Three hundred years ago, a man wearing a woven spruce hat died on a snowy Northern Canadian glacier. That single woven hat has served as a thread, leading from the past to the present. Master Haida weaver Delores Churchill has spent the last fifty years devoting her life to mastering the craft of weaving. She has made it her goal to discover the origins of the man’s hat, what it is made out of, and what it means. A connection to the long-gone past that just might help revive Haida culture and language for the future.
On October 28th, the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) will host a screening of the documentary “Tracing Roots: Delores Churchill and the Hat of the Long Ago Person Found”, which documents Churchill’s quest in uncovering the hat’s mysteries as well as her life as a master weaver.
Delores Churchill was born in the village of Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada. As a young girl, she was forced to leave home and attend a residential school, where she was only allowed to speak English instead of her native language. Despite this challenge, Churchill has been able to hold on to her language, Xaat Kil, working with members of the Haida community to bring their language back from the brink of extinction.
Haida weaving is known to create tightly woven baskets and hats created with spruce roots and cedar. The cups and bowls are woven so tightly that they are waterproof. Collecting bark to weave with shouldn’t kill the tree; careful weavers like Churchill take strips that are small enough that the tree can heal itself. She learned her weaving skills from her mother, who made her burn everything she made for the first five years of her apprenticeship, until her daughter’s work was up to standards. In the past, only females were allowed to weave in Haida culture, but males usually painted the design onto the finished product. However, now more males have been learning the craft. Churchill’s creations are both ceremonial and utilitarian. One of her goals, she says, is to change people’s minds about Native art. They are more than just museum pieces; they are part of the modern world as well. By passing her knowledge down to future generations through the traditional channels as well as through weaving classes, Churchill is certain she can help keep the Haida weaving tradition alive.
The film screening and demonstration on October 28th is free and open to the public. The film screening begins at 6:15 in Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History. After the screening, there will be a discussion session with Delores Churchill and producer/director Ellen Frankenstein where we welcome your questions, as well as a weaving demonstration. Earlier in the day, Delores will demonstrate her weaving in NMNH’s Q?rius Education Center.
Please RSVP for this event here
by Catherine Stiers, Recovering Voices Intern Fall 2015