The Healing of the Canoe curriculum is a life skills and substance abuse prevention curriculum for use with tribal youth.  It was designed to be adapted by tribal communities  using their unique tribal traditions, practices, beliefs, values and stories to teach youth the skills they need to navigate life’s journey, and to promote a sense of belonging to their tribal community. The curriculum consists of 14 chapters, and uses the Pacific Northwest Tribal Canoe Journey as a metaphor for life. Traditional stories, cultural activities and speakers from the community are woven into each chapter.

Curriculum Chapters

Chapter 1 – Four Seasons and Canoe Journey Metaphor
The goals of this session are 1) to introduce and discuss the Four Seasons, a traditional tribal concept used to frame daily life and teach life skills, a schedule set by nature that tribal livelihood revolved around, and 2) discuss the Northwest Native traditional Canoe Journey and how it can serve as a metaphor for life. Each session ends with a reflection back to this concept. Other traditional tribal beliefs are also discussed.  Information about alcohol is also included.

Chapter 2 – Who I am: Beginning at the Center
Participants learn about tribal values, traditional ways to introduce oneself, self-awareness, genealogy, family ties and integrity, and how to use the concept of the Four Seasons as a part of self-definition. Participants are encouraged to explore the idea of a physical self, mental self, emotional self and spiritual self. Information about marijuana is also included.

Chapter 3 – How Am I perceived?
This session focuses on how American Indians and Alaska Natives are portrayed in the media. Participants learn how to recognize when stereotypes are being used, how AIAN culture has been exploited, how AIAN history has been misrepresented, and how to stand up against stereotypes. Information about prescription drugs is also included.

Chapter 4 – Community Help and Support
Participants learn about the importance of community, how they are a part of many communities, and the importance of giving back to their community. Youth learn how to identify where they can go for help in their own community. Participants also learn about what it means to be a mentor and how they can become mentors for those around them. Information about club drugs and stimulants is also included.

Chapter 5 – Moods and Coping with Emotions
Participants learn about different emotions and positive and negative self-talk. They also learn about depression and suicide, how to cope with negative emotions and difficult situations, and how to find a safe person or place to express emotions. Information about inhalants is included.

Chapter 6 – Staying Safe: Suicide Prevention
The focus of this chapter is suicide prevention and what that means.  Participants learn what increases and decreases the chance of suicide (in themselves in others) and learn how to help themselves and others stay safe.  Participants find out about local resources and also talk about the role alcohol and drugs play in increasing the risk of suicide.

Chapter 7 – How Can I Help? Suicide Intervention
The goal of this chapter is for participants to learn how to identify suicide warning signs and help someone who wants to harm or kill himself/herself. The chapter also talks about the importance of reaching out for help if one finds themselves struggling.  Finally, participants learn about ways to cope with the reality of suicide and its impact on the community.

Chapter 8 – Who Will I Become?  Goal Setting
The focus of this session is to explore what kinds of goals are important and to learn a step-by-step approach to setting goals. Participants will begin to understand the importance of goal setting and learn how to cope with obstacles that might hinder achieving set goals. Information about hallucinogens is also included.

Chapter 9 – Overcoming Obstacles:  Solving Problems
Participants learn how to recognize when they are having a problem, learn ways to solve problems and make good decisions, and discuss where they can go when they do have a problem. Participants learn how to define a problem, brainstorm solutions, pick the best solution, make and act on a plan, and review and revise the plan if needed. Information about nicotine is also included.

Chapter 10 – Listening
The focus of this session is teaching listening skills. Effective listening is discussed, and the importance of listening is illustrated through storytelling and other traditional activities. Tribal values stress respect and the belief that you must be an effective listener before you can become an effective communicator. Information about methamphetamines is also included.

Chapter 11 – Effective Communication:  Expressing Thoughts and Feelings
The goal is to teach participants effective communications skills, how to disagree respectfully, refusal and assertiveness skills and how to deal with peer reactions to assertiveness. In this session, participants practice positive ways to resolve conflict and to express feelings. Information about opiates is also included.

Chapter 12 – Safe Journey without Alcohol and Drugs
The goal for this session is to learn about addictions, to learn how expectancies influence perception and to learn about the consequences of drug and alcohol use.

Chapter 13 – Strengthening Our Community
This last session focuses on finding leaders within the tribal community to serve as role models, learning about the Boldt decision, learning about leadership, and learning how to make good choices within the tribal community. This session includes field trips into the community to volunteer with important community projects.

Chapter 14 – Honoring Ceremony
This ceremony is a way to acknowledge youth for the completion of the program and honor their unique attributes. Mentors are invited by the youth to attend the ceremony and the mentor has the opportunity to talk about the youth and their accomplishments. Tribal Elders, leaders and families are also invited to witness the ceremony and share a meal.  Gifts are prepared and formally given, and digital stories are shared.

Adaptable Curriculum

The Healing of the Canoe curriculum is intended to be used in a way that best fits YOUR community or organization. Some tribal groups or organizations will not identify with the Canoe Journey as a metaphor for life, or even with using the four seasons as a teaching metaphor for balance (emotional, physical, mental, spiritual). We encourage each community or organization to fully adapt this curriculum to their culture, values, beliefs and traditions. Any metaphor that can be used to represent a life journey or experience is valid. This could be a coming of age ritual, huckleberry harvest time, preparing for a whale hunt, or any important ritual or tradition.

Another important aspect of this curriculum is that although it is currently focused on preventing drug and alcohol abuse through education about alcohol/drugs, the focus could also be shifted depending on what the community or organization finds is most important to address. For example, the curriculum could be used for mental health treatment, chemical dependency treatment, or to help with job readiness. The sections about alcohol and drugs could be removed and replaced with information about any other important topic.

What matters most is to find out your community/organization primary issues of concern, and what metaphors would be most useful in teaching life skills to youth.