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Carl Petersen
Carl Petersen plans to develop a Native game design studio through a Dreamstarters grant.

Carl Petersen receives $10,000 Dreamstarter grant

Academics, Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences, Admissions, College of Arts and Sciences

Carl Petersen, Dakota State University student, is a recipient of a $10,000 Dreamstarter grant offered through Running Strong for American Indian Youth.

Petersen will use the grant to start his own game design company, Northern Plains Game Design, that will employ Native Americans to create games for Native Americans.  

The Dreamstarter grants were created by Billy Mills, who won a gold medal for the 10,000-meter race in 1964. Mills is a co-founder of Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a non-profit organization focused on helping American Indian people meet immediate survival needs, while creating opportunities of self-sufficiency. Through Dreamstarters, 50 $10,000 grants have been awarded over the past five years to jumpstart the dreams of American Indian youth.

Petersen described being a grant recipient as “amazing, a word that translated directly in Lakota means food in the middle of winter – when someone is about to starve to death and food shows up – that’s what this feels like.”

Petersen has an initial game idea from a class at DSU. “Tipi Builder,” a 3D game about putting a traditional Lakota Tipi together with instructions available in the Lakota language, explained Petersen. The idea was inspired from his own experience learning the Lakota language.  

“I took Lakota language for 13 years in school, but after 13 years I wasn’t much more fluent as a senior in high school than I had been as a third grader,” said the junior from Parade, S.D. He is majoring in computer game design and computer science with a minor in mathematics.

By incorporating Lakota in the game, “it’s meant to be a tool to help teach that language in the classrooms and to individuals who have a hard time finding fluent teachers,” Petersen explained.

He hopes to flesh out the Tipi Game through the grant, adding Lakota narration and hiring Native American artists. Once it is complete he hopes to work with Native schools in South Dakota that use the Lakota language in their curriculum, while also marketing the game to individuals through websites like steam and itch.io.

“Right now, there aren’t really any game design studios in South Dakota, much less on a reservation,” he said. “So, I’d like to have a studio on the reservation that can provide jobs and train people in a skill set – there are a lot of artistic people who just don’t’ have opportunities and I want to provide those opportunities.”

Petersen worked with mentor Justine Kougl, who helped him apply for the grant. Kougl works for the Keya Foundation, a non-profit organization based on the Cheyenne River Reservation dedicated to helping others help themselves. Dreamstarters applicants needed to work with a non-profit and have a mentor to apply for the grant.

Petersen and a Keya Foundation mentor will travel to Washington D.C. in April to meet with Billy Mills and the other nine grant recipients and their mentors. 

For more information on Petersen’s project visit his Facebook page.