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Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Two Old Women  >  Reading Comprehension Questions
Chapter 1 - Hunger and Cold Take Their Toll

 Chapter Summary: In this chapter The People are starving and desperate. The Chief and the council decide to leave the two frail old women, Sa’ and Ch’idzigyaak, behind. Ch’idzigyaak’s daughter and grandson secretly leave a bundle of moose hide string and a hatchet for the two old women. Alone and scared, the two old women resolve to survive or “die trying.”

Why were moose difficult to find? (p. 2)

Answer: The moose took refuge from the cold by staying in one place.

What was the favorite food source of The People? (p. 2)

Answer: The People preferred moose as their favorite food source.

What happened to the smaller animals during cold spells? (p. 2)

Answer: The smaller animals were thinned out by predators, both man and animal, during cold spells.

Who would be fed first among the people and why? (p. 2)

Answer: The hunters would be fed first because The People depended upon their skills for survival.

Why did the food run out so quickly? (p. 3)

Answer: With so many mouths to feed, and not enough food sources available, the food ran out quickly.

Who were the first to die when the hunters couldn’t provide enough food, and what did they die from? (p. 3)

Answer: The women and children would die of malnutrition and starvation.

What were the names of the two old women who lived among the people? (p. 3)

Answer: Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’.

What do their names mean? (p. 3)

Answer: Ch’idzigyaak means Chickadee and Sa’ means star.

How did the two old women get their names? (p. 3)

Answer: Ch’idzigyaak reminded her parents of a chickadee when she was born and Sa’s mother had been looking at the night sky to take her mind away from the pain of labor contractions.

Who set up the tents for the two old women? (p. 3)

Answer: The chief told the younger men to set up the tents for the two old women.

Who carried the possessions of the two old women from camp to camp? (p. 3)

Answer: The younger women carried the old women’s possessions.

What did the two old women do for The People in return for hauling their things and setting up their tents? (p. 3)

Answer: The two old women tanned hides and skins for the people.

What character flaw did the two old women share? (p. 4)

Answer: They constantly complained about their aches and pains.

What was unusual about The People tolerating the complaining of the two old women? (p. 4)

Answer: The People had been taught since childhood that weakness was not to be tolerated in such a harsh land.

Who helped the chief arrive at the decision to leave the two old women? (p. 5)

Answer: The council arrived at the decision to leave the two old women behind.

Was this the first time this band had to leave someone behind? (p. 5)

Answer: Yes, this was the first time The People had to leave someone behind.

Who were The People imitating when they had to leave the old ones behind? (p. 5)

Answer: They were imitating the ways of animals.

How were The People like wolves in leaving the women behind? (p. 5)

Answer: Wolves shun the old leader of the pack.

What advantages would The People have without the two old women? (p. 5)

Answer: They could move faster without the “extra burden.”

Who was the elder of the two women? (p. 5)

Answer: Ch’idzigyaak was the older of the two.

Who had relatives among The People? (p. 6)

Answer: Sa’ didn’t have any relatives amongst The People.

Why wouldn’t the chief look the two old women in the eyes? (p. 6)

Answer: He didn’t feel so strong and he felt bad about his decision.

Why didn’t anyone argue with the decision? (p. 6)

Answer: They feared that arguing or fighting the decision might cause an uproar and create panic.

How did the chief feel about his decision? (p. 7)

Answer: He had never felt worse in his life.

What was their initial reaction to the news that they would be left behind? (p. 7)

Answer: They couldn’t speak or do anything and had no way to defend themselves.

Who were Ch’idzigyaak’s relatives and what were their names? (p. 7)

Answer: Ozhii Nelii, the daughter, and Shruh Zhuu, the grandson.

Who did Ch’idzigyaak hope may protect her? (p. 8)

Answer: She hoped her daughter, Ozhii Nelii, would protect her.

What was Ch’idzigyaak’s reaction when her daughter didn’t defend her? (p. 8)

Answer: Ch’idzigyaak’s reaction to her daughter’s response was shock.

Ch’idzigyaak’s daughter left her with a final gift. What was the item she left? (p. 8)

Answer: The daughter left behind a bundle of babiche, thickly stripped moosehide, that could be used for many purposes.

