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Rock the Canyon Arts & Music Festival

June 8, 2013

NAVAJO NATION, Shonto, Arizona – The 5th Annual Rock the Canyon Art & Music Festival will be held on the weekend of June 7-9, 2013. Shonto (Shaa’Tohi) is located located in the northwestern portion of the Navajo Nation and is home to Rock the Canyon, an annual art, music, community wellness and sustainability festival. The festival began humbly as an open mic night of local community talent. It has now grown to include a dizzying array of world-class musicians. Although musical talent from far and wide are on the lineup, Shonto did not have to look far outside its hometown for world class favorites such as the Hopi Klansmen and The Plateros. Shonto is also home to talented arists who have been part of the festival committee since its inception, which includes:Baje Whitethorne, Sr., Elizabeth Whitethorne Benally, Shonto Begay, Beverly Blacksheep, Allen Bahe and John Baje Smith. Shonto is a bedrock of talented artists that produce pottery, basketry, beadwork, wood carvings, silver-smithing and weaving. Their work will also be featured at the festival through exhibits and be offered for sale to the community.

The art and music festival began as the product of the Shonto Economic Development Corporation and its subdivision, the Shonto Tourism Committee. The event is now partially underwritten by its corporate sponsor, Shonto Energy LLC, which is a community based project established under the Shonto self-government code and the Shonto Economic Development Corporation, Inc. Other community partners lending their support are the Shonto Finance Commission, Real Estate Commission, Solar Panel Project and Licensing and Bonding Commissions, all self-government entities under the Navajo Nation. The purpose of the self-governance committee is the pursuit of tribal economic development that is community driven and does not wait for the long established formal route of trickle down development that is typically mandated through Window Rock.

“The Shonto Tourism Commission initiated the Rock the Canyon event. It all started there,” said Felix Fuller, the former president of Shonto Community Governance and currently presides on the Shonto Community Planning and Zoning Commission. “We basically wanted to work on the tourism and economic development. It was a success right from the beginning. We are looking forward to this years three day event.” Fuller indicated that the Shonto Local Governance Agency certification allows the community to go to outside entities for funding, such as directly working with the State of Arizona.

Throughout these incarnations, Rock the Canyon has remained a community celebration, which attracts participation by neighboring communities. Its influence has expanded beyond the Navajo Nation’s borders. World-class artists and musicians are attracted by the opportunity to perform in such a unique venue and to lend their support to the efforts of the Shonto community. The Shonto Canyon’s natural surroundings and beauty provides a natural ampitheatre in which the music and atmosphere resonate off the red rock canyon walls. Shonto Canyon was appropriately named Shaa’Tohi for Sunshine Springs, in part due to the natural springs that feed the cottonwood trees, the pinon eaters and the begashi (cattle). A Shonto elder provided another translation of what Shaa’Tohi means, “When the sun has risen enough just above the east canyon wall its reflection glistens upon collective waters born from pure earth springs joined by rain waters that will begin a journey of cut destiny between canyon walls.”

To get there, drive eastward from Tuba City along Hwy 98 and take the Shonto junction and look for the water tank that is the hallmark of Shonto Preparatory K-12 Charter School. Continuing east you descend into the Shonto Canyon. Shonto residents make the daily trip down that very steep road to bed of the canyon to get to the Shonto Trading Post, the Post Office and the Chapter House. At the bottom you will come to the open grove and find the shade of the canyon walls and the tall green cottonwood trees that mark the natural springs. Next to the trading post is the original stone structure of the 1930’s Shonto Primary School, which respectfully remains intact. The Shonto Trading Post, now owned by the Shonto Economic Development Council, is always looking at ways of improving its services and infrastructure, including its well and water line development that will benefit the community.

Baje Whitethorne, Sr., a world-renowned artist, sculpturalist and illustrator, is one of the original creative visionaries for Rock the Canyon. Famously known for his water-coloured images, Baje’s artistic inspiration pays tribute to his home in Shonto were he was raised. His images pay tribute to the community of Shonto and the primary school he attended as young boy in Shonto canyon. He and his son, Buddy (Bahe Whitethorne, Jr.), have maintained the artistic feel of the festival by showcasing emerging artists and leaders who can inspire the youth and community. In addition to the impressive line up of musicians, the organizers are concentrating on showcasing fine art.

The featured artists at this year’s festival is another world renowned and homegrown talent, Tony Begay. Tony will be showcasing his work through a display of art panels and murals. In addition to a fine art auction, there will be community wellness exhibits that will include holistic healing, traditional medicine teaching, horse science medicine and techniques, and practical information on county and state licensing requirements. In addition, there will be information on sustainability farming and grazing practices, and bio-diesel conversion technology and clean energy resources. Each year the festival has doubled in size and new activities are added. This year, new activities include a 5k run, horse trail rides, Veterans recognition, a gallery of photos acknowledging the elders of the community, a community dinner of traditionally prepared food, community permaculture exhibits, clean energy exhibits, and holistic health and wellness exhibits providing information on acupuncture and good health. The line up of community exhibits and vendors will continue to grow.

The festival will be MC-ed by the Navajo Nation’s very own James Bilagody who will keep the festival running the full three days and remind everyone to keep their belly’s full with expertly prepared traditional Navajo food and Navajo laughs, and feed their mind and hearts with great art, music and culture, that is uniquely Navajo and Shonto based.

A new addition to this year’s line up and coming all the way from Northern California will be the On Native Ground film crew, who are the media sponsors of the event. On Native Ground is a tribally chartered non-profit through the Hoopa Tribe, and is led by executive producer and filmmaker Jack Kohler and co-executive producer and publicist Anecita Agustinez. On Native Ground will be filming the event and providing live streaming of the speakers and musical performances and producing content for their monthly television program “On Native Ground Youth Reports”. The television program is a monthly entertainment broadcast that is carried on the First Nations Experience Channel (FNX.org). It is an original ground breaking program developed and produced by On Native Ground that covers news and special events from through-out Indian Country. The On Native Ground Field Reporters travel throughout Indian country covering special interest stories that concentrate on cultural, political and educational events, including traditional storytelling, art and music festivals.

About On Native Ground

On Native Ground is a tribally chartered non-profit through the Hoopa Tribe. In operation since 2006, the company is led by film-maker and executive producer, Jack Kohler (Hoopa) and executive producer, Anecita Agustinez (To’dichii’ nii). The company is well known throughout Indian Country as an incubator for talent development and programming in tribal communities. It has also developed a successful youth mentorship program. The company has provided press coverage for the past 5 years at the Sundance Film Festival and other film festivals throughout the country. In addition to the youth mentorship program, the company has produced radio programming, public service announcements, commercials, award winning documentaries and feature films.

For more information visit:

Anecita Agustinez, Publicist
On Native Ground