Interview Series: Ishmael Hope

From conception to completion, Never Alone has taken more than two and a half years to come together. Along for the ride were developers, artists, writers, and many others who helped grow Never Alone from an idea into a game that’s launching this November.

Below, we’ll hear from Ishmael Angaluuk Hope, a writer for Never Alone. Ishmael not only contributed creative material to the game, but was also on hand throughout the development process to ensure that the source material shone through appropriately in Nuna and Fox’s journey.

Thanks for taking time to do this, Ishmael! Can you tell our readers a little more about your background? What inspired you to be a writer in your community?

Ishmael Hope InupiaqTlingit PictureMy name is Ishmael Hope. My Iñupiaq name is Angaluuk. My Tlingit names are Khaagwáask’ and Shis.hán.

My parents– mother Elizabeth Goodwin Hope, Taliiraq, and father Andrew Hope III, Xhaastánch– instilled in me a deep appreciation for my Iñupiaq and Tlingit cultures. My mother spoke to me as a baby about how I would contribute to my community. My father repeatedly had me listen to my Elders. My parents were poets as well, a part of a new, exciting era of multi-ethnic literature. This is my foundation.

I have tried to spend as much time with Elders– with amazing, brilliant storytellers like Cyril George (Khaalkháawu), George Davis (Kaaxwaan Éesh), Nora Dauenhauer– Kheixwnéi, Catherine Attla, and many more– and I have been deeply indebted to the profound scholarship of Richard Dauenhauer, Robert Bringhurst and Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley.

What are you focusing on right now? Can you let us know a little more more about your goals and aspirations as a storyteller?

I am focused mostly on family these days, with my beautiful wife Lily Hope and our four children. I try to read what I can and spend time with precious Elders and colleagues. I want to learn my languages as well as I can and to tell the stories in those languages. I may not completely get there, but I consider the price, the pay-back, for this great gift of a storytelling tradition all the time and focus I can muster to learn the languages, to enter what Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley called “the thought world of the ancestors.” Right now I am working on the Tlingit language, and Iñupiaq is next.

So how did you get involved with Never Alone? What did your involvement consist of?

The President and CEO of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC), Gloria O’Neill, approached me after a talk I gave during a Native celebration. She extended an invitation to visit with the team, along with other Native leaders, artists and storytellers. I was one of many who spoke the same message: I told them that this project needed an equal collaboration with Native people, not only because it was ethically responsible, but to make a better video game. There were too many details, too many facets of our worldview, too much dialogue to navigate to even know where to begin, that it couldn’t have successfully been created without equal Native collaboration on every level.

I contributed as a writer, and it was a great joy. Creative Director Sean Vesce and I in particular had many hours of conversation, many hours of sharing ideas with each other and writing the script together, many hours of laughter, deep listening and hard work. I also worked closely, and just as joyfully, with Art Director Dima Veryokova and Producer Matt Swanson, and I’ve enjoyed my time with the whole team, from both E-Line Media and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council. The team is amazing. I was astounded at how, at every level, there are genuine, good people, all with amazing talents, incredibly hard workers, and they are totally committed to shining a light on Iñupiaq people. I was immensely gratified to be a part of the process.

How significant do you think Never Alone will be for your community? What do you think about utilizing video games as a medium for advancing the art of storytelling?

I don’t really know how significant Never Alone will be to my community, but I hope that it will touch young Alaska Native people. I am hoping that this game will do its humble part to unlock centuries of oppression and colonization of indigenous people. We need more positive images of ourselves, and we need more equal collaborations and opportunities such as the one this game provides. However, it has to be a good game first. Thankfully, we have world-class talent on our team and I think we have a delightful game on our hands.

I also happen to think that a good game should have many rich elements and layers. I think people are looking for meaningful experiences. They want to experience wisdom, even in unexpected places. They also want to know how to live on the land right under their feet. Indigenous stories will help to do this. Robert Nasruk Cleveland, whose story is included in the game, was one of the greatest storytellers ever. He belongs in every library in the world, but his stories are scantily available even in Alaskan libraries.

I don’t expect everything to change overnight, but I think all these elements closely align: a good game, a rich experience, a great story, empowering indigenous people, and healing and building bridges along the colonial divide.

Are there any personal anecdotes you’d like to share that you’ve taken from your time working with and on Never Alone? 

I’m deeply proud that this game is supported by Iñupiaq Elders, such as Minnie Gray, Ron Brower, James Nageak, Fannie Akpik, and my uncle Willie Goodwin. My uncles and aunties are the knowledgeable ones, not me. I was just able to help point the way. When they give their verbal support and even help with the process, it means the world to us. We couldn’t have done it without them.

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