A Cultural Capital Fellowship from First Peoples Fund will be used this year to promote a documentary on the life and work of a prominent Alaskan culture bearer—and 2003 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award honoree.
Delores Churchill (Haida), alongside filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein, has received a Cultural Capital fellowship to help promote "Tracing Roots," a 35-minute documentary portrait of Churchill's homeland, art and work to preserve her culture and traditions.
First Peoples Fund's Cultural Capital Fellowship Program provides tradition bearers of tribal communities the opportunity to further their work by providing additional resources, technical assistance and capacity building.
The documentary project began in 2009 when Frankenstein began documenting Churchill as she traveled the Northwest Coast, teaching basketry and weaving. The project led to the "Tracing Roots" documentary, specifically focused on Churchill's life and work.
"It was this journey we went on together," Frankenstein said. "In the making of the film, I learned what a wonderful, amazing person Delores was."
The film was finished in September and began showing later that month.
Churchill learned Haida weaving from her mother and was schooled in the traditions by Tlingit and Tsimshian elders. "Once I took this path of teaching and sharing, I've stayed on it," Churchill wrote when applying for the Cultural Capital fellowship. "I'm passionate about learning new endings and techniques so those too can be passed on. This art is integral to who we are and how we live in this region."
Frankenstein said the fellowship could also be used to help promote a book Churchill is writing with her daughter, but the main focus will be on the film, including having it aired on the National Public Television.
"We will use the funding well," she said.
The film is so strong, Frankenstein said, because of Churchill's captivating presence. "There's something about her spirit in the film," Frankenstein said.
She embodies the idea that it's never too late to ask questions, search for answers and learn, Frankenstein added. "Nothing stops this elder when she wants to know something," she said. "Delores captivates everybody."
Frankenstein, who has been working with artists and creating documentaries for 25 years, said she loves her work, especially when it encourages people to continue their stories.
"Art is a part of life," she said. "Western civilization divides everything out. But it's about heritage as a living element of life and culture and beauty and legacy—it is about who we are."
First Peoples Fund is supporting the important idea that history and tradition matter, she added.
"If we don't connect the past with the present, where are we?" she said.
The organization also gives artists the boost they need to complete projects. "We all have ideas, but seeing them to the finish line is complex," she said.
For more information on "Tracing Roots" and to see a preview of the documentary, visit www.tracingrootsfilm.com.