A Journey To What Matters and ASCA Partnership
2023 Graduate ARTShop Sonta Roach
Root Basketry Workshop

The ARTShops program is a collaboration between The CIRI Foundation, the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Established in 2016, ARTShops support emerging Alaska Native arts leaders to develop their skills in leading community-based arts programs.

Root Basket Weaving is such a meaningful, expressive, and beautiful artform. Weaving is special and specific to each Indigenous groups and the materials used are native and natural to those respective lands. The Deg Hit’an willow and spruce root basket making is well known throughout Alaska and certainly the United States with the artistic and geometric designs with colorful patterns.  

With the passing of instrumental artists, elders, those who have carried this artform for their whole lives, it really leaves us with a responsibility to carry that torch and to pick up roots and create. My personal motto has always been happy hands, happy art, happy heart, and the idea behind that is when our hands are busy creating and making we in-turn have happy hearts and are connecting in so many more ways to one another, to our families, and to our communities and our ancestors.

The Project Design is to meet weavers and artists where they’re at. Originally, it was expected to focus on a small number of weavers, but we recognized that our young children also needed exposure to this artform and to start at a very beginning stage. And after connecting with those students, we’ll continue with adult weavers who wanted to continue working. So after lunch, students came down to make birch bark picture frames, and what ended up happening, and to our excitement – Auntie Edna Deacon’s daughter, Flora Deacon, was able to integrate healthy and traditional foods into another sub-workshop. So we had to simultaneous groups going for about three hours. We split the students into two groups, which broke down the size of the groups, and half worked on food and the other half worked on their birch/root picture frames. This allowed for focus hands-on instruction for both groups. And at the halfway mark they switched.

Mothers and family members also joined, some were working on roots and some started an actual root tray. It was a wonderful effort to see basketry come to life. 

We met for one week and at the end of the week students were finished or were at the final stages of their birch/root picture frames. We hope to continue meeting, although the spring semester has been challenging for scheduling. We hope to continue to meet to work on basketry.

It should be noted that Edna Deacon has many, many years of supporting our basket maker learners. We are so thankful for her skills as a weaver and as a teacher.

Xusrigadisthinh (grateful) for the funds from this ARTShop program to help create spaces for this type of learning. This is so meaningful for local cultural artists and learners.  


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