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Native American Dancers perform during a past Petroglyph Festival. / Laura Austin File Photo

Petroglyph Festival celebrates Native American Culture

By LAURA QUEZADA  News Review Staff Writer 

Next weekend, Saturday, November 5 and Sunday, November 6, The Ridgecrest Petrolyph Festival will be celebrated at Leroy Jackson Park from 10am-6pm Saturday and 10am-4pm on Sunday. The Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake is home to over 100,000 Petroglyphs, or Native American rock art- the largest collection in the western hemisphere. Located inside the base, the 10,000 year-old art covers the walls of Little Petroglyph Canyon.  

There will be an Inter-Tribal Pow Wow produced in collaboration with Pete Whitehorse on both days starting 1pm on Saturday and 12noon on Sunday. “This year an Intertribal Pow Wow will take place in tandem with the Petroglyph Festival. We are so excited for this as it has been several years since a Pow Wow has taken place in town,”  says Kari Crutcher, Executive Director of the Ridgecrest Area Visitor’s Bureau. 

Also in tandem with the festival, a Gem & Mineral Show will be held at the Desert Empire Fairgrounds on Saturday from 9am to 5pm.

Tours of Little Petroglyph Canyon have not yet returned. Crutcher tells us, “China Lake leadership is diligently working towards opening Little Petroglyph Canyon tours again. We are hoping tours will be available in 2023.”  However, one can still learn more about Petroglyphs. There will be informational guided tours of replicas at Petroglyph Park Saturday and Sunday at 11am, 1pm, 3pm. To participate sign up at the Information Booth and meet at Petroglyph Park on North China Lake Boulevard and French Avenue.   

   Attendees will enjoy a street fair with Native American and traditional vendors, live music and dance performances, speakers, food, and fun for the whole family. Native American Performances include: Saturday at 11am and 3pm and Sunday at 11am, a Native American Hoop Dancer takes the stage followed by presentations from the AkaMya Cultural Group, Saturday at 12noon and Sunday at 1pm. Basket Weaving demonstrations take place on Saturday at 1:30pm and Sunday at 11:30am. Blue Mountain Tribe, an all-orginals Blues Rock Native American Band takes the stage at 4pm.

“The AkaMya Cultural Group is new to the Festival this year,” says Crutcher. “I think our festival guests are going to love what they have to offer.”  Sage Romero founded AkaMya Cultural Group in 1997 when he returned home to Big Pine from school in New Mexico. He started the group because Big Pine is in such a rural location there wasn’t access to resources to develop Native American cultural learning. He created a place where folks could practice and learn and give voice to the Native American experience. Romero says, “It was a good place for us to develop our skills in public speaking and learn how to present ourselves because back then there weren’t too many people that would share our story, or there are people that would share but it would be non-natives and they would tell it in their way.  We wanted to be able to tell our own stories.”

From that beginning AkaMya grew into the inter-tribal cultural group they are today.  Romero says, “We now have a multimedia aspect of our group that does video and audio recordings and helps with programs. Right now I’m helping some students from the Netherlands with a documentary.”  This is just a fraction of what they do.  Other aspects include, “cultural revitalization, having a place to learn song, dance and language. We also promote sobriety for drug and alcohol free. There’s a lot of stereotypes about Native people being substance abusers or alcoholics; we want to show our youth we’re not all that way.

“We want to promote our culture in the best way possible. Within all this, we do cultural presentations to raise awareness of Native issues and also just showing that we still have a presence in these places; we’re not some historical context that you only see in old movies or see in old history books. We are a living people that have a living culture that’s still around today.” For their Saturday appearance, their youth group will make cultural presentations to vividly demonstrate how alive their culture continues to be. 

 Romero notes how meaningful it is that they be represented at the Petroglyph Festival. “Petroglyphs are an important cultural aspect of our people. It is not some great mystery that we don’t know where they came from. Our people have stories about these things and there’s a reason that they are where they are. We are happy to be able to share and be a resource to the community.”

Blue Mountain Tribe, right, an all-orginals Blues Rock Native American Band, is one of many Native American and traditional vendors, live music and dance performers exhibited at this years festival. Courtesy Photo

At 4pm on Saturday, stand by to be rocked by Blue Mountain Tribe. This is not your Native American flute and drums music. This is all-original contemporary rock music presented by an award-winning blues rock band. They are excited to be in their first concert in Ridgecrest. They have been playing the casino circuit from Las Vegas throughout California but their music has been played all over the country and overseas.

The band is inter-tribal with players from Chiricahua Apache, Chumash-Yokuts, and Cherokee tribes. Founder Robin Hairston tells us how they were inspired to name the band. “ I was struggling to figure out a name. I was driving up to the Tehachapi Mountains; the clouds in the sun, the mountains looked blue, that array of the clouds and the sun the Tehachapi Mountains had a blue tint to them.” He was awestruck. He thought, “‘Wow, look at that the mountains are blue.’ Then I thought ‘Blue Mountain Tribe.’ I talked to the other guys and we all thought it would work.”

   When the band first started they were “a regular bar” band, playing top 40 classic rock covers and not very well-known. Then Hairston saw a band called Exit on PBS. “They played some really, really good rock’n’roll. And it was all original.” It was a revelation and an inspiration. “I said, ‘Why don’t we start a Native American band?’ With that being said, I started looking for all Native Americans. It was very difficult because there’s not that many Native Americans that are musicians. Luckily I found Pat Mata and Cooper Hawk and then we formed the band (along with his son, Caleb). People started coming to our concerts, and just loving the fact that Native Americans can really get out there and rock you like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton.”

They began getting recognition and their music spread all over the country.  They have been featured in well-known magazines. Spinditty Magazine rated them #11 of All Time Native American bands. Their big hit is “Pray for Our Planet.” As true artists, they don’t play for the money. They want people to love their message. “ We sing about peace, love and pain, and overcoming the pain. Our songs are very positive.”

Next month they are releasing their album titled, “Great Warrior” with help from backers from all over the world. They would like folks to follow them on Facebook where they will share their upcoming concerts and where to buy their album.

Hairston’s message for today is, “There is so much of violence and hurt and suffering going on in our world right now. We just want to tell our fans and our audience, no matter what you’re going through, just keep on shining. Keep on shining.”

See more informtion about the festival at the festival website or their  Facebook at