Toh’nlįbizaad: THE RIVER'S STORY

An autumn canoe journey along the Rio Grande, and an intimate exploration of borderlands through writing, history, and Indigenous perspectives

hosted by Sherwin Bitsui, Diné poet and winner of the American Book Award



Toh’nlįbizaad: the River’s Story

This course is currently full - if you would like to be added to the waitlist, please reach out to us at [email protected]



Sherwin Bitsui (Diné) is originally from White Cone, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. He is Diné of the Todich’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tl’izilani (Many Goats Clan). He is the author of Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press, 2003), Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), and Dissolve (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). His honors include a Lannan Foundation Poetry Fellowship and a Native Arts & Cultures Foundation Artist Fellowship. He is also the recipient of a 2010 PEN Open Book Award, an American Book Award, and a Whiting Award. He teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and joined the faculty at Northern Arizona University in the fall of 2019.



Toh’nlįbizaad: the River’s Story is an opportunity to explore the borderlands of the Chihuahuan Desert - as well as the concept of liminality in our art and lives. We'll paddle canoes on a fully-catered river journey through Boquillas Canyon on the Rio Grande, a river that is, itself, the literal border between two countries. Sherwin will guide our creative work with daily workshops. We'll consider the ecology, history, literature, and poetry of literal and metaphorical borderlands. We'll slow to the pace of the river and practice deep witnessing and sensory immersion in place. We’ll explore the theory and practice of geopoetics, in the context of contemporary Indigenous literature. 

Sherwin's Rio Grande workshop will include generative exercises to facilitate actual production of creative work in the field. We'll hone our tools for the craft of writing and the practice of observing. We'll look at the natural and human history of the Rio Grande corridor and cultivate meaningful connection to place.



  • Writers, poets, journalists, artists, leaders, educators, and curious people of all genres and skill levels are welcome.
  • This field course is offered for undergrad or graduate credit and is open to non-students and students alike.



In this workshop, you will:

  • explore Indigenous perspectives on the story of land and water.
  • look for patterns in landscapes that inform your creative work.
  • dive into the deep history of the Rio Grande.
  • discuss the theory and and practice of geopoetics, considering contemporary Indigenous literature.
  • create your own unique work in the field through a deep witnessing of place and sensory immersion.
  • consider the river’s ecology, geology, and hydrology in the context of literature, culture, and history.



Toh’nlįbizaad: the River’s Story is eligible for scholarships through The Freeflow Foundation.

Because we believe teachers and students need regenerative outdoor experiences more than most, Freeflow always extends a small discount to contracted educators and enrolled students. We also offer a small discount to our alumni. Because we believe in paying our instructors, facilitators, support staff, and guides an equitable wage, we do not offer individual discounts that compromise the integrity of those wages. If you need financial support, please consider applying for our scholarships.

Your program cost includes:

  • daily discussions, workshops, and generative sessions with Sherwin Bitsui + Freeflow faculty
  • pre-course logistical support + substantive reading / media list
  • professional river guides, canoes, paddling gear, waterproof bags, and safety gear 
  • delicious, healthful meals and snacks, plus wine and coffee, from dinner on October 26 through breakfast on November 2
  • all permitting, parking, and access fees
  • MiiR Freeflow coffee mug, to use and take home with you

The course also serves as an introduction to the Freeflow galaxy of writers, leaders, and thinkers. Our alumni also receive discounts on future Freeflow courses. If you’d like to take Toh’nlįbizaad: the River’s Story for university credit, please let us know.

Guide gratuities are not included in the program cost. We strongly suggest giving your river guides some love, and we are happy to discuss norms for tipping – just ask.

Participants must bring their own camping gear (tent + sleeping bag + sleeping pad). If you don't have access to these things and cannot borrow them, let us know and we will help you.

Space on this adventure is limited to 12 participants. We will close registration once the roster is full. Please apply early.

All deposits and payments are non-refundable. Payment plans are available. Payments can be made by mailing in an old-fashioned check, or by credit card or bank transfer via the payment link you'll receive once your application is approved.

Applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis.



Make space for your creative work, movement, and new ideas this autumn. Send us your questions and we’ll get in touch right away. If you know you’re ready to apply, click the APPLY NOW button.

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