Feel free to discuss.
I suggest you read Sapiens. It’s a good book and kinda says that what makes us sapiens so smart is two things. Our advanced languages. It requires us to learn them, sure, but the bandwith is great and it can handle abstract concepts. Thing two is story telling. In the long term all it is is the ability to form and respect abstract things. I’d say if you have both of these and tool use you are Sapient.
The wiki to the rescue!
The Awakening Stage begins when the player’s species achieves sapience
And there we have it, the stage begins once the player species has enough brain power to start thinking about the world and “awakens” into sapience.
I personally would make the argument that it’s not tool use in and of itself that makes a species sapient. Rather, it’s the overarching ability to manipulate the local environment in creative (or novel) ways. It’s the difference between otters, who while they use stones to break shells but don’t, say, use a lever to do the same, and ravens, who will use oncoming traffic to break the shells of nuts and then attempt to use other extant human equipment to do the same.
Language is useful as a method of passing on these creative applications - an octopus will do attempt to repurpose bits of their environment into tools, but they don’t pass on this information from generation to generation - this keeps an octopus that happens to figure out light switches (yes, they do that, also open locked doors) from passing on the knowledge.
You can look at sapience as a spectrum, where there’s a combination of traits.
Think of it this way: Otters and octos would be in the beginning of awakening stage. Somehow, some way or another, have discovered tool use. However, otters are only very slowly (if it all) expanding their interactions with other objects - their niche doesn’t require it so instead they pass on what tools they do use (rocks, seaweed) from parent to child.
Octos, on the other hand, have excellent amounts of creativity and interaction with the surrounding world. They test and interact with the environment, learning and becoming more able to intelligently change it to suit their needs. However, a lack of communication prevents these lessons from being passed on, resulting in endless repetition of the steps needed to effect the world.
Further on, we have ravens, elephants and dolphins. All utilize objects and opportunities in their environment to create novel ways of interacting with the world, whether this be for resource acquisition or entertainment. Both pass down lessons from elder to younger, if in different ways. In the case of corvids and dolphins regional accents (implying forms of language, even if comparatively primitive) have developed. Complex social networks (even involving alien intelligence, i.e. us) form. I’d almost peg these as looks at the very beginning of the transition to tribal stage, just that the niche is kinda already occupied by humanity.
The idea is that once you reach sapience, you are pretty quickly going to build your society center, which means that the timescales have already shrunk way down, so no major evolutionary changes can happen anymore.
I propose that they’d be in the midst of transitioning.