I couldn’t really tell you for sure if video games have a good record for representation of Native protagonists. The only game I knew of that had a central Native character was Prey, and I’ve never played it. In fact, I’ve played quite a few games over my 19 years, and the only time I’ve played as an ‘Indian’ was in a Mount and Blade mod. Some might say that this Indian absence from games is a pretty significant problem, but that’s an issue unto itself, and I don’t necessarily want to get too much into that. However, I would say that this general lack of representation of Native peoples in games makes each game they do feature in significantly more important.
All I know about Assassins Creed III at this point is that it has a fellow with a tomahawk on the cover. Where Ubisoft goes from there could potentially be a breakthrough in the portrayal of Native people in a new medium. Now, I don’t know if Ubi Montreal would have many Native folks employed, or how many would be in some sort of creative directorial position, so if anyone is privy to that info I’d be glad to have it. I tend to think that having Native artists (I have a pretty loose definition of artist) involved in this sort of production would avoid many problems of representation I can see arising from AC III.
A common representation of ‘Indians’ is the Noble Savage caricature. Chances are a lot of you thought of a Last of the Mohicans-esque sort of badassery when you saw Assassin Indian Man raising his tomahawk on that cover art. While that movie and the book do portray ‘Indians’ as thinking human beings, it’s also fairly limiting in that Indians are portrayed as warriors and not much else. Also, Daniel Day-Lewis’s character is some white guy adopted into the tribe, and in the book is for some reason vocally racist towards the bad guy Indians to a ridiculous extent. This type of representation also perpetuates the view that Indians are the last of a dying breed, which wasn’t exactly true last time I checked.
There’s a tendency among dominant North American society to imagine every Indian tribe to be “Generikee”. I really hope that Ubisoft takes the time to learn about whatever nation they are planning on making this character be from. A slightly brown fellow with long hair who does war whoops is not exactly a good representation of any particular Indian nation. Not every ‘Indian’ is a straight-outta-Dances-With-Wolves Sioux. Nothing wrong with being Sioux (though the word Sioux is problematic), it’s just that most representations of Native men are of generic Plains Indian warriors riding bareback. Some specificity is always nice. As far as I know, people would rather be identified by their nationality rather than an imposed racial term. And for those of you who are or know Indians who are totally cool with being called Indian, no need to listen to me when it comes to your own self-identification.
There’s a chance here for Ubisoft to provide an appropriate Native protagonist to be played by Native and non-Native gamers alike. While I’m unsure of video games as a medium of meaningful social change, it would be kinda nice to have someone else to play as other than the ripped white guy. All I’m saying is that a darker skin colour doesn’t make a character ‘Indian’. If they want to continue making the standard badass protagonist, I’m all for it; there’s just no need to appropriate and misrepresent an identity to do so.
tl;dr Hopefully Ubisoft doesn't drop the ball on representing Native peoples.
If you want to get an idea of Native involvement in the Revolutionary War, this should give a pretty good historical account. I personally haven't seen that episode, but episode five gave a really good account of the Wounded Knee occupation of the '70's. And if you want to know more about Native people today, and get a rough sense of what I mean when I talk about having Native people involved in the creation of this new character, check out the first episode of this CBC series. And for those of you who think I'm just butthurt over nothing, we shall see.