Winter Rabbit – Indigenous Led Team

Winter Rabbit draws its theme from Cherokee culture and history. As indigenous people, we’ve become frustratingly accustomed to seeing games and other media depicting our culture in ways that in no way reflect the reality of who we are. Any media focusing on indigenous cultures should involve the voices of indigenous people in its creation. A team of primarily indigenous creators is creating Winter Rabbit. We’ve taken great pains to ensure this game represents our culture and history authentically while ensuring Winter Rabbit is a fun, beautiful game that anyone can enjoy.

While I am Cherokee, I know that doesn’t make me an expert in every aspect of the culture. From the beginning of this project, I knew I wanted to hire Cherokee artists to bring it to life. I also knew it would be essential to consult with a language expert to ensure all of the Cherokee language featured in the game was technically and contextually accurate.

In this article, we’d like to introduce you to the team.

Will Thompson – Designer

I am an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. I grew up in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. I spend my youth exploring the woods and waterways near Tahlequah and Briggs, Oklahoma. I want to thank my grandmothers, Phillis Dreadfulwater and Billy Sue Ferguson (Tripplett), for making sure my Cherokee heritage was part of my life.

Winter Rabbit will be my second published board game, but I’ve worked in games for over a decade. I’ve published 14 educational games and applications at the University of Oklahoma’s K20 Center. I’ve also written and contributed to several RPG projects, including Transformation and Seven Murders Til Midnight with Abursdist Productions, some freelance work with Paizo, Coyote, and Crow, and many other projects.

For me, Winter Rabbit represents several years of work, learning, and research. But I’ll talk more about my inspirations for this game in another post.

Jonni Ketcher – Graphic Designer

While searching for indigenous artists, I came across a beautiful digital painting by Jonni Ketcher, whom I had not previously met. Not a week later, my friend Cat messaged me about a Cherokee artist she’d met in the Pacific Northwest. When I learned these two were the same person, I knew we had to hire this person for Winter Rabbit. A coincidence like that can’t be ignored.

Jonni’s character design for Winter Rabbit has brought the game to life. After seeing Rabbit, Deer, Terrapin, and the rest in Jonni’s style, I can’t imagine them any other way.

An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Jonni is a versatile graphic designer, writer, and illustrator capable of switching styles and mediums to suit her needs. Since she was small, she has always found solace in art and stories, from books, video games, and beyond, enjoying all the ways people share themselves and create connections with others.

After settling in the Pacific Northwest, she began selling prints of stories at the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Oregon. As Cherokee culture is not indigenous to the PNW, she often spent time retelling the stories herself and found, despite her introverted nature, true enjoyment in the act of storytelling. One friend later remarked to Jonni that: “You light up. You get good medicine from telling these stories.”

Jonni would like to extend endless thanks to her relations—to her grandfather, the late Deputy Chief John Ketcher Sr., who gave her a love of stories; to her grandmother, Ferne Pilon, who taught her how to hold a pencil at age three; and to her loving parents, Dalene and John Jr., who nurtured her drive and curiosity in life.

Kindra Swafford – Illustrator

Before meeting Kindra, I had seen their art at a few Cherokee art shows. Kindra mixes pop art with traditional themes, often rendered in beautiful watercolors. I first approached Kindra about the project at the InidipopX conference in 2023. As a fellow board gamer, I think they were excited to join the project. During the development process, Kindra has been extra-thorough, ensuring that all her illustrations are culturally and historically accurate. Several times in meetings, they’ve shared the resources they used to reference historical details about clothing, tools, and other artifacts that deserve to be depicted authentically in the art. This attention to detail in Kindra’s vibrant watercolor illustrations will make Winter Rabbit something truly special.

For Kindra Swafford (an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation), art has been a part of their life since they were a child. Finding solace in doodling as a kid, they found support and guidance from their teachers in Salina, OK. Later pursuing their BFA at Northeastern State University, Kindra has made their way in the art world, refining their voice and finding joy in the process.

Embracing art early, Kindra found inspiration from pop culture- from comics, movies, and video games which you can still see in their work today. Their art is comprised of vivid colors, glitched compositions, and depictions of flora and fauna. They are an active member of the Arts Council of Tahlequah, Inkslingers of Tulsa, OVAC, and SEIAA.

Kindra hopes to continue their artistic pursuit and share their work with artists and art enthusiasts alike.

David Thomas – Developer

David is co-owner of Absurdist Productions, developer of Winter Rabbit, and the rock that keeps Absurdist Productions afloat. Yes, I realize that is an absurd metaphor. While Dave is the non-indigenous member of our team, he is a lifelong student of history and a firm believer in preserving and spreading knowledge. He also brings an outsider’s perspective to the team, helping to make the game more accessible while also reminding us why this game is so important. On several occasions, he’s reminded the rest of us to consider and explain details we might otherwise gloss over.

Dave has been instrumental in refining Winter Rabbit into the game it is today. He constantly reminds me to think about who our audience is and he has helped me hold to my design goals from the beginning. He also acts as the voice of reason to remind me of the practical considerations in manufacturing the game.

David is attracted to old and strange things: antique tools, pulp magazines, and pictures of dogs in military regalia. Similarly, he leans towards games with more esoteric themes like filling curio cabinets, working as a telephone operator, or fighting over food at a restaurant. In that last vein, David is the creator of Absurdist Productions’ first game, Churrascaria: A Cutthroat Game of Gluttony, and has been a co-author on both solo RPGs Transformation and Seven Murders til Midnight.

For Winter Rabbit, David focused primarily on playtesting, streamlining mechanics, and mechanical balance as the game developed. He also encouraged Will to inject as much Cherokee culture into the game as possible, ensuring that the mechanics of the game were always tied to the core themes and concepts. The result, he hopes, is a game that is both authentic, engaging, and fun.

JW Webster – Translator and Cultural Consultant

I did not grow up speaking the Cherokee language. As an adult, I consider myself a learner. Though the time I commit to the process waxes and wanes, I can read the Cherokee script, but my understanding of the language is still very limited. Even so, I wanted players of Winter Rabbit to see Cherokee writing throughout the game. Throughout the game, titles on cards all have both the English and Cherokee versions. We also hope to publish a full Cherokee language version of the game.

I first met JW in a Wednesday night Cherokee language study group I attend. JW occasionally joins this group as an expert, helping learners like myself understand the more complex aspects of the language. He also provides private lessons for many students. After reading a draft of the rule book, JW agreed to join the team as a translator and cultural consultant. He said that Winter Rabbit could be a great way to expose learners to the language, and I agree. We are very grateful to have JW on board.

JW was raised in a traditional Cherokee home. He grew up with family members who were traditional healers who understood the importance of our teachings and how it allows us to see that we are a part of this world and not the masters of it. They taught him that being humble, thankful, and joyful no matter how little they had was empowering. From the age of 14, JW was spending time visiting Elders and recording old terms and words that were no longer being used in order to save that knowledge.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *