searched for new ways to connect with his students. “I decided to refer back to some of my knowledge regarding traditional games. I saw a spark in my students and an increase in enthusiasm.” This was the start of Nashke Native Games.
Tony is a first generation Direct descendent Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. He currently lives in Ham Lake with his family. The journey to launching Nashke Native Games in the summer of 2023 included early assistance from the Tiwahe Foundation to support a goal in an educational “impact” area.
Thanks to the influence of those early ripples, Tony was selected for the Finnegan’s Finnovation Fellowship in 2022. This intensely enriching experience provide him the toolsto build a strong foundation for his games as a social entrepreneur. “To watch our mission and vision come to fruition and to be a part of the positive ripple effect that this impact has on our community is such an amazing experience,” shared Tony.
Nashke Native Games demonstrate the benefits of teaching while entertaining. The games are a catalyst for language acquisition. As players practice, they gain the functional fluency to play in Ojibwe. “The joy that we bring to our community, and we can see in real time at our game night events, is so powerful,” shared Tony. “Watching youth, adults and elders connect or reconnect with their culture through gameplay is such an uplifting experience.”
The cultural enrichment of Nashke Native Games benefits all game players. While many of the games were inspired by his teaching Native American students in a classroom setting, everyone can have fun while learning a little bit about the history and culture of our Ojibwe neighbors.
Tony described the process of launching Nashke Native Games as a good whirlwind. “It’s been an absolute adventure! The opportunity it has given me to meet so many amazing natives and non-natives that are interested in increasing awareness and empowering learning of the Ojibwe language and culture has been so awesome.”
Nashke Native Games reinvests over 50% of their profits back into the community in the forms of scholarships and other community investments. In six short months, they have already invested $8,000 back into the community. In addition, ”The Nashke Native Games brand is as deeply rooted in culture as its mission. The logo was inspired by Anishinaabe petroglyphs, our original methods of sharing knowledge, which embody the gestural nature of play,” shared Tony. “The figure is both celebratory and inviting, welcoming everyone to the table to play, practice language, and build new connections through cultural teachings.”
Nashke Native Games has developed reimagined traditional games such a Ginebig: The Snake Game and Makizinataagewin: The Moccasin Game. Nashke invented Mii Gwech, a fast-paced card game that introduces players to the fur trade era. This game can be played in English, Ojibwe or both. Each of the three collections of Mii Gwech feature a card game, a memory tile matching game, and children’s puzzles.
Purchase games and products at nashke.com.
Find games in store at Birchbark Books, the Indigenous Food Lab, the Guthrie theater, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Blue Hummingbird Woman gift shop, and coming soon to a variety of the Minnesota Historical Society’s gift shops. You can also find Nashke games at all the Twin Cities and St. Cloud Games by James locations.
This feature is part of the 2023 MTMM Holiday Gift Guide series. Visit meettheminnesotamakers.com to download the gift guide featuring over 100 of Minnesota’s talented makers. Find Nashke Native Games on page 32!
Follow @nashkenativegames on Facebook for community gameplay events.
Follow @meettheminnesotamakers on Facebook and Instagram to discover more of the people who make Minnesota an amazing place to be!