Dr. Morrison: The Toy - P.O.W. Report

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Dr. Morrison: The Toy

Tlingit and Haida people of Alaska is a great page that you should follow [here].

Here's another learning story from the Tlingit side of my family.


by Woody Ḵáawan Sangáa


In 1983 I was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Juneau Area Office in Juneau, Alaska so I moved my family to Juneau. My Haida Grandfather's mother's (my great grandmother's) father was Tlingit from Sitka, Ak. There were also a lot of relatives in Juneau so, I frequently visited the Old Men and listened to their stories. Not all of them were directly cultural in nature but there were still lessons to be learned. Here is one of those stories told to me.


Everyday the old Tlingit man’s grandson used to stop in after school for a visit with his grandpa. And, the first thing the boy would do when he entered the room was pick up a catalogue... it was always the same one, and, there was something there that he would spend time examining.

One day after the grandson left to go home the old man went and picked up the catalogue. The boy had left it open to his favourite page. The old man saw it was some kind of a toy, so he thought to surprise his grandson and ordered away for it. Then one day there was a knock on his door, it was the Mailman holding a large package. The old man accepted it and carried it into his house.

He unwrapped it and opened the box, there were hundreds of parts. After examining it, he decided it was beyond his capabilities to assemble the toy. But, he recalled, his next door neighbour, a Whiteman, was an engineer. "I’ll go ask him.", he thought. And he did.

The Engineer guy came to his house, looked at the parts and asked if a book came with it. The old man said “yes”, and handed it to him. "Here it is, I tried readin’ it but..." and left it at that. The engineer studied the instructions and after about an hour of working at it, the toy was assembled. The old man thanked his neighbour for helpin’.

That afternoon his grandson came by, the old man gave the assemble toy to the boy. And, with boyish delight, he examined it thoroughly then, like any other boy he took it apart. After the boy left, the old man didn’t know what he was going to do... he didn’t want to embarrass himself by asking his neighbour to come over and assemble the toy again.

He put on a pot of coffee and, a few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and, in walked his good friend. The old man was obviously preoccupied so the visitor just went ahead and poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down. He waited a few minutes then, in Tlingit asked the old man, "Hey, where are you."

The old man looked up at his friend and told him his dilemma... he didn’t know how to reassemble the toy and didn’t want to shame himself by going back to his neighbour and asking for his help again.

His friend said, "Lemme look at it." The old man brought the whole thing out, parts and the box. His friend picked up the box and asked if that was a picture of what it looked like when assembled. The old man answered, “Yes...” His friend then studied the picture for a few minutes then started assembling the toy.

The old man said to him, “Here's the instructions.”,” and handed them to his friend who just waved them off, "I don’t need dat thing.", and kept working.

In a very short time he had the toy reassembled. The old man was very impressed, "How did you do it. That Whiteman Engineer had to read the book a lon time before he could do it. You didn’t even look at it. How did you do that?"

His friend smiled at him as he answered, "I guess if you can’t read you have to learn how to think."
Áaw tláan gyaahlangáay láa g̱íidang.

That is all there is to the story.

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