The Winter Bear Project

The Winter Bear is a play about an abused, neglected Alaska Native teenager who decides suicide is his best option until Athabascan elder Sidney Huntington shows him how to use traditional culture to work through his despair and find his true voice.

We have performed for enthusiastic audiences in Fairbanks, Galena and Anchorage. After every show, people tell us heart-wrenching stories about the terrible toll suicide is extracting from their lives and beg us to bring the play’s message of hope to their communities. That’s what we’d like to do.

We want to make The Winter Bear play into The Winter Bear Project and tour the production all over Alaska, especially to Bush communities where the suicide rate of young Alaska Native males is almost four times the national average. Our goals for these tours are to broaden awareness about teen suicide; assist communities in finding their own solutions; and promote healing through the performing arts.

A scene from the 2010 production of the play. Duane and Sidney (right), guided by their animal spirits (Lynx, Raven, Wolf, and Wolverine), rescue Miranda from the Winter Bear.
How can a play have an impact when many other well-designed and well-meaning interventions have failed? A play tells a story. Stories are now and have always been the way Alaska Native people make sense of their experience and pass it on. A play can change the climate of fear and hopelessness that breeds suicide by changing the way young Alaska Natives see themselves and the way the wider culture sees them – not as helpless victims, but as heroes with the potential to turn their lives around despite incredible odds and powerful forces that lay in wait to destroy them.

Why not just make a DVD of the play and send it out to villages? Maybe that would help – a bit. But when we come to a place and make a play with a live audience, all of us together – cast, crew, audience, community – create a shared experience that opens the way for real communication which can be the beginning of healing and perhaps even change.

Sidney Huntington said it best, “I think this play will help young people, especially young Alaska Native males, by showing them they’ve got to look out for themselves and make their own way, but at the same time respect their elders and their culture.”

The fact that this play exists is due entirely to the generosity of Sidney Huntington who was willing to expose painful parts of his life to help others. We take his trust very seriously.

We have many hurdles to overcome to meet our goal of touring the show, but people from all over the State have come forward to help. We’d love to have you join us and become part of The Winter Bear Project. You can contact us through our website: or on Facebook.

An excerpt from the play:

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Anne Hanley is a former Alaska Writer Laureate whose plays have been produced in Alaska and Outside. She was a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and co-edited The Alaska Reader: Voices from the North (Fulcrum, 2006). Her work has been published in The New York Times,The Christian Science Monitor and the Yale Alumni Magazine.

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