The Healing of the Canoe project evolved out of ongoing communication between the Suquamish Tribe and faculty and staff members at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI). An interest was expressed by the administrator of the Suquamish Wellness Program to develop community driven, culturally relevant substance abuse and mental health interventions that could be implemented and evaluated as “best practices” in the community.
The Suquamish Tribal Council had just passed a resolution supporting a research partnership between the Suquamish Tribe and ADAI when the National Institutes of Health’s national Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities published a request for grant applications to use Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and Tribally Based Research (TPR) approaches to address issues of health disparities. A series of meetings was held between key members of the evolving research team. The concept of the canoe, an important traditional component of coastal Native life and a source of cultural resurgence among West Coast Salish tribes, was seen as the cornerstone of the proposal.
The canoe concept also fit well with the previously developed Canoe Journey/Life’s Journey Manual, a life skills and substance abuse prevention curriculum for use with urban Indian youth (LaMarr & Marlatt, 2005; Marlatt et al., 2003). The manual uses the Canoe Journey as a metaphor for one’s journey through life and the skills needed to successfully navigate the journey. Many of the staff at the Suquamish Wellness Program expressed an interest in partnering with ADAI to create a similar, culturally based intervention in their community.
The Suquamish Tribal Council directed the Suquamish Cultural Co-Op, whose responsibility is to assure that all programs introduced in the community are respectful of tribal traditions, culture and values, to oversee the development and submission of the proposal. With the development of a second tribal resolutionin support of the project, the Suquamish Tribe agreed to participate. The expectations, scope of work and terms of the collaborative partnership between the Suquamish Tribe and the University were spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding. This was a time and labor intensive process, however it was a crucial step in developing trust, assuring tribal involvement from the outset, gaining support of key members of the Suquamish leadership and community, and establishing a partnership in which all parties contributed equally. The proposal was submitted and subsequently funded, beginning a multi-year partnership based on trust and respect, including respect for tribal sovereignty. The next steps included extending the partnership to include a second tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Both tribes are proud of their participation and leadership in the Healing of the Canoe project and have chosen to be named rather than remain anonymous.