Native Teen Guide in Training Program

An immersive river trip down the San Juan River!

This camp was developed to invest in Native-Centered Teen programming for rising 8th-12th graders through place-based outdoor education, social-emotional learning curriculum, as well as to provide accessible pathways for Native Teens to learn about guiding and natural resource career opportunities.

The Native Teen Guide-In-Training Camp begins at San Island in Bluff, Utah, which launches into an 8 day and 7 night river trip down the San Juan River that stretches through the desert landscapes and canyons of the Diné-Navajo Nation.

This immersive camp helps nurture the healthy development of Native Teens by (re)connecting them with nature through experiences like whitewater rafting, visiting cultural heritage sites, engaging in unplugged camping, and fostering community.

Native Guides & Educators

Camp instructors are all returning Native Guides who share in-depth wilderness and river training experience, knowledge in Indigenous Intergenerational teachings, commitment for culturally relevant environmental education, and passion for this growing native-centered camp. To learn more about our guides, click the NTGIT Educators header at the bottom of the page.


  • Experiential Outdoor and place-based education
  • Intertribal and intergenerational centered teachings and cultural history
  • Whitewater boating, river safety, and first aid skills
  • Cooking, tent set up, and camping skills
  • Social-Emotional Learning, Leadership, and Team Building
  • Play-based enrichment activities, storytelling, and free time


  • To come into the power of your captain’s voice
  • To nurture physical and mental health through nature immersion
  • To enhance Native-based knowledge, history, and culture
  • To advance emotional intelligence and foster community
  • To grow in self-management and confidence
  • To gain outdoor guide professional experience and marketable skills

This year, we have two separate applications. One is for teens who are joining the NTGIT program for the first time, and the other is for teens who have already done a NTGIT program in the past and want to come back as a peer leader.

Native Teen Guide in Training in the Media

Bluff, UT and the San Juan River
June 09, 2024 through June 15, 2024
Drop Off/Pick Up:
Sand Island Boat Ramp
7 days 6 nights
Age Range:
13 through 17 years old
Cost: $50

This is how we rate the challenges you might face on a CFI trip.

Level 1 - Easy

  • Low level of physical activity, minimal movement required
  • 0 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking or walking 0-2 miles per day

Level 2 - Moderate

  • Medium level of physical activity, some movement required
  • 1-4 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 4 miles per day
  • Flatwater or mild whitewater rapids

Level 3 - Active

  • Medium or high level of physical activity
  • 1-5 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 5 miles per day
  • Class I - III whitewater rapids

Level 4 - Challenging

  • High level of physical activity
  • 1-6 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking 5 or more miles per day
  • Class IV whitewater rapids
CFI's Essential Eligibility Criteria outlines specific challenges that you may face on CFI trips. Please consult the EEC for information on responsibilities of participants.
  • Drop off and pickup Location: Sand Island Campground, Bluff, Utah
  • Arrangements can be made to transport campers traveling by air to and from Grand Junction Airport

See other trips in these categories:

Support the future of this program

The NTGIT program is made possible through a generous grant from the Val A. Browning Foundation, providing bridges of accessibility to outdoor education programming. This funding reduces costs to $50 per participant. 

Interested in making a contribution to the NTGIT camp fund, to ensure the sustainability of this program for the next generation of Native Outdoor Stewards? Click the Donate button below!

These canyons were echoing with the laughter and with indigenous humor, and it was not only filling the canyons with laughter but was really filling my heart and the other guides’ hearts. Really just replenishing the faith in humanity.

Avery Old Coyote


“I’ve matured so much from this trip...I started to realize that this is big and this is history, and I started to pay attention, and I learned so much”

Jade S

Native Teen participant

Thank you for providing the students an educational and enriched experience! Both students and adults on this trip have learned so much in eight days. The experiences on this Native Teen Guide in Training Program has planted seeds in many ways. On this trip some obvious growth have emerged in every student and adult. I know other student participants from past years are current pursing educational and vocational goals that will sustain and enrich their lives. These types of opportunities provided by Native/Dine guides are rare.

Marlene V

NTGIT Chaperone

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to experience and learn how to be a river guide. I really enjoyed this trip, it’s actually my first time! and I would love to come back and learn more. I enjoyed everything about this trip.


Native Teen participant

Thank you! I had so much fun and I hope to do this again.

Racquel T

Native Teen participant

This is a super fun program and one of my favorite things to do over the summer.

