Vincent and Sequoia Chargualaf stand on the rocky shore of Port Madison Bay, Washington, welcoming canoe paddlers as their Suquamish ancestors had done for generations. In honor of that history, today’s Pacific Northwest Natives climb in their canoes and paddle for the annual Tribal Canoe Journey, a drug- and alcohol- free event where tribes gather and share their cultures. This year, the Suquamish are hosting visitors for a night, welcoming them with a steady drumbeat and a hint of steaming crab in the air.
The canoe journey represents adaptability and reliability, traits necessary inside and outside of the canoe, especially for the many Native youth who struggle with substance abuse. Twenty-year-old Vincent learned these lessons five years ago when he took a class that included the journey’s metaphorical teachings. The class was part of the Healing of the Canoe project, a collaboration between the Suquamish Tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. It aims to build resilient, substance-free Native youth by reconnecting them to their roots.
“You never know what’s going to come up when you’re on the journey,” Vincent says. “There’s going to be times when you’re in the canoe and there’s rough waves or calm water. You just have to be able to adapt to any situation you’re put in, and you have to be able to do it with the help of everyone else.”