Canuck of the Day: Johnny Williams

Johnny Williams is hardly a household name in Canada. This Canuck of the Day is not someone who achieved fame or fortune, or put Canada on the map. Williams (or T’aanuu Kilslaay, Git’Kun) was a Haida elder and Chief who lived in Skidegate, British Columbia, and he had a talent that most people would consider totally unbelievable: he could understand raven talk.

Canada’s First Nations communities and individuals are many and varied. Some people would rather be called ‘Indian’ or ‘Native’ than ‘First Nations’. Some people live on reserve, others off. Some people speak only English and/or French, some are totally or partly fluent in their ancestral language as well. But even among all of these (and other) possible variations of circumstance and mindset, Williams had a rare gift.

I know nothing about what kind of schooling T’aanuu Kilslaay, Git’Kun had, but the small article I read about him in Canadian Geographic ( indicated that understanding what ravens were saying came to him out of the blue when he was four years old – he only noticed that it was not ‘expected’ when his grandmother, who had the same gift, noticed his ability and told him to keep quiet about it. Now here’s a case of the kind of skill that will not – and cannot – be nurtured in a school system!

Who doesn’t think at one point or other when they are young that if they just try a little harder, they might understand what an animal ‘friend’ is ‘saying’? Apparently, ravens told Williams many interesting things throughout his life. They warned him when a building project wasn’t going to work. They noticed when a man’s fishing boat was sinking and reported it, and later announced that everything was alright. Their communications to humans were helpful and friendly.

Williams’ talent is a reminder of the kind of gifts and skills that make life amazing, and fit nowhere in ‘the box’. Homeschoolers have a great opportunity to give unusual talents the attention they deserve. Are you good at being perfectly still or meditating? Do you memorize facts quickly while wiggling around or standing up? Do you think of a good joke every time you learn something new? Are you highly sensitive to whatever other people are feeling? Do you have an uncanny sense of smell? Abilities such as these (and many others) are special and may just cause you problems in a school setting (especially the excellent sense of smell! 🙂 ). And, even if your special qualities don’t cause you problems, you might simply not enjoy continually ‘standing out’ at school; it can be nice just to be you at home, learning what you need to learn without a whole lot of extra attention.

Johnny Williams is an example of a Canadian with an amazing skill that would never win him an award or earn him the recognition of an institution. If you are homeschooling because you are ‘different’, rest assured, there are others, right here in Canada, just as unique, who are nothing like anyone else either! 🙂


Curriculum suggestion! A unique upbringing: The Education of Little Tree (Reading Comprehension)


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