Healing of the Canoe

About This Program


Culturally Grounded Life Skills for Youth (Healing of the Canoe) is a curriculum for Native youth focused on suicide and substance abuse prevention. It was designed to be adapted by Native communities using community-specific traditions and beliefs to strengthen youths’ connection to their communities and cultures, while strengthening their hope and optimism. The curriculum uses the Pacific Northwest Canoe Journey as a metaphor, providing skills needed to navigate life’s journey without being pulled off course by alcohol or drugs – with AI/AN culture as a compass and anchor.

The curriculum template allows each community to use their own metaphors for a successful life journey. The curriculum and accompanying training manual were developed as part of the Healing of the Canoe Project, a collaboration between the Suquamish Tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington. The development, evaluation, and dissemination of the curriculum has been supported by a series of grants from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

  • Age Group Designed For:

    High School
  • LGBT inclusive:

  • Trauma Informed:

  • Program Setting:

  • Curricula Type:

    Other Health
  • Duration:

    No set length - for example it could be used over a weekend or over an entire school year.
  • Cost To Purchase:

  • Teacher Training or Certification Required:

  • Student to Teacher Ratio:

  • Evidence of Effectiveness:

    Tribal Best Practice, Promising Practice
  • Endorsements:


Program Contact Information


Downloadable Training Materials:

Training Materials Links:

Teacher Training or Certification Requirements:

Our project team has offered curriculum implementation training to other American Indian/Alaska Native Tribes, organizations, and communities across the United States and beyond. Curriculum trainings are intended for Alaska Native/American Indian communities and/or organizations.

Our trainings provide information on what the curriculum is, and how to adapt and implement it in your community ­– using community-based and culturally grounded strengths and resources to promote wellness and well-being. We do this through didactic teaching, digital stories, small group discussion, and opportunities to role play facilitation.

Additional information about training costs and formats are available at: healingofthecanoe.org/trainings

If you are interested in hosting a curriculum training in your community, please contact the Healing of the Canoe team at: info@healingofthecanoe.org

Supporting Materials

Cultural Relevance


The curriculum was developed as part of the Healing of the Canoe Project, a collaboration between the Suquamish Tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington. In both the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam communities, community adaptation committees made up of community members, youth, and Elders worked for a number of months to incorporate each Tribe’s specific values, teachings, stories, and practices into the curriculum.

This process resulted in two curricula based on the metaphor of the canoe journey (“Holding Up Our Youth” in Suquamish and “Navigating Life the S’Klallam Way” in Port Gamble S’Klallam). The two curricula are different as they each represent the culture and traditions of two different Tribes. In both communities, traditional stories were collected from Elders and other community members as a way to convey and reinforce session information through the stories, messages, and values. Elders and tribal leaders volunteered to share their experiences and perspective by talking to the youth about various topics. Topics included drug and alcohol use, Tribal spirituality, and cultural values. These guest speakers provided an opportunity for youth participants to meet with potential mentors and learn about resources. The youth also participated in culturally-related activities such as food gathering and preparation, traditional introductions, traditional storytelling, and gift preparation (including beading, weaving, cedar collection, carving, etc.). Participants were also involved in a number of other activities such as visiting tribal chambers and helping with the annual Canoe Journey hosting.

The generic curriculum template has removed and replaced all Tribal specific information with placeholders, and is intended to be used in a way that best fits each community or organization. We encourage each community/organization to fully adapt this curriculum to their culture and traditions. Some communities or organizations may not identify with the Canoe Journey as a metaphor for life. Any metaphor that can be used to represent a life journey or experience is valuable, such as coming-of-age ceremonies or preparing for a whale hunt.

While the curriculum is currently focused on preventing substance abuse and suicide, the focus could also be shifted depending on what the community finds to be most important. It could be used along-side mental health treatment, chemical dependency treatment, or to help with job readiness skills. Sections about alcohol and drug abuse could be replaced with information about other topics or concerns.



During the initial phase of the Healing of the Canoe Project, a needs and resources assessment in Suquamish was conducted through focus groups with youth, Elders, service providers, and community members; in-depth interviews were conducted with key stakeholders as identified by a Community Advisory Board. The assessment documented the prevention of youth substance abuse as the highest priority. Importantly, community members indicated that strengthening youth connection to community and culture would have the effect of reducing substance use and promoting wellness. In addition, youth, Elders, and Suquamish traditions were identified as strengths existing in the community to address the concern.

The original “Canoe Journey, Life Journey” curriculum was identified as the most relevant intervention and an adaptation committee made up of Suquamish Tribal community members, youth, and Elders worked to incorporate Suquamish values, teachings, and practices into each chapter. The curriculum was named “Holding Up Our Youth” by the Elders and piloted with work groups, a summer school class, and as an after school class. An independent evaluator, through focus groups and key stakeholder interviews, assessed the community’s perceptions of the Healing of the Canoe project; the community expressed very positive views about the level of community engagement, and the changes they had seen in the behavior of youth who had participated in the pilot.

The Healing of the Canoe was chosen as one of 12 exemplary models of the application of the principles of community engagement in the second edition of the book, Principles of Community Engagement. During the next phase, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe (PGST) joined the partnership. The needs and resources assessment identified the prevention of youth substance abuse as the greatest concern and the revitalization of PGST culture as the greatest strength. An adaptation committee comprised of PGST tribal members, Elders, and youth was convened and the resulting curriculum was named “Navigating Life the S’Klallam Way.”


The curriculum is currently being evaluated by the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board’s THRIVE Project, NPC Research, and several NW Tribes. An aggregate report describing that evaluation is attached below.

Evaluation Materials:


Healing of the Canoe

Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, Cowlitz Indian Tribe

I have had the honor of participating in the Healing of the Canoe program for the Cowlitz Tribe as the Elder mentor/cultural educator. I find this program to be extremely beneficial to our youth. The outreach to schools is so successful. This is due to our staff’s dedication.