In 2020, Navajo adventurer and guide Louis Williams created Ancient Wayves River and Hiking Adventures. The outfitter isn’t just any guiding company, however—it’s the first of its kind to be based in the Navajo Nation and Indigenous owned. “There’s an energy about this place,” says Wiliams of his Four Corners home and business base, “and the energy is magnified when there’s one of us Indigenous guides talking about these places where we have ancestral roots.” Though still a new business, Ancient Wayves is growing, and in Spring 2022 became the first Navajo Nation company to obtain commercial river permits to guide on the San Juan River. For Wiliams, Ancient Wayves is a way to take care of and connect to the earth, and to share that philosophy with others.
By Lucy Higgins • May 4, 2022
As told by Louis Williams:
We had to go through various agencies because we’re a Navajo Nation company. So we got to deal with the BLM [Bureau of Land Management], the state of Utah—so we had an interesting route along the way.
It was a lot of paperwork, a lot of reaching out, creating connections amongst these agencies. It was and still is a long process. We’re still getting stabilized, and we’re growing pretty quickly, which has been exciting.
Our outfit is Indigneous owned. I’m Navajo. In our language, we refer to ourselves as Diné. So I’m Diné. My mother is Diné. My father is actually Sioux and part Chippewa. So my father grew up on the Navajo Nation, and that’s how I became to grow up on the Navajo Nation. I have Navajo clans, or Diné clans, that are my roots to this area. So that’s what makes us unique in the industry, particularly in this region. The San Juan River is where we’re located. It runs from the Colorado mountains to Lake Powell [located on the Arizona/Utah border].
From southeast Utah, a place called Montezuma Creek along San Juan River located on the Navajo Nation, we just acquired some land there. So we’re going to build an office and some structure such as a boat house.
There’s an energy about this place, and the energy is magnified when there’s one of us Indigienous guides talking about these places where we have ancestral roots.– Louis Williams
I’ve been working as a tour guide since 2012, full time on the river and land. We’re just talking about taking care of the land, keeping on the trails, not making new trails–we’re explaining all of that to our guests. So they learn a lot about trail etiquette and preservation and conservation methods. They learn the importance of every drop of water, taking care of yourself health wise. We’ve got a different type of tour that’s all based on growing up Indigenous. All of this is taught by our grandparents, how to survive in the backcountry. So we teach all of this to our guests, and we have a fun, good time. We teach about the plants, the wildlife, it’s pretty fun out there.
We know where all the cool places are, because we live around here. That’s the benefit of our company; we’re one of the very few local outfitters in this area. We’re the first Navajo Nation company to obtain commercial river permits. The San Juan River is pretty much the border—it’s the northern Navajo Nation border, so as we float everything river left is Navajo Nation. Then everything river right, there’s places that are BLM, some places are the state of Utah, and there are places where there’s another tribe, the Ute tribe—they have land on river right as well.
On river left is what we call Dinétah, which is what we call the homeland of the Diné. The Diné is composed of many clans, so Diné is kind of a broad general term. Diné means above the below, below the above. Everybody that has emerged from below. That’s why we take care of the earth so much, we’re so connected to the earth because we’re from the earth. We all emerged and we’re all Diné. Everybody’s Diné. That’s what we’re taught and we share that with our guests. That’s what’s unique about our tours.
And we have food, I’m a cook. Well, most of the guides are cooks, from working as professional cooks and then growing up with grandma—that’s where we learned how to be professional cooks, from grandma.
On Making Waves:
We got the green light less than a month ago to do river tours on the San Juan River. This is from the BLM. So aside from being the first on the Navajo Nation side, we’re the first on the BLM side. We’re creating big waves out here.
We’re growing our team. Currently, we have several guides and we’re all from different tribes. For instance our guide Lyle Balenquah, he’s a Hopi archeologist. I’ve been doing trips with him for years, river trips since when I started in 2012.
We all come from different cultural backgrounds and that’s what’s unique about Ancient Wayves. We get to share that with our guests who come from all over the world. The place where we visit is full of archeology. That’s part of the unique beauty, we’ve got a lot of geological landscapes out here. And they want to not only look at it, but they want to hear about it. There’s an energy about this place, and the energy is magnified when there’s one of us Indigienous guides talking about these places where we have ancestral roots.
We started up our own little volunteer group called “Heat Diné Homes” that we started in 2020. We’ve been continuously helping people throughout this time. We started out providing wood to the elders and people in need back home, and it evolved into providing food. It was heavy during the pandemic when the pandemic was just starting. We’re still cautious out here. The Navajo Nation got hit pretty badly during that time. We had to have special permission from the Navajo police to drive out to people’s homes to deliver food and water and firewood. It was pretty wild. We’re still doing that, we help out the elders and people who need it. There’s a lot of poverty back home on the reservation. So that’s what we do, we try to help out.