They were scheduled to fly to Niagara Falls, even as a giant snowstorm was bearing down on their destination in upstate New York.
Worried about the weather, Pat Mata, drummer and vocalist with the Tehachapi-based band Blue Mountain Tribe, was thinking about canceling the trip.
“My son, Tyler, told me, ‘No, Dad, you need to be there,'” Mata recalled. So Mata, his wife, Bonnie, and 24-year-old Tyler made the plane at LAX and arrived at their destination without incident.
None of the other three band members made it, so Mata had the pleasure — and the responsibility — of accepting the band’s award for Best Blues Video at the Native American Music Awards held last weekend at the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino near beautiful Niagara Falls.
“I’m so proud of Pat for being there,” said vocalist-harmonica player Robin Hairston, who founded Blue Mountain Tribe 15 years ago with his son, Caleb, who sings and plays lead guitar.
“Somehow Pat made it through,” Hairston said. “If not for Pat being there, we wouldn’t have had any representation after winning the award.”
Founded in 1998, the NAMAs have become a mostly annual celebration that shines a light on the explosion of talent emanating from the community of indigenous artists across North America.
This year’s live awards event, the 20th, returned in impressive style after two years of pandemic-related breaks after COVID-19 dealt a particularly difficult blow to Native Americans across the country.
Because the Nammys ceremony went dark for two years, this year’s nominees included music released from 2019 through 2021 — with 37 categories, including pop, rock, country, pow wow, artist of the year and many more.
“We are grateful and very excited that the song and the video have been received so well,” said BMT bassist Jeff “Cooperhawk” Cooper.
“We are thankful to the Native American Music Awards, which have been so welcoming toward us — and all the fans who voted for us,” he said.
Hairston, a descendant of the Chiricahua Apache, was also excited by the national recognition.
“More than 2,000 Native American bands entered the category of best blues video,” he said. “We are so thrilled this has happened for us.”
They started off as a “regular classic rock bar band,” he said. But as they matured and became even more aware of the richness of their heritage — and the tragedy of their history — they realized they had a deep well of expression to draw from as indigenous Americans and artists.
The song recorded on the band’s award-winning video is titled “Pray For Our Planet,” a direct response to a request sent to hundreds, maybe thousands, of Native American artists by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a Lakota Native American spiritual leader, and a leading voice in the protest against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The request was simple and straightforward:
Pray for the planet and pass the word.
According to Cooperhawk, a Cherokee and a chemistry professor at Antelope Valley College, Blue Mountain Tribe’s song is “an anthem for everyone to pray for our planet to the Creator for peace and wellness.
“It’s a call to people,” he said, “to be a part of the solution and work together.
And that includes both indigenous peoples and everyone else, he said.