Healing of the Canoe: Community Pulling Together

A Life Skills Curriculum Training for Native Youth

What is Healing of the Canoe?

People in canoeThe Healing of the Canoe began as a collaborative project between the Suquamish Tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington.

Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam identified the prevention of youth substance abuse and the need for a sense of cultural belonging and cultural revitalization among youth as primary issues of community concern.

In response, the Healing of the Canoe partnership sought to address these issues through the development of a community-based, culturally-grounded prevention and intervention life skills curriculum for tribal youth that builds on the strengths and resources in the community.

The Culturally Grounded Life Skills for Youth Curriculum, created through this collaboration, is an adaptable curriculum for Native youth focused on substance abuse and suicide prevention. It uses the Canoe Journey as a metaphor, providing youth the skills needed to navigate their journey through life without being pulled off course by alcohol or drugs – with tribal culture, tradition and values as compass to guide them and anchor to ground them.

The curriculum template is generic, allowing each community to adapt it to use their own metaphors for a successful life journey.


Is it Effective?

In an evaluation of the Healing of the Canoe’s impact published in 2015, 27 Native youth completed a series of assessments. Analysis found that youth who participated in the Healing of the Canoe workshop (compared to youth who did not) consistently demonstrated:

  • higher levels of cultural identity and practices;
  • higher levels of future hope, optimism, and self-efficacy
  • improved knowledge of alcohol and drugs;
  • lower levels of substance use.

Despite the small sample size, this evaluation suggests that the community-derived, culturally-grounded prevention curricula represent promising practices. Consistent with the skills needed to successfully complete the Canoe Journey, the curricula have the potential of helping AI/AN youth stay on course as they navigate life’s journey.

Citation: Donovan DM, et al. (2015). Healing of the Canoe: Preliminary results of a culturally grounded intervention to prevent substance abuse and promote tribal identity for Native youth in two Pacific Northwest tribes. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, 22(1):42-76. Free online.


Looking for Healing of the Canoe Training or Technical Assistance?

Training ImageThe NWATTC offers a range of different training and technical assistance options for the Healing of the Canoe:

  • Individual Tribe or multiple-Tribe training workshops
  • In-person, webinar, or phone technical assistance at individual, organizations, and/or tribal levels focused on adaptation and implementation
  • Ongoing involvement in learning collaborative of shared experiences
  • “Booster” sessions for tribal communities/organizations who have already received training
  • Consultation for grant/funding opportunities to support implementation and sustainability

NWATTC training and technical assistance help communities to:

  • Assess community needs, resources, and readiness
  • Focus the curriculum on specific issues of concern and address those using community-based and culturally grounded strengths and resources
  • Select/develop a “journey” metaphor that fits culturally with the community
  • Adapt the curriculum to the community’s specific cultural teachings, practices, traditions, values, and activities
  • Engage community members to be active contributors in adapting and implementing the curriculum
  • Implement the adapted curriculum with youth (or adults) in your community
  • Evaluate the impact of the curriculum at individual, organizational, and community levels


Contact Us to Learn More!