Alisha Jermayne Pellicciotti, ‘19 has made waves in cultural education with the creation of her board game called Journey Home.

Journey Home is a board game that assigns players, who are young Native Americans separated from their tribes, the task of finding their way home to their region. Pellicciotti, who now works as a third grade special education teacher at Johnson City Elementary school, said her project is a game she created to educate upper elementary students on traditional and contemporary Native American Culture, drawing inspiration from her mother’s experiences growing up in Nebraska. Pellicciotti described the story of her mother, who is a full-blooded Native American—a legal member of the Omaha-Ponca: Umoⁿhoⁿ tribe of Nebraska on her birth mother’s side and bloodlines of the Rosebud Sioux tribe of South Dakota on her birth father’s side.

“As a young child, my mom and her siblings were taken from their family, separated and adopted into English families,” she wrote. “They were forced to change their names completely so that they could not be found. I want to make this clear that this was not cultural assimilation — years later, my mom found out that this was to keep them safe. From the moment my mom turned 18, she was searching for her siblings.”

Though Pellicciotti’s mother has regained contact with some of her family through reservation and her tribe’s annual powwow, the impact of her childhood lingers as she continues to search for at least one more of her brothers, who was an infant when they were separated. Pellicciotti emphasizes the importance of not only remembering Indigenous history as part of American history but educating students about Native Americans, Indigenous culture and popular misconceptions, as a motivation for the board game’s creation.

“Many students have misconceptions about Native Americans — that they either don’t exist anymore or that they only look a certain way today — because many are not taught about the culture,” she wrote. “Many times, classrooms only mention Native Americans as ‘Indians,’ which is also not the correct term, prior to Thanksgiving. The picture is painted that Native Americans helped the pilgrims when they emigrated to modern-day America and does not tell of the true impact it had on Native American culture. For example, how they were truly treated, the fact that many Native children were ripped away from their families and placed in government-run boarding schools that ‘hid’ their true identities.”

More specifically, Pellicciotti hoped to dismantle stereotypes and beliefs about Native Americans through her project: that Native Americans continue to exist, that they do not always look or dress in traditional regalia as shown in textbooks and that there is a rich cultural history beyond what is taught around the Thanksgiving holiday.

There were a number of challenges and goals that Pellicciotti had to consider when designing Journey Home, some of which included narrowing the number of tribes to feature in the game as well as making it accessible to first-time players, many of whom were young students.

“The biggest challenge was making sure that I created questions that created an accurate depiction of the Native American culture and the various tribes that I incorporated,” Pellicciotti wrote. “I also wanted to make sure that each question was differentiated enough so that each child and individual could play the game and have fun with it while learning about the culture.”

Beyond Journey Home, Pellicciotti has had a number of projects in the making over the past few years. She reflected the impact of the Journey Home not only on the education curriculum but on her own life.

“Since Journey Home and all of the opportunities that it has given, it was briefly discussed that it would be neat to start thinking about a similar game focused on [New York state] Native Americans because it can directly relate to the [fourth- and fifth-grade] curriculum,” she wrote. “I’m currently in the planning and designing stages of creating a similar project to Journey Home, however, focused solely on New York state … I also have a lot of ideas on how to make literacy games from Native American languages. I want to make sure that our language is not forgotten and can be taught not only to our young tribal members but neighboring tribes and communities as well.”

Pellicciotti shared her hopes for the future role of Journey Home as well as for Indigenous advocacy, visibility and support. She hopes that the board game can serve as a catalyst for discussion and education in schools to discuss different cultures in depth and in a truthful way. She also wishes to craft a project that can further recognize lesser-known tribes and their specific traditions, as Journey Home incorporates more well-known tribes and regions within the United States. On a general scale, she mentioned the desire for more time dedicated to cultures within education.

“I would love to see schools reach out to cultural advocacy organizations and get them involved in coming to teach about their cultures,” she wrote. “It would be neat to see schools get involved in advocacy projects and build their school community.”

Overall, Pellicciotti emphasized the importance of teaching others about Indigenous history.

“I don’t want children to grow up with misconceptions about the Native American culture or think that it’s completely extinct because of how Native Americans are typically portrayed in literature and on television programs,” she wrote. “I want to do my best to keep our culture and history alive in a contemporary sense, however let students know that many older traditions are still practiced today.”

Journey Home has been an incredibly meaningful project to Pellicciotti. She hopes to travel to various regions within North America to learn more about the regional Native American tribes and cultures, starting with the Omaha, Rosebud Sioux, Lakota and Navajo reservations on which her family members reside. She discussed the personal aspect of the board game and how much it means to her life and her family.

“This project is very meaningful to me because I was able to spread awareness of my culture by sharing the personal story of my mom,” she wrote. “Growing up, there have always been gaps that needed to be filled in my mom’s family history. I’ve always wanted to help fill those gaps and because of this, I have always been extremely interested in my culture and heritage. The desire to know more about our family and our culture has driven me to do the research and the work that I have up until this point. I feel most connected physically, spiritually and emotionally when I am out West, back on our native lands, learning from my relatives and listening to the stories of my ancestors. I don’t anticipate this passion to subside and I hope to one day pass this knowledge on to my own family.”