The Healing of the Canoe (HOC) Project originally was a collaborative research project between the Suquamish Tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe (PGST) and the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI). The project evolved out of ongoing communication between the Suquamish Tribe and faculty and staff members at 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.

Throughout the project, the research team used the Community-Based/Tribally-Based Participatory Research (CBPR/TPR) model to work in partnership to plan, implement and evaluate culturally grounded interventions to reduce health disparities and promote health with both Native American tribes.

Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam both 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. Both tribes also identified their Elders, youth and traditional culture and teachings as their greatest resources. The Suquamish Cultural Co-op and Tribal Council provided guidance and oversight for HOC in Suquamish, and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Chi-e-chee Committee and Tribal Council provided guidance and oversight in PGST.Through a needs and resources assessment in each community the HOC team learned from the communities that in order to effectively address and prevent substance abuse it would be necessary to strengthen youth connection to tribal traditions, culture and values. 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 youth that builds on the strengths and resources in the community.

The curriculum 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 project evolved in three phases, each of which required a separate competitive grant application and each with a specific focus.  Phase I was three years and focused on partnership development, needs and resources assessment, and initial intervention development. Phase II was five years and consisted of intervention refinement, feasibility testing, implementation, and evaluation.  Phase III was originally planned to last three years, but we were able to continue for an extra year. This final phase was focused on dissemination of the intervention to other tribal communities and organizations.

Throughout all phases, HOC was guided by the Community Advisory Boards and Tribal Councils to insure that the work was culturally appropriate and that sovereignty was respected in the research process.

Download a description of the HOC project’s three research phases.