July | August 2017

Stakeholder Corner: Healing of the Canoe Program Supports Tribal Youth Wellness
By Anne Niblett

Photo of Eva flying high in her ancestral homelands during the 2017 Healing of the Canoe program. Picture courtesy of Sonja McCarty.
Eva flying high in her ancestral homelands during the 2017 Healing of the Canoe program. Picture courtesy of Sonja McCarty.


This past spring, youth from the Coquille Indian Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians (CLUSI) gathered for three weekends to participate in the Healing of the Canoe (HOC) program. OJJDP supports the program, which uses the annual Canoe Journey as a metaphor for navigating life’s journey with its inherent challenges.

During the weekend workshops, youth celebrated their cultural heritage by canoeing, hiking on ancestral lands, making drums, beading, singing traditional songs, throwing the atlatl (an ancient hunting tool that preceded the bow and arrow), gathering cedar to make smudge sticks, and hunting for lamprey eel (a traditional food). Elders from both tribes spoke to the youth about art, history, and traditional healing.

The workshops also included life skills sessions on effective listening, the importance of stewardship, coping with difficult emotions, overcoming obstacles, the dangers of substance use, preventing suicide, and the power of thoughts and words on one’s life.

HOC’s Culturally Grounded Life Skills for Youth curriculum is evidence and strengths based. Specifically designed for tribal youth, it uses community-specific traditions and beliefs to strengthen youths' connection to their communities and cultures and to build their hope and optimism. The program was developed by the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute and the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribes of Washington.

HOC participants followed up the spring workshops by joining CLUSI youth at their summer Culture Camp from July 10–14, 2017. There, the youth embarked on a local Canoe Journey on Oregon’s Siuslaw, Lower Umpqua, Coos, and Coquille rivers.

During the lamprey hunt on the Coquille River, one youth had an experience that illustrates the powerful impact HOC can have. Eva, a Coquille youth, was fording the river when she lost her footing and began to float downstream. Although the water was shallow enough for her to stand in, she panicked, crying out that she couldn’t make it. A CLUSI staff member reached out for her, assured her that she was not alone, and insisted that she could, and would, make it to the other side. With firm coaxing and a steady arm to guide her, Eva took the first step, and soon followed with several more. To her surprise, she made it across. When the next river crossing came, Eva didn’t hesitate; she marched across confidently on her own.

When the day was over and the youth were gathered in the familiar warmth of the plank house, someone asked Eva what she had learned from her trip. “I learned I can overcome my fears,” she responded with conviction.


CLUSI has received competitive grant awards from OJJDP since 2001. Funding has included grants made under the Juvenile Tribal Healing to Wellness Court program and the Tribal Youth Program. Find out more about the Office’s tribal youth programs and services on the OJJDP website.

Find more information online about the Department of Justice’s efforts to address the criminal justice and public safety needs of tribal communities through the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation.




Anne Niblett works with the Healing of the Canoe program for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. Points of view or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.