Glenn F

Native Teen participant

Thank you very much for this opportunity.  I learned how to tie knots, to paddle raft and to jump into a swimming hole for the first time. This was my first raft trip and I hope to come back next year. Thank You.

Keilani K

Native Teen participant

On the first day, I was kinda shy, I didn’t know what to do. Now I’m friends with everybody here.

Talon W

Native Teen participant

Trip Narrative

This immersive program has a few different components that come together to create a well rounded experience for your teen. The proposed schedule outline may change as we continue to build the curriculum for this upcoming camp program. 

The primary locations are Bluff, Utah and the beautiful San Juan River. The Native Teen Guide-In-Training Campers will collectively immerse in relearning, reshaping, and reclaiming “What it means to be a guide and steward in the outdoors.” The curriculum centers foundational social emotional learning skills and practices that nurture the development of healthy relationships between Native Teens and themselves, each other, and to nature.

On Land

For the first few days, we will basecamp at Sand Island Campground, located on the north bank of the San Juan River, about 3 miles west of Bluff, Utah. 

After greetings and orientation, our new community will dive into camp life, as we unplug and settle into our riverbase residence. Red canyon rims frame the sandy shores that blend into the cool waters of the San Juan River, guiding the adventures ahead. 

During the land-based portion of the camp, we will take in the natural biodiversity of Native desert plants. Here we will learn through stories and lessons of how local Native tribes are intricately rooted in the evolution of their historical and practical uses on a tour led by a local Dine ethnobotanist. 

A canyoneering adventure is also included in the land portion of the trip! We will venture out into the surrounding canyons and rappel into the sandstone slot canyons where acts of bravery, teamwork, and encouragement will be needed to navigate the canyon’s mazes.

On the River

After two nights at Sand Island, we will be ready to launch on the San Juan River! As we begin our expedition, the guides will share teachings and knowledge that will be carried forward through various themes. We will learn how the San Juan River is a major tributary of the Colorado River and lifeforce of the Colorado Plateau’s geological landscapes. We will also discuss the history of Indigenous-led activism and connection to the waterways. 

The San Juan River stretch starts out with flatwater, a great place to float down where the campers can learn the ins and outs of paddling, discover their captain’s voice, and learn the incremental skills of river safety. As the trip progresses, the water will start moving more swiftly and we will encounter mild, splashy rapids. We will work as a team to navigate the challenges of the rapids, providing key opportunities for the campers to captain the boats and build whitewater rescue skill techniques. 

In the evenings, as we make camp along the riverways, we’ll have time for games centering joy and laughter, building community through stories around the campfire, stargazing, and relaxation. 

At the end of the trip, we will return to Sand Island Campground to reunite campers with their families. They will be excited to share with you about the new friends, adventures, and skills they learned while at camp! 

NTGIT Educators

Brandi Atene, Diné

Brandi Atene

Ya’at’eeh! I grew up in Navajo Mountain, Utah, herding sheep on the weekends and during breaks from school. I am Navajo of the Bitterwater clan born for Towering House clan. The landscape in Navajo Mountain paved the way for my love for the outdoors; rock climbing, sleeping outside with cousins, hiking down to Lake Powell to cool off and try and catch some fish. All this without “proper” gear, just the clothes we wore and a water bottle with crackers. I attended High School in Tuba City, AZ and college at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I majored in Architecture, Planning and Design. I played basketball at both schools. A walk on at University. I also ran Cross Country in High School. I coach basketball at the Jr High and High School level. I also donate my time as an official at local youth basketball tournaments.

Aside from my athletic abilities, I love the outdoors. Hiking, camping, fishing, and also being on the river.

I grew up around all kinds of animals. Cats, dogs, chickens, sheep, horse, and cows. Grandparents kept me involved with the livestock. Started with Redwood Llamas in Spring of 2018 for a weeklong hike with Canyonlands Field Institute for their annual Rainbow Bridge Trek. Something about being cut off (electronically), from the rest of this modern world is soothing. Hearing the sounds of nature; animals, wind, casual chats with friends and family. My son always tells me, “Just us, outside, having fun, is the way it should be”, I agree.

