Nikolai, Top of the Kuskokwim

Nikolai was so beautiful, I don’t even know where to begin!



Denali on the left and Sultana on the right. Hard to capture with an iPhone, but you get the idea.




The flight in was beyond gorgeous –a clear day with Denali in full view, as well as Mt. Foraker.  Foraker is traditionally called “Sultana” in Tanaina Athabascan, translating to “Denali’s Wife.” It was amazing to see these two peaks from the West, since usually we cityfolk view the Great One from the other side on the Parks Highway.




The population of Nikolai was 96 at the 2013 Census, and we were told that about 80 people were currently in town. It’s a wonderfully friendly community — everyone we met was excited about the performance.  We had almost 50 people turn up for it!

The Top of the Kuskokwim School gym was one of our most intimate spaces yet, which made for a powerful experience for both actors and audience.  You could hear a pin drop throughout the show, and the kids laying on mats in the front were particularly rapt. Not to mention scared by some of the bear roar sound cues!


Our talented tech team rose to the creative challenge of setting up in this half-gym.

Izzy (Duane) and Brían (Sidney) in Act 2.

Izzy Potts (Duane) and Brían Wescott (Sidney) in Act 2.

After the show, we were treated to pancakes flipped by one of Nikolai’s teachers.
Matt, you are officially our hero!


Adeline and Anne helping Matt out with pancakes.

It was wonderful to meet so many kind folks in Nikolai.  We even got to attend a hot dog roast at someone’s house the night before the show, which sure beats being cooped up in the school all night.


Lovely sunny evening chatting with the locals.

Thank you for having us, Nikolai!


~Sarah Mitchell, Associate Producer

The Winter Bear Documentary on KUAC

We’re excited to report that The Winter Bear Project’s 2014 Yukon-Koyukuk Documentary will air on KUAC 9.1 TV at the following times:

  • Tuesday, 4/12, at 8pm
    (repeats in overnight Wednesday, 4/13, at 2am)
  • Tuesday, 4/26, at 10:30pm
    (repeats in overnight Wednesday, 4/27, at 4:30am)

The 30-minute documentary covers our September 2014 tour to the communities of Ruby, Nulato, and Kaltag. Thank you to KUAC for the great partnership!


The Yukon in Autumn. Kaltag, 2014.


Tough Love on the Koyukuk

SidneyRecollections of Sidney Huntington

By Anne Hanley

On Dec. 11, 2015, Koyukon Athabascan leader Sidney Charles Huntington was laid to rest on a bluff overlooking the Yukon River. The spot was near where he used to run a trap line and not far from the site of his fish wheel. He was 100 years old.

Photo by Karrie Pavish Anderson

Photo by Karrie Pavish Anderson


When an elder dies, a bridge between the past and the future is washed away. Sidney’s death leaves a huge, gaping chasm. He knew the chiefs and the medicine men. He knew the animals and the rules for how to show them respect. He knew old ones who hunted bears with nothing but spears and who spoke the old Koyukon high language. He knew missionaries and traders and miners. They’re all gone and now he’s gone too, but, lucky for us, he left a book.



If you haven’t read his biography Shadows on the Koyukuk, written with Jim Rearden in 1993 and still in print, treat yourself to a good yarn about a good man whose life encompasses a huge swath of Alaska history.


Sidney was born in 1915 around the time when the first non-Native settlers were moving into the Country. His mother was a traditional Athabascan woman; his father was a trader and a gold-seeker. “Half Indian,” as he called himself, and half white, he faced discrimination from both sides.

I once spent a morning at the Sidney C. Huntington School in Galena interviewing students about Sidney. They were shy and not as vocal as I’d hoped. As I was leaving, a resource teacher chased after me.  “I have something to say about Sidney,” she said. “I moved to Galena two years ago and Sidney was one of the first people I met. He told me, ‘Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t belong here. If you live here, you’re one of us.” That was Sidney. He would not tolerate discrimination, perhaps because he endured so much of it growing up.


He had a passion for education. In the early ‘70s, he was part of a committed group that formed the Galena City School District. He then served on the School Board for the next 21 years. He often reached in his own pocket and made loans to young people for education, and, in his later years, he was a familiar face around the school in Galena that bears his name, just being there for the kids. I believe his interest in education grew out of his belief that education is the most powerful tool to overcome discrimination.

Sidney (pictured in the middle) shortly after the death of his mother. To his right are brother Jimmy and sister Marion.

Sidney (pictured in the middle) shortly after the death of his mother. To his right are brother Jimmy and sister Marion.

Sidney had to learn to survive early. When he was five years old his mother died, and he had to keep himself and his two younger siblings alive for over two weeks until they were rescued. That early experience gave him the confidence to face the many ordeals and tragedies that came later.



Mid-way through his life, he was attacked by the demon that delights in bringing down strong men: alcohol. Once he made up his mind to put that behind him, he never looked back and he never looked down on others going through similar problems. Instead, he dug in and helped.

His gruff, but fathomless generosity is legendary. Everyone in Galena has stories. They say he even gave away his first casket to someone who had a more immediate need for it. When I first met Sidney, this tough-as-nails old man cried when he talked to me about two of his sons who committed suicide. I asked if I could include those personal stories in the play I was writing about him. “If you think it might help even one kid, then go for it,” he said and he never wavered in his support.

Cast photos of Winter Bear Sept 18, 2015 at APU.

Actors Therisa Bennett (Miranda Huntington) and Allan Hayton (Sidney Huntington) perform an emotional scene from THE WINTER BEAR.


Sidney on the trapline in 1958. Photo: Alaska State Library.

I’ll always be grateful to Sidney and to his family for allowing me to share their private memories on a public stage. Their deep generosity has inspired others to open up and share their stories and that’s what will ultimately change the climate of fear and hopelessness that breeds suicide.




Sidney Huntington wore many hats over the course of his long life. He was a hunter, a trapper and a fisherman. That he was always able to provide for his family was a source of great pride to him. He was a miner, a carpenter, and for many years he operated a fish processing plant. He was a member of the Board of Game for 17 years and received an honorary PhD from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He was an educator, a mentor, a motivator and honorary “coach” to the Galena Boys and Girls Basketball team. He was a writer.



Sidney Huntington was a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing he was not: He was not a quitter. He never quit on people. He never quit on learning. He never quit on living. At an age when he had every excuse to rest on his laurels, he kept on writing, speaking, reaching out to challenge people, especially young Alaska Native people, to be better, to aim higher, to survive and prosper no matter what the obstacles.


Sidney at his home in Galena, circa 2010.

Sidney Huntington belonged to a time when survival took every ounce of a man’s mettle. We’ll not see the likes of him again. But he also belonged to our time and now he’s gone and we will sorely miss his tough love.

Grandpa Sid's Resting Place. Photo by Karrie Pavish Anderson

Grandpa Sid’s Resting Place. Photo by Karrie Pavish Anderson

Galena residents depart the burial site. Photo by Karrie Pavish Anderson