Tracing Roots Study Guide

Tracing Roots Study Guide
Date posted: 
Oct 21, 2015

“Tracing Roots” is a heartfelt glimpse into the world of Haida Elder and weaver Delores Churchill. This film is a portrait infused with her passion and curiosity. It is a story that shares her dedication to learning, mastering and teaching the art of basket making and to linking the past to the present. 

The film follows Delores on a journey to understand and replicate the spruce root hat found in a retreating glacier with the remains of a man, known as the Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi ("The Long Ago Person Found") discovery. Her search to understand the roots of the woven hat crosses cultures and borders, and involves artists, scholars and scientists.

In creating a film about Delores, film maker Ellen Frankenstein is telling a story about beauty, legacy and ageing, and the revitalization of weaving. In the region where the film is set, weaving involves artists throughout Southeast Alaska and part of Canada and the U.S. Northwest, as they combine a contemporary aesthetic with traditional methods. The documentary also raises challenging questions about understanding and interpreting ownership, knowledge and connection. After watching an early version of the film, Delores described it as being about “connection” to where we live, the art we make and the people we teach.



“Tracing Roots” is suitable for middle school, secondary, college, and university students taking courses relating to:

  • Anthropology, Archaeology, Culture Studies, Indigenous Studies, Northwest Coast Art, Heritage and History, Art, Culture, and Law, Intellectual Property and Repatriation, Canadian Studies, Ageing and Gerontology, Environmental Studies, Museum Studies, Ethics.

The study guide below is designed to help teachers and students develop an understanding of Indigenous history, heritage and contemporary artistic tradition. Discussion points, classroom activities and assignments, and additional resources are provided to assist in delving deeper into some of the issues raised in “Tracing Roots,” including: the links between heritage and the perpetuation of culture; the concepts of stewardship and caretaking; the protection of and control over artistic works as intellectual property; and the role of Elders in teaching and learning traditional cultural practices.