Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is one of the most popular video games with millions of players worldwide. It’s designed by the Canadian-based company Ubisoft.
The online tactical shooter game has recently added a new character called Thunderbird, and she’s from the Nakoda territories of Saskatchewan.
“They said that whichever actress that they chose would be what they would base the specific cultural heritage of the character on. So that really stood out to me and I thought it was just a really innovative way to go about casting, especially in this new era of wanting to have accurate representation and I was really excited by that so I really put my all into the audition,” said Sera-Lys McArthur, voice actress for Thunderbird in the video game.
McArthur, from the Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation in Saskatchewan, landed the coveted role of the character that is a medic and a helicopter pilot.
“I hope that they look into some of the biography and find out more about the cultural significance of certain things on her and that they ask more questions and are inspired to learn more about the Nakoda people and the Nakoda language and culture,” McArthur told APTN News.
The Nakoda people are located in Alberta and in Saskatchewan as well as Montana in the United States. Through their language they are closely related to the Dakota and Lakota nations of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains in western Canada.
Developers asked about her culture and then spoke with Indigenous consultants to help build the character.
“I sent them a really long email and then they said thank you for all the details and I didn’t hear from them for about a couple of months and when they came back they had, Ubisoft had gone and sourced their own cultural advisors from Saskatchewan, some of which are related to me, and they worked with them to create the character,” she said.
The creative team at Ubisoft said they wanted to take the time and make sure it was done right.
“Very early on what we knew we needed to do to do this properly was kind of admit how much we didn’t know about any of these subjects, to kind of be ok with that,” said Rainbow Six Siege realization Director Alex Lima.
“You know we couldn’t just approach people and say this is the character this is exactly what they are, what we had to do was allow the actor or whoever would cast in this role to dictate the heritage and to inform the character. I think what you get at the end is a really more authentic depiction.”
Included in the character’s biography online is her name Mina Sky, codename Thunderbird and that she enrolled in the Bold Eagle program, a real life military training program mixed with cultural experience for Indigenous youth.
“I think with diversity and maybe originality in mind we were like well let’s take a look a bit more in our own backyard, let’s really kind of do some research and potentially kind of look at an Indigenous, First Nations community as the basis for the character,” Lima said.
“What it means to siege and hopefully Ubisoft in general is that we can use our game as I think a potential vehicle for this type of exposure not only for Thunderbird but for other characters coming in the future.”
In the game, each character has a special ability that either helps their team or hinders the opposing team.
In Thunderbird’s case, her ability helps both her own team and the opposing team as she provides a health boost for any player in the vicinity of her Kona station.
McArthur said the entire process was something different than she is used to, but in a good way.
“It’s almost like I still can’t believe it because it’s such a different world from what Indigenous actors are used to being treated like. We’re usually seen through an outside lens and we kind of have to like go in and fill these gaps in the story and don’t really feel as seen and also as a modern character, that we’re still here and that we’re still a part of the world, of society. That we still have value to contribute,” she said.
Both Ubisoft and McArthur say this is not the last of the character, but rather the beginning as she would be used in other projects like animated shorts.
“I am Thunderbird now and so that makes me really excited because I get to grow with this character and keep interacting with the fans,” said McArthur.