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Kumak's Fish

By Michael Banio, Alaska Northwest Books


In the Far North, a man named Kumak takes his whole family ice fishing. Bringing along his Uncle Aglu’s amazing hooking stick, Kumak hopes to catch many fish. With the help of his family, the entire village, and some perseverance, he gets far more than he’d bargained for.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Joey Lucius and Serena Retson

Kumak’s Fish is a story which promotes philosophical discussion because of the abnormal method used in catching fish. Through perseverance a community is brought together, yet it remains unclear who is responsible for the victory. Also, this book lends itself to a simple and fun activity which allows the children to have a first hand experience of the scenario presented.

The idea of community is something children are aware of. In Kumak’s Fish, we see what a community is able to accomplish by working together. If we dig deeper we can probe further into certain societal contexts such as social contracts and rights. In the story,the villagers quickly come out to assist Kumak when he calls out for help. This is an interesting jumping off point. Why do the villagers do this? Do they have an obligation? Is there some kind of agreement we all silently share when problems arise? What understanding do we have within these groups we belong? Are the villagers simply aiding Kumak because they have a responsibility as members of this community? This will get kids past thinking of the community as just a city neighborhood and thinking on a grander scale. There may be value in this discussion as kids begin to discover what sorts of things build a community and possibly even bring different communities together. Further discussion can lead the kids to better understand their roles within a particular group of people as well as their duties. Having the kids converse to how individuals alter their groups is an excellent way for them to develop awareness of the impact they can have on their community and the positive or negative influence they can make.

Who owns the fish is never explicitly stated. Fist Kumak’s family says how happy the villagers will be when they return with the fish. Then in the end the fish is used for a feast for the entire village. However, the title – Kumak’s Fish- implies that the fish are owned by Kumak. As the ownership is unclear a question is raised as to what establishes ownership? Different communities have different methods of determining who is entitled to something. Generally we would accept that by working for a living and then buying products with this money the products become yours. In the case of fish in a lake ownership is less clear. Prior to removing fish from a lake they belong to no one and in the same manor they belong to everyone. Does removing the fish from the lake make these fish yours? In the case of Kumak, the fish could not have been removed without the help of the villagers. If putting work into getting the fish makes them yours, the fish become owned by the villagers (Kumak and his family included). However, the question of physical vs. psychological aide must be addressed. If these two forms of helping people are equally valuable then why should they change whether the helper is entitled to something? Through discussing ownership a more clear understanding can be made of why the things we own are ours and whether or not we are really entitled to them. For kids this can be a very interesting discussion as much of what they own was earned for them by their parents.

Perseverance can be challenging to discuss because of the already perceived notion that you should always persevere, regardless of what one might have to sacrifice. The idea that trying again is the right thing to do is developed at such a young age. Children are told by teachers, parents, and stories to never give up. The concept of persevering has been adapted into pop culture through movies, motivational speakers, and the old belief that you should never give up on your dreams. This makes it difficult to remove these set ideas and go back to why or whether it really is important in the first place. In the story of Kumak’s Fish, Kumak must keep holding onto the hooking stick until help comes. Then his family and the villagers must hold on and pull or else they risk loosing the large catch. It seems that all hope is lost when Kumak himself is pulled into the water but the rest do not give up and Kumak and all the fish are pulled out from the water. Through this story the children can move to discuss what helps one to persevere and what makes a person want to give up. Then, also, whether we really must always try again or if there are times when it is ok to move on without succeeding.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

  1. Where’s the Far North? (Understand where the Arctic is).
  2. What do they wear to stay warm? (Understand what parka and mukluks are used for).
  3. What is the man doing in this picture? (Understand what ice fishing is).


  1. Who owns the fish and why?
  2. What makes someone own something?
  3. Are there things which are yours and also someone else’s?
  4. If you could not have had something without the help of someone else, does that mean they own it too?
  5. What if the help is not physical but psychological, is there a difference?
  6. What do you share in a community?
  7. If you and someone else share things should you treat these things differently?


  1. How does Kumak try?
  2. How do the villagers try?
  3. Would catching the fish have been possible if Kumak had not held on first?
  4. When have you had to wait for help to come?
  5. What do you gain from perseverance? (Talk about what perseverance means if it has not previously come up).
  6. Is there ever a negative to perseverance?
  7. Do you always need support to keep trying?
  8. What makes you not want to keep trying?


  1. Why do the villagers help Kumak?
  2. Do they have to help him?
  3. Why would they help?
  4. What is community?
  5. Are you a part of a community?
  6. What connects the people in the village or communities in general?
  7. Is being a part of something bigger important?
  8. What do you gain from being a member of community?
  9. Does everyone contribute to a community in one way or another?
  10. Are different perspectives valuable?

This book module deals with ethics, specifically fairness. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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