A Regina-born actor has recently added voice acting for a popular video game to her list of roles — and she even had a hand in helping develop the character, based on her own Nakoda background.
Sera-Lys McArthur provides the voice of Thunderbird, a new playable character in the Ubisoft game Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege.
The Montreal-based video game company, which is behind hit titles like the Assassin's Creed series, released Rainbow Six Siege in 2015 but has been adding new characters and updates to the game regularly since its release.
McArthur said her team responded to a casting call from the game developers for an Indigenous woman from Canada. From there, she was able to land the role of the military pilot.
"They wanted to keep the specific cultural heritage of the character in line with the actress that they chose," she said. "She's Nakoda, just like me."
When she accepted the role, the character had not yet been created, McArthur said. The developers asked about her own cultural background, she said. After writing them a long email in response, she didn't hear anything about the development of the character for a few months.
During that time, Ubisoft was busy working with Nakoda consultants in Saskatchewan to help create Thunderbird from the ground up.
According to the Rainbow Six Siege website, the backstory for the Thunderbird character — whose real name is Mina Sky — is that she was born in the Nakoda territories in Saskatchewan. She began her military career at the age of 17, when she joined the Bold Eagle Program, which is a real-life Canadian Armed Forces training course for Indigenous people.
"I was just blown away when they brought it back to me a few months later," McArthur said. "I was so moved — I felt so seen.
"I had never felt seen before and I felt really special to be able to represent this to the mainstream audience of the world."
McArthur said she admires how strong the character is and how in touch she is with her homeland and culture.
"She has some cultural teachings that she can pass along to others and she's a healer, and she kind of has everyone's back," she said. "I think it's just a really positive light for our people to be depicted in."
McArthur said one of her favourite things that she contributed to the character was featured in the trailer announcement for the character.
"I offered the suggestion of saying 'skoden' in the animated featurette that introduced my character," she said. "Skoden" is a term popular among Indigenous people which means "let's go then."
McArthur said she thinks it's important to have proper modern Indigenous representation in mainstream video games.
"They reach people of all ages and all nationalities all over the world, [and with] Indigenous people, we've almost gotten used to being left out of the conversation a lot of the time when it comes to representation," she said.
McArthur said while she was growing up, she never saw characters in the media that reflected her cultural heritage or the way she looked.
"When I grew up I always felt there might be something different or weird about me," she said. "I think that [proper representation] can help create a new world for young people so that they feel like they belong in it."
She said Indigenous people don't always get depicted in respectful ways in mainstream media, but the situation with Ubisoft was "the best possible scenario."
"Ubisoft was clearly listening to the advisers that they brought on and even I'm learning a lot of cultural knowledge based on my work through this character."