Microsoft and Xbox have announced a series of initiatives to commemorate this year's celebration of International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. This is the United Nations' dedicated holiday to raise awareness of conditions faced by Indigenous populations across the globe.
Xbox first marked the holiday in 2021. This year the company took extra steps not only to celebrate groups like the Anishinaabe, Yurok, and the Snoqualmie Tribe, but also looked farther afield to recognize to Polynesian Māori people and the Nordic Indigenous group of the Sámi.
The company is supporting and recognizing these peoples by commissioning art pieces from artists who hail from these groups, encouraging players to donate to various nonprofits through Microsoft Rewards, and spotlighting stories from Indigenous players in its Xbox Ambassador program.
Additionally, the company is promoting its collections of games featuring Indigenous characters or created by Indigenous developers that are purchasable on Xbox or PC. These include Tell Me Why, Raji: An Ancient Epic, Never Alone, and Button City.
Xbox took extra steps to include more Indigenous groups
This expanded set of actions by the Xbox team represents extra work that the company has taken to connect with different Indigenous peoples. The UN's holiday is meant to recognize people from all over the world who may have incredibly distinct cultures and practices, but also "share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples."
Jenn Panattoni, head of Xbox Social Impact and co-lead for Xbox's Indigenous Community Group (who herself is a descendant of the Karuk Tribe) told Game Developer that the company wanted to support communities through "meaningful partnerships," leading it to reach out to local Indigenous Tribes and solicit recommendations from working group Indigenous at Microsoft about who to showcase in this year's event.
For commissioning the artistic pieces from each tribe (which also come with statements from the artist explaining their significance), Panattoni said that the company's guidance was for them to "leverage the Xbox sphere as just a canvas, and to create an art piece that would speak to both them as artists as well as resonate with their tribes’ traditional art styles."
"This was an opportunity for us to educate people around the world how the smallest detail has significant meaning and contributes to a much larger story that is being told," she added.
Xbox's process not only represents a solid effort to celebrate different Indigenous Peoples, but also provides guidance for other developers to consider these groups in their work. The company's choice to center people from specific groups and let them share stories from their tribes' histories (and also pay them) are important steps to take.
It's also notable to see how far the company's inclusivity efforts are expanding. Earlier this year, it prepped a sizable donation to transgender rights organizations in response to anti-transgender bigotry expanding across the United States and other countries.
There are still many ways for Xbox and the game development world to better recognize Indigenous People, especially when taking influence from different cultures to create fantastic settings. It'll be interesting to see if Xbox is able to translate this work to its development practices through Indigenous at Microsoft and beyond.