Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Wisdom of the Elders, Inc.: Discovering Our Story

Discovering Our Story, a collaborative project between Wisdom of the Elders, Inc. (Wisdom) and several area partners that serve Native Americans, is designed to address the impact of historical trauma within the Native American community in Portland, Oregon.  One component of the project is a multi‐media health and wellness curriculum designed to address mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and Type 2 diabetes‐related issues shown by research to affect generations of Portland's Native families. The curriculum includes video/audio productions accompanied by a set of five teachings based on the Native American Hero's Journey story and other Native story models.

The rehabilitation and prevention curricula feature exemplary elders and storytellers from Northwest tribal and urban communities. In the first video production, these role models tell their personal story, their tribal history, and sharing instances of historical trauma encountered by generations of their families. The second video production then shares how they overcame these obstacles—and the co-occurring issues they created—to become community leaders. Materials are designed to raise awareness of the role of historical trauma in these co-occurring issues; restore and regenerate oral cultural traditions, including oral history and storytelling among native elders, adults, and youth; and help them heal.

Wisdom is engaging in a community-based participatory project to evaluate the Discovering Our Story curriculum. The project includes 150 community members: 80 Native American adults, elders and youth; 50 refugee students enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) high school classes; and 20 educators, therapists, and counselors of partners who will be trained in the use of the materials. The program used focus groups and pilot studies to gather feedback on the effectiveness of materials to overcome and prevent mental health, substance abuse, and other issues shown by previous research to impact generations of Portland’s Native families. ESL students from refugee families from two school districts are included because they experience challenges similar to Native youth.

With funding from SAMHSA’s Service to Science Subcontract to Build Evaluation Capacity of Evidence-based Interventions,WISDOM will draw on program participant and evaluator expertise to:

  • Modify pre- and post-surveys  to include simpler and more clearly worded questions about participants’ awareness of historical trauma; family, community, and cultural connections; sense of belonging, wellness, and happiness; mentorship opportunities; intergenerational cultural resiliency; and outcomes associated with mental health, addictions, domestic violence and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Develop pre- and post-surveys to document outcomes associated with implementation of Discovering Our Story in school settings.
  • Refine participant feedback forms
  • Finalize the process to b used as we continue to conduct research.
  • Develop an article on the evaluation enhancements and findings to submit to a peer-reviewed journal



Rose High Bear
Executive Producer
Wisdom of the Elders, Inc.
3203 SE 109th Avenue
Portland, OR 97266