2018: Kivalina, Edge of the Chukchi Sea

It’s hard to play “favorites” with the incredible communities we visit on Winter Bear tours, but I have to go on record saying that my experience in Kivalina was one of the most powerful ones I’ve had in my 4 years with The Winter Bear Project.


This village of about 400 people will be the first to be forced to relocate due to climate change. When former President Obama visited Alaska, he flew over Kivalina to observe the effects of climate change on rural Alaska. Landing in Kivalina, one can sense that the community is undergoing a hard transition as they strive to hold on to their traditional way of life in the face of change.  The only thing keeping the village from eroding into the sea is a rock wall, which we took a stroll down on our first evening in town.

Brian Wescott (Sidney Huntington) enjoys the wide open spaces in Kivalina.

One of the make-or-break aspects of a village visit is the community contact.  And hoo boy, did we luck out with the wonderful Dolly!  From the instant we landed, she gave us the star treatment and helped us get to know the community, its challenges, its needs, its culture.

Director Tom Robenolt shares a laugh with the cast as Dolly looks on.

Dolly took great care to support us throughout the visit, and the icing on the cake, as it were, was when she shared a delicacy with the cast following our performance at McQueen School.  Check out the video below where I lead you through the cultural experience of trying seal oil for the first time.  It’s not a taste for everyone, but it sure was for us hungry actors!  Unlike anything I’d ever sampled before.



The yummy frozen fish we dipped in Seal Oil. Still drooling!

The most powerful moment in Kivalina for me personally was participating in a Community Poetry Workshop led by Erika Bergren (Lynx) with assistance from Lance Claymore (Wolf). Erika facilitated a wonderful exercises utilizing the 5 senses that opened up all of us, “non-writers” included, to creating a piece about our environment.

Though I enjoyed all the sharings from the folks in the workshop, one gentleman by the name of Tiny Swan blew me away. Dubbed the local poet by Dolly and others, Tiny arrived with a folder full of work he’d composed onto hand-drawn scrolls. As Tiny shared his pieces about Inupiaq life, loss, and love, our jaws lay collectively on the floor.

“Hear My Whispers” by Tiny Swan

















Lakota  Actor and Poet Lance Claymore (Wolf) had the honor of reading some of Tiny’s work aloud for the first time. As we left the community center, Erika, Lance, and I remained dumbfounded by the talent and artistry we had just been witness to. It’s one of those experiences you try to share about, but you know you’ll never communicate its power.

Community Poetry Workshop. Tiny Swan, the town Bard, is second from the right with Dolly to his right.

Such an unforgettable visit to Kivalina!  We wish the community strength during their transition to a new home.

~Sarah Mitchell, Raven

Tyonek, The Beach People

Tyonek, home of the Beach People, may be just an up and down flight across Cook Inlet from Anchorage, but that short hop includes flying over the delta where the mighty Susitna River empties into Cook Inlet and a view all the way down the Inlet to the Aleutian volcanoes. Oh Tyonek, so beautiful on the first three perfect spring days!







Tyonek is a small, quiet village. We received a warm welcome at Tegbughna School from Principal Pam Potter. Some of us even had real beds at our headquarters across the road from the school in Teacher Housing.

Thirty-three children participated in our workshops, which is interesting considering the school’s official enrollment figure is 28.  Way to go, Tebughna School students! Several of you were able to keep a straight face in spite of all the silly antics of our actors who were determined to make you laugh. Following our theater games, Erika (Lynx) Bergren’s poetry workshop helped us connect with what makes Tyonek special to the kids who live there.

Actor and Poet Lance Claymore (Wolf) models the prompt for our Poetry workshop.

Such a wealth of talent among Tyonek kids!


The pre-show potluck carried on despite a 1.5-hour power outage which meant none of the cooks were able to make fry bread. Thanks to Janelle Baker, Native Village of Tyonek, we had a terrific turnout of 45 for our show, that’s 38% of the total population.

Ah Tyonek, we’ll remember your endless beach and breaching belugas, but most of all your great kids and friendly people.


36th Annual Protecting Our Children Conference – Anchorage 2018

We were excited that The Winter Bear & the Power of Story was accepted for a panel discussion at the 36th Annual American Indian Child Welfare Association meeting at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage in April 2018.

We were honored that Sidney Huntington’s daughter, Anna Huntington-Kriska, who is also the Grant Advisor for Behavioral Health at Southcentral Foundation, was one of our panel members, along with Winter Bear Lead Actor Brían Wescott, Director Tom Robenolt and Playwright Anne Hanley.

Ms. Huntington-Kriska told her own powerful story of how suicide has impacted her life and why she has chosen time and again to cycle back into suicide prevention work.

Annie Huntington-Kriska, one of Sidney’s daughters.

Audience members told us about their own arts-related suicide prevention projects. Two that stood out: A California project about suicide that wove personal stories of suicide survivors into compelling dramas; and an arts collective in Manitoba that explored the root causes of suicide through poetry, music and art.

Thank you NICWA for allowing us to connect with people from all over the U.S. and Canada who are harnessing the power of story to break the hold of suicide.

~Anne Hanley, Playwright