What was Ch’idzigyaak’s response to the item her daughter left her? (p. 8)

Answer: She stared straight ahead and refused to acknowledge her presence.

Why didn’t Ozhii Nelii defend her mother? (p. 8)

Answer: She feared The People would leave her and her son behind too.

What do you think Ozhii Nelii also feared the starving people might do to her, perhaps more than being left behind with her mother and son? A fear she could not chance? (p. 8)

Answer: Ozhii Nelii’s fears hint at something unspoken. She feared The People “in their famished state might do something even more terrible” than leave them behind. What do you think could be more terrible that being left behind to die in the cold?

Why was the daughter sad as she walked away from her mother? (p. 9)

Answer: She felt she had just lost her mother.

How did the grandson feel about the chief’s decision? (p. 9)

Answer: He was deeply disturbed.

How was Shruh Zhuu different from the other boys? (p. 9)

Answer: He was content to help his mother and the two old women instead of compete and play with the other boys.

What things did Shruh Zhuu do that wasn’t normal for men and boys to do in the band? (p. 9)

Answer: He did the burdensome tasks, such as pulling sleds, and the time consuming work that was expected of the women.

What was the primary responsibility of the men in the band? (p. 9)

Answer: Hunting was the primary job of the men in the band.

How did Shruh Zhuu feel about the way The People treated the women? (p. 10)

Answer: He disapproved and believed that the men should help the women with their work.

What training did Shruh Zhuu have about asking questions about the ways of The People? (p. 10)

Answer: He was trained to never question the ways of The People.

As Shruh Zhuu grew older, how did his mother discipline him for asking questions? (p. 10)

Answer: She refused to speak to him for days at a time.

How did Shruh Zhuu deal with his emotions and why? (p. 10)

Answer: He tried to only think about them and not speak of them. He remained silent.

How did Shruh Zhuu feel about The People abandoning the two old women? (p. 10)

Answer: He felt it was the worst thing The People could do.

Why doesn’t Shruh Zhuu argue with the chief’s decision? (p. 11)

Answer: He knows The People are desperate enough to take some kind of cruel action.

What does Shruh Zhuu’s mother whisper to him? (p. 11)

Answer: She tells him not to think of protesting the decision.

What does Shruh Zhuu leave behind? (p. 11)

Answer: He leaves a hatchet made of sharpened animal bones.

What is the significance of the item Shruh Zhuu leaves behind? (p. 11)

Answer: A young boy was trained to love his tools and his hunting weapons almost as much as his family.

What were the young boys taught about their weapons? (p. 11)

Answer: The weapons had power and significance, not only for the boy’s survival but also for his people.

Where does Shruh Zhuu hide the hatchet? (p. 12)

Answer: He hides the weapon high in a spruce tree.

What sign does he use to tell his grandmother where he hid the weapon? (p. 12)

Answer: He points to his empty belt and then to the spruce tree.

How did Ch’idzigyaak feel about her daughter not defending her? (p. 13)

Answer: She felt angry and sad.

How old were Sa’ and Ch’idzigyaak? (p. 14)

Answer: Seventy-five and eighty, respectively.

How did Sa’ feel about being left? (p. 14)

Answer: She was humiliated and angry. She felt they had been condemned to die.

What experience did Sa’ have with others being left behind? (p. 14)

Answer: She had seen others when she was young, so close to death that they were blind or could not walk.

What did Sa’ think young people did to get out of hard times? (p. 14)

Answer: She thought they looked for easier ways out.

Who retrieves the hatchet from the tree? (p. 14)

Answer: Sa’.

Two Old Women contains many Gwich’in explanations of how to read the signs of nature. What does the blue sky of winter mean? (p. 15)

Answer: Cold days and even colder nights.

Sa’ and Ch’idzigyaak have two choices when The People first leave them. What are their choices? (p. 15)

Answer: Sit and die or try to survive.

Sa’ feels like sitting and dying will prove what to The People? (p. 15)

Answer: Sa’ felt that The People would believe they were right -- the two old women were helpless.

How does Sa’ suggest the two old women die? (p. 16)

Answer: She says that they should die trying. She means that they shouldn’t give up. They must try to survive.

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