by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services
NNSL (NOV 04/96) - Lookout Trivial Pursuit, here comes TOPONA - the newest trivia board game on the market. And it was invented in the North!
TOPANA, an entertaining and educational game, is geared toward teaching players of all ages about the contributions of native North Americans to Canada, the United States and around the world.
"There are so many interesting things associated with the continent's first people," said Fort Resolution's Marilyn Sanderson, game co-inventor. "We felt this was a great way to help people learn and appreciate some of the unique facts and contributions of aboriginal cultures."
TOPANA is an acronym taken from the phrase: "The Original People of North America."
"We wanted a name that didn't offend anyone and one that wasn't in any particular language. So, we came up with that abbreviation," said Sanderson.
The "we" she referred to is herself; co-inventor Ruth Mandeville, who also lives in Fort Resolution; consultants Norman Zigarlic and Victoria Blahun; and a silent, financial partner in British Columbia.
"Above all, TOPANA a good-news game. It's something positive and something fun for everybody to enjoy," said Sanderson.
Unlike Trivial Pursuit, TOPONA wasn't invented overnight. Far from it.
Sanderson explained that she and Mandeville were enrolled in a Deninu Ku'e-sponsored four-month business course run by Zigarlic and Blahun when the idea of the game began to take shape.
"The course was on how to start a small business. Developing a game was one of the projects we studied," said Sanderson.
"When the course was over, Ruth and I approached Vicky and Norman and told them this is something we'd like to pursue for real."
That was two years ago.
After several brain-storming sessions they came up with a loose game format and then set about looking for financing, set up a business plan, initiated a marketing strategy, and developed a final version of the game.
"You wouldn't believe how long it took us just to get all the questions and answers researched," said Sanderson.
The game includes nearly 500 questions and facts about aboriginal North Americans.
"We knew it would be successful to some degree because it's educational, and learning about aboriginal people is very popular now," said Sanderson.
On Oct. 1, some 2,000 copies of the game - manufactured in Edmonton by the Northern Games Company - hit store shelves in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, as well as Arizona, Alaska and South Dakota in the U.S.
More than 1,000 have already been sold, and the Christmas rush hasn't even started.
"We didn't know how popular it would be, but it's starting to look pretty good," said Sanderson.
"Our goal isn't to make money from it. Our intention is to sell enough so people can be more culturally aware," she said.
Mandeville and Sanderson have now formed a company called Great Circle Entertainment.
And while the pair are still working on introducing TOPANA to Canadian and American retail outlets and schools, they are also starting to discuss their company's next move.
"We've talked about some other things, not necessarily another game, but something aboriginal and something entertaining," said Sanderson.
That's pretty ambitious.
What's even more telling about how devoted these women are to their ambitions is how hard they work just to find research and development time.
Mandeville has her hands full with a full-time secretarial job at the Deninu Ku'e First Nation office and husband Gus Pasowisty and five kids: Amanda, 10, Alma, 8, Amber, 6, Gus Jr., 3, and Brianna, 3 months.
Sanderson is the executive director of the Treaty 8 Tribal Council, has a husband, Arthur, and three kids: Jimmy, 8, Jessica, 7, and Jenny Ann, 4.
"Sure we work hard, but that's just part of living. We're both very dedicated to our full-time jobs and our families. Great Circle Entertainment is just an at-home, private thing that we enjoy," said Sanderson.
Across the North, TOPANA is available at Northern Stores. In Yellowknife it's available at the North West Company Trading Post and at the Deton Cho Development Corporation office in Ndilo.
Sanderson said she's more than happy to answer any questions people have about her game and her company.
For more information, contact Great Circle Entertainment Ltd. in Fort Resolution at (403) 394-4804.