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Indian Museum provides insight of sometimes forgotten people


For more than 70 years, the Antelope Valley Indian Museum has served as a social and archeological repository for the history of Native Indian tribes in Northern Los Angeles County. With the nation now observing Native Indian History Month, a trip to this remarkable educational facility can provide visitors with a wealth of knowledge about the people who lived and reared families here many centuries ago.

It was Howard Edwards, a self-taught artist, who originated the idea of the museum in the late 1920s. Edwards already had a collection of prehistoric and historic Native Indian artifacts, and he originally established a research center for archeologists to study the history of the many tribes that once called the area home. Some years later, Grace Wilcox Oliver, a budding anthropologist, purchased the property and added even more artifacts and operated the facility intermittently over a three-decade period.

It wasn’t scholars who helped to build the collection but, rather, Native Indian enthusiasts—and everyday people—who would come across various items while hiking or even browsing at various shops. Consequently,  many of the items at the museum were undocumented. Officials there have never really stopped trying to identify the thousands of items within the collection to determine exactly which tribes are represented.

In 1976, the state of California purchased the museum with Oliver donating all of the artifacts that emphasize primarily the Southwestern, California and Great Basin Indians (east and southeast of the Sierra Nevada Mountains). Today the facility provides education for school children, and historic research for scholars wishing to learn more about the lifestyle of historic Native Indian cultures.

A variety of programs, projects and exhibits are always underway to enlighten and inspire the next generation of archeologists curious about who originally settled and ultimately shaped our portion of the Golden State. Several rooms there allow the public to get a unique view of these ancient peoples. For instance, the Antelope Valley Room showcases how Native Indians adapted to the unique climate of the Antelope Valley which can reach triple digits in the summer, only to fall to near-freezing in the winter.

When Native Indians resided in the area, the Antelope Valley was sort of a crossroads between the California coast, the Great Basin and the Pueblo cultures of Arizona and New Mexico. Numerous artifacts at the museum demonstrate this inter-tribe relationship.

A video in the California Hall takes visitors through a cleft in the rock integrated in the museum structure. Passing through the Pottery Alcove with its collection of Tohono O’odham pots, California Hall was one of the original exhibits that Edwards had created.

The Great Basin Room reveals how Native Indians used their extensive knowledge of the ecosystem and flora and fauna to grow food, catch and kill game and make materials used for clothing and the famous baskets so often seen at the old Southwest Museum in Los Angeles (this collection now sits in the Autry Museum of the West at Griffith Park).

At Kachina Hall, once the living room of the Edwards family, visitors will see the panels painted by Edwards which were inspired by the Kachina figures of the Pueblo peoples. The Southwest Room contains the exhibits about the Hohokam, ancestral Pueblo, modern Pueblo and Navajo cultures of the Arizona and New Mexico regions.

The Sun Room is highlighted by a pair of Kachina-inspired sculptures, including one piece that may resemble a swastika which for thousands of years was a benevolent sign of fertility revered by the Puebloan people.

In the Tower Bedroom, visitors can watch a video that provides a behind-the-scenes look at a room that is not open to the public. It was the bedroom of Edwards’ son, Arlen, which still contains the original furniture and is only accessible via a second-floor exterior door.

The Antelope Valley Indian Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday only. Admission is $3 for adults and children under 12 years are admitted free. The museum gift shop has a number of interesting as well as educational keepsakes. Stop by at 15701 E. Avenue M (between East 150th and 170th streets) for a rewarding experience of learning about local peoples of long ago.

For more details, call (661) 946-3055.