Journeys on the Red Road

In the years between 2010 and 2019 467,000 Americans died from an overdose…The people of the Salish Sea were hit particularly hard due to the predatory practices of the pharmaceutical industry. Substance use disorders have always been problematic in Native communities. What has been neglected in this reportage is the fact that people recover their lives by finding meaning and purpose. Moving from hopelessness to community and connection. Transforming one’s life from a Native American point of view comes with spiritual practices that promote compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and a belief in something greater than themselves.

A breakdown of First Nations Territories along the Northwest Coast. Image from

Journeys on the Red Road is a 23 minute film produced by TouchPoint Productions with Salish Tribes of the Pacific Northwest The word journey connotes the interior quest for the meaning of one’s life. Profound spiritual experiences usually come after great loss and a massive dose of humility. Connection with something greater than oneself and authentic community can provide the impetus for transformational healing that evokes emotional and spiritual honesty.

Many Native Americans are in need of healing due to historical traumas and racism that lead to substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, and neglect. Individuals can find themselves cut off from their culture and traditions but recovery programs that include Native customs, ceremonies, languages and songs can accelerate the healing process. The Salish people are in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the Puget Sound.  These waterways are the ancestral highways traveled by these nomadic tribes for thousands of years. In the past 30 years these tribes have had a revival of celebrations that include ocean going canoes and caravans of tribal members who travel from village to village in a life affirming series of events called the Canoe Journey. People who go on the canoe journey use it as a means to bond with others on a common spiritual experience that supplants the need to use intoxicants.  Members of a canoe family describe every pull of the canoe paddle as a prayer. People who heal from traumas and addiction make their spirituality a central focus of their lives amndgain a perspective that is vastly greater than the selfish longing for a psychoactive chemical.
Journeys on the Red Road examines the healing of spiritual practice as the antidote to addiction.  The following are insights from tribal members that gave witness to the power of recovery incorporating Native practices.

My journey has been full of a lot of abuse, drugs and alcohol. I thought that was the way life was, there was nothing else in life. So when I found my journey into recovery. It was amazing. I was in awe that anybody like me could get clean and find healing.

I didn’t feel like I was worthy of anything else. Once I recreated my journey and got with my canoe family I mattered.

I’ve seen this journey save people in my community.

It is very difficult to make a change without some connection to spirit. When we are out of the circle and not connected, we are lost.

It is amazing how the Creator and the ancestors can reach out to you and how they reach out to you.

We have so many people Native and non Native who are virtually spiritually bankrupt. They don’t have a concept of spirituality. They don’t have a concept of what spirituality is because they don’t have a positive image of themselves. So they can’t define their own spirituality.

I think that generational trauma comes around because of the lack of spirituality because we lost so many of our customs and our language and everything that informed us of who we were and how we were related to nature and the rest of the world.

I think that it is really important work that we do here especially with Native American people in addressing issues around grief and loss, the unresolved issues of grief and loss.

The teachings are if you are on drugs and alcohol you can not be in the canoe. You can not be on the water because that brings bad medicine to the canoe because these are sacred vessels that we travel on the ancestral highways.The drum symbolizes the heartbeat of our people, when we are dancing and singing it is the heartbeat of our people when we are doing it.

I have had a number of people who while in treatment and when  they started hearing the music tears would come to their eyes. It scared them. You know, what is going on with me and so on and so forth. What is awakening is that whatever it is inside of them from generations ago even. But there is that peace in there and the drum awakens and the tears just kind of come and they can’t help it because of the connection.When I came home I joined the canoe family. I wanted to be part of that medicine of being in the canoe, being able to go to song and dance and practice and stuff that filled my heart. It made me like a, it made me feel like I belonged.

So coming back into the community, back into ceremony, the things that really bring us to that spiritual place of connection with each other and the world around us which I think is the basis for healing from any kind of addiction.

We are trying to get back to where our people were living in sync with everyone around. It was very normal for Native People to talk to the spirits, it was very normal for them to talk to the creator every single day. It wasn’t a once in a while thing. This was an everyday occurance.

It might sound a little supernatural but it is not..It is about connection to mother earth, it’s about connection to the unseen world Its connection to everything and knowing what I know and have been healed to the point that it’s my responsibility, my internal responsibility to pass that on.

Well, walking the red road to me is just like recovering like if I go down this path this is the path that is going to keep me on the right track. If we equate spirituality with self and let’s equate it with life because that is really what it is, recovery becomes a spiritual way of life.


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