Native teens can learn to guide on the San Juan River in Utah

Canyonland Field Institute encourages Native youth to apply to the Native Teen Guide Training Camp where they will spend eight days on the San Juan River learning skills they can use in the future. (Photo/Canyonlands Field Institute)

Canyonland Field Institute encourages Native youth to apply to the Native Teen Guide Training Camp where they will spend eight days on the San Juan River learning skills they can use in the future. (Photo/Canyonlands Field Institute)

BLANDING, Utah — Native teens, ages 13-17, interested in developing leadership skills among a community of Native youth from across the country are invited to apply to Canyonland’s Field Institute’s Native Teen Guide training camp.

The camp runs from June 21-28, beginning at Sand Island in Bluff, Utah and from there down the San Juan River that stretches through desert landscapes and canyons. The trip lasts eight days and seven nights. Food, camping gear and instruction are included with a total cost of $50 per participant.

Brennan Patrick Gillis, director of marketing for Canyonlands, said the trip is meant to be an immersive experience for the youth — a chance for them to connect with other Native youth across the country, learning about each other’s cultures, but also importantly, having fun.

“At the end of the day, this is an eight day river trip and it’s a chance to connect with nature,” Gillis said. “It’s a chance to connect with other people and it’s a chance to connect with themselves.”

The curriculum itself is run by as many Native guides as the program can find. This year, Gillis said they are shooting for 100 percent.

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The Native Teen Guide Training Camp teaches Native youth leadership and community building skills. Students also get to enjoy time on the San Juan River. (Photo/Canyonlands Field Institute)

The reason for that is because the curriculum is aimed at nurturing the healthy development of Native teens by connecting them with nature through the experience of whitewater rafting, visiting cultural heritage sites, engaging in unplugged camping and fostering community.

Beyond the river trip, the guides are often able to provide mentorship to the youth in future years, which goes along with the deep toolbox of skills — like leadership and community building — the youth will learn on the river trip including technical skills like river guiding in white water, finding their captain’s voice, setting up a river kitchen and cooking a meal — many of which are applicable in many areas, especially inside the outdoor industry.

Gillis said there are other, less tangible, skills the youth will learn too.

“Those are the ones that come along with spending time in nature, looking at the stars, experiencing cultural history sites that are along the river and connecting with the past in that way, as well,” he said.

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Native teens pose for a picture on a previous year's trip on the San Juan River. (Photo/Canyonlands Field Institute)

Canyonlands, which is a nonprofit organization that runs an outdoor educational program in the Utah desert, provides the structure of the program. Its mission is to connect people with nature. The training camp provides connection on many different levels, Gillis said.

“It’s partly by enabling the kids to experience nature on their own terms, providing mentorship and providing opportunities for the kids to connect with themselves and with each other, and ultimately, to connect with the world around them.”

Gillis said the the program are the kids who have gone thought the guide training camp and gone on to jobs in the outdoor field and those kids who have overcome their fear of being outside.

“The kids themselves are the real story, the real starts and also the Native guides who are creating these opportunities for the kids and providing that mentorship,” he said.

Gillis emphasized that one of the key things about the training camp is that no outdoor experience is necessary to learn from and enjoy the program. The $50 covers all the food, gear that the kids will need.

“They don’t need river experience,” he said. “They don’t need camping experience. That’s why the program exists — to introduce kids in a way that they can grow within those experiences, surrounded by kids who may or may not have done it alongside them.”

Those interested in applying can find more information and the application at https://cfimoab.org/trips/native-teen-guide-training-camp/.

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