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