Native teens receive river guide training on San Juan River

Students from a past Native Teen Guide-in-Trainig Program float the San Juan as they learn guiding skills and about their cultural surroundings while on the river. Submitted photo

Students from a past Native Teen Guide-in-Trainig Program float the San Juan as they learn guiding skills and about their cultural surroundings while on the river. Submitted photo

MOAB, Utah — Canyonland Field Institute (CFI) is running its sixth annual Native Teen Guide in Training Program June 26-July 1, a nonprofit program designed for Native youth to get outdoors and gain education in guiding skills.

The goal of the program is to get Native teens on their land and rivers and have Native mentors educate the teens for possible jobs that would be on the land, which could include river guiding, wilderness medicine, science based jobs and teaching jobs.

The trip this year will include training at Kayenta EMS center for students to be trained in first aid and CPR June 26. Students will camp at Sand Island campground that night until June 28 when they will put in at the river at Mexican Hat, where they will float down to Clay Hills, and take out July 1.

“The kids are going to know they have opportunities to stay on their land and bring knowledge to their fellow people and work there,” said Chris Wiewiora, environmental educator for the program. “With every single guest, we want to underscore that.”

He said the institute specializes in experiential education and outdoor adventures and melds those two together by inspiring human renewal of the spirit on the Colorado Plateau. The program has always taken place along the San Juan River, though it alternates between the upper and lower river.

“The thrill of being on the landscape and knowing the landscape, especially with our Native programming, really… the landscape is those people’s land. And we want that to be an empowering and opportunity for future jobs or just education,” Wiewiora said.

CFI welcomes advocacy groups to provide lessons for the teens on everything from nonprofit work, to tourism or public lands policy.

That Native Teen Guide in Training program has been around for about five years. Some of the instrumental partners the program has worked with are: Charlene, and her sister Marlene Valentine, who were instrumental as contacts in the Monument Valley area when the program started.

Charlene is married to Eric Atene, a river guide and also a coordinator of Office of Dine Youth — Chinle. Marlene works for the Navajo Nation Diabetes prevention program. Charlene formerly worked as a librarian at the high school. Both sisters knew many families who they connected with the program through the years.

“The program initially focused on Monument Valley kids,” Wiewiora said. “Just because Marlene worked with one of the health programs there and it paired pretty well with her advocacy for fighting diabetes.”

But since then, the program has wanted to expand beyond Monument Valley because there are several different high schools on the Nation and also to expand beyond Navajo teens.

“This year, we’re hoping to include and embody Hopi teens as well,” Wiewiora said.

That is partly possible with the help of Lyle Balenquah who is Hopi. Balenquah works as an archaeologist/cultural resources consultant and river/hiking guide throughout the Southwest. He holds a masters in cultural anthropology from NAU and serves on the Board of Directors for the Grand Canyon Association.

The program reached out to him after being recommended by Crow Canyon in Cortez and by other guides.

“That partnership will be really great in being able to extend beyond just Navajo teens,” Wiewiora said.

The program is a first come first serve open enrollment program. Interested teens can enroll online at http://cfimoab.org/trips/native-teen-guide-training/. The program is looking for interested teens right now. The cost is $25 for kids to register.

The guides are reaching out to high schools and teens they think may be interested and Wiewiora will speak at Native clubs soon.

Darren Oliver, who went through the program, is now a guide with the program.

“He is really an excellent example of someone who has become a river guide because of our program,” Wiewiora said. “He is reaching out to community members that he knows.”

The Native teen program partners with Navajo YES, which works with younger youth. Wiewiora said this is a great opportunity for CFI to welcome kids Navajo YES works with into a next level programming and more specific mentorship in the outdoors.

“That’s pretty exciting this year,” Wiewiora said.

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