Stronger Communities Together

June 23, 2016

If we all work together, we can change the climate of fear and hopelessness that breeds suicide.

The Winter Bear play tells the story of an Alaska Native teenager who rises above the traumas of his past to become a leader with the help of his mentor Sidney Huntington.

Written by former Alaska writer laureate Anne Hanley, the play originated from the share desire of a few young men who wanted to do something about the suicides of so many they knew. Based on the life of Huntington, an Athabaskan elder and the writer of Shadows on the Koyukuk, the play seeks to break the silence of suicide and create space for understanding and combating this issue so endemic in Alaskan communities today.

“When we first started to tour with it, we realized we were doing more than the play,” writer Hanley has said. “To bring a play that essentially mirrors people’s own life is amazing.”

Credit: Sarah Mitchell

Credit: Sarah Mitchell

To that end, the project combines a play and outreach in every community in which it is performed. Professional teaching artists lead workshops with local students.

Shake Out in Scammon Bay Credit: Anne Hanley

Shake Out in Scammon Bay
Credit: Anne Hanley

The play was first performed in 2008 and has been continuously performed since 2010. In 2015, “The Winter Bear” received a Teen Suicide Prevention Grant made possible by a collaboration of The Alaska Community Foundation and Alaska Children’s Trust. This grant cycle funds projects, organizations, and programs that are working to end suicide and its devastating effects on Alaskan communities, families, and – in particular – our youth. The collaborative effort ensures funds are available for community-based projects aimed at reducing teen suicide. The partnership also promotes the understanding that only through shared efforts can we bring lasting change in our communities.

[The play] shows others care and want to help.  Audience member, McLaughlin Youth Center

Dancing in Chevak Credit: Sarah Mitchell

Dancing in Chevak
Credit: Sarah Mitchell

Since 2008, it has toured over 30 Alaskan villages – and is still going strong. Most importantly, the play has resonated with audiences and created meaningful dialogue.

My child has thought [about] committing suicide, and this show has made me open my eyes. We watched it together and I know it has opened up some positive thought[s]. To stay positive and open-hearted, no matter what.” – Audience member, Hooper Bay

The show was excellent, it really taught us so much.” Audience Member, Chevak

I will speak the truth and tell my story more.” – Audience Member, Bethel

Having you here helps us heal.” Paul O’Brien, Drew’s Foundation, Bethel

Credit: John Wallace, Tundra Photos

Credit: John Wallace, Tundra Photos