Colleen Cooley, M.S., Diné

colleen cooley bio photo

Colleen grew up wandering the washes, mesas, and sandstones in Shą́ą́ʼtóhí, a small community located on the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona. She is Kinyaa’áanii (Towering House) born for Lók’aa’ Dine’é (Reed People). Her maternal grandfather’s clan is Tó’aheedlíinii (Water Flows Together) and her paternal grandfather’s clan is Tł’izi’łání (Manygoats). Her curious mind and innate connection to the lands and waters led her to earning a Master’s Degree in Climate Science & Solutions from Northern Arizona University in 2012.Colleen is passionate about the protection and conservation of the diverse landscapes, cultures, and waters that she is surrounded by because it is part of who she is and where she comes from. Colleen has been guiding on the San Juan River for the last 12 years, and most recently started guiding on the Desolation/Gray Canyon section of the Green River in 2021.

About NTGIT:

I first heard about the NTGIT program through another Native guide, while working a trip on the San Juan River. It sounded like a great opportunity for Native youth and I wanted to become involved in such a program. I was one of three Native guides that joined the 2021 NTGIT trip. It was as empowering and inspiring for me as it was for the Native teens that participated. There was so much laughter, knowledge shared, and lasting relationships built that made this experience much more meaningful than any other trip I’ve ever been on. I am very thankful for these kinds of programs that support, uplift, and inspire our Native youth. Photo: Lauren Wood


Avery Old Coyote, Crow, Flathead

avery old coyote staff headshot bioAvery Old Coyote is a child of the Large Beaked Bird and Whistling Water Clan. He belongs to the Apsaalooke People of the Crow Nation as well as the Qlipse People of the Flathead Nation. He describes his favorite moment from last year’s camp: “Our last full day and night these canyons were echoing with laughter and with indigenous humor. It was not only filling the canyons with laughter but was really filling my heart and the other guides’ hearts. Really just replenishing the faith in humanity.”

Need to Know

  • CFI staff are trained educators and guides with first aid and CPR certifications. Back-country trips carry satellite communications devices.  
  • All cook and dishware, meals, snacks, and river gear are provided by CFI.


Some people say food is the most important part of the adventure. On all our overnight trips, CFI will provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a morning and afternoon snack, and an appetizer before dinner. If you have a dietary restriction or food allergy, note it on your medical form so we can best prepare.

Depends on the trip. As a general rule, CFI provides all group gear related to fully outfitting your trip. Specialized gear like PFDs, wetsuits, dry bags, educational materials are all provided by CFI. Additionally, we take care of all kitchen and dishware needs. 

Find out more about trip specific packing.

Most importantly, a willingness to slow down, connect to your surroundings, and experience the moment. Additionally, participants are required to bring a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, personal clothing, medication, and other essential personal items. Many gear items are available for rent. Reach out to us if you are interested in seeing a trip specific packing list, or learn more about trip specific packing here.

CFI provides options to rent gear:

  • Two person tent: $30 / trip
  • Sleeping bag: $20 / trip
  • Kid sleeping pad: $7 / trip
  • Adult sleeping pad (paco pad): $15 / trip
  • Package deal: Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and one tent per two people: $40 / trip

For any CFI summer camp, gear rentals are free!

Every CFI guide has either a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certification. Your trip leader will have a Wilderness First Responder certification. Anyone working with youth has passed a background check, and shuttle drivers are insured with clean driving records. Backcountry trips carry In-Reach satellite communication devices for emergencies. All guides have been evaluated by Canyonlands Field Institute as possessing the judgement, skills, and disposition required for mitigating risk in the field. 

As technology grows more and more invasive by the day, CFI promotes connection to what matters. To achieve this, all school and youth programs are unplugged and students are not permitted to bring electronic devices. Not only is there rarely cell service, devices are a distraction to our ability to connect to the present moment. On Private Group Trips or Adult Seminars, the use of devices is permitted but discouraged.

CFI works hard to ensure a positive experience for all guides and participants. Because of the unpredictable nature of outfitting, we have created a series of policies so maintain our ability to manage risk in the outdoors.

For critical information regarding cancellations, deposits, and other participant responsibilities, please view our trip policies page or contact us with any questions.

Thanks for asking...We know this can be an awkward subject. The fact is, our guides work extremely hard and appreciate getting tipped! 

On school trips tips are not expected but greatly appreciated. 

On an adult or private trip, an industry suggested tip is about 10% if your program fee, depending on your experience.

If you wish to include a gratuity, cash is preferred, but sending a check or a payment to CFI's Venmo: @canyonlandsfieldinstitute is also a great way to thank your guides for their hard work.  Tips are always pooled and distributed.

CFI is a non-profit organization and fees are not taxed. By choosing CFI, you are supporting our efforts to provide lifechanging outdoor experiences for hundreds of children per year.  Scholarships are available on an as needed basis.