A bad year for Native American musicians

By Sean Aaron Cruz

Portland, Oregon—

2012 was a hellaciously bad year for recognition of Native American musicians.

First, the Grammys killed off its Best Native American Album category.

Just killed it off. Boom. Gone. Two in the chest, one in the head. Into the drink with the cement shoes. Terminated with prejudice in Cold War spytalk….

Carlos Santana accused the Grammy decision makers of racism, “I think they’re racist. Period.”

Next, the Grammys nominated ZERO Native American albums in 2012 for the ridiculous replacement category “Best Regional Roots Album”, whatever that is supposed to mean, lumped in with Cajun/Zydeco, polka and Hawaiian recordings.

The Grammys turned its cold, dead eye on Indian Country in 2012 and saw nothing.

Fortunately, there are the Nammies, the Native American Music Awards. While the Grammys mostly can’t be bothered with indigenous artists, the Nammies recognizes the artistry and accomplishments of Native American musicians in 26 categories.

But Superstorm Sandy forced the cancellation of the Native American Music Association’s 14th annual awards last November. The homes of the Nammies producers were destroyed in the cataclysm, and the award ceremonies have been postponed to May 10.

These three painful events made 2012 that much tougher for a wide spectrum of indigenous artists, marginalized by the mainstream recording industry on a daily ongoing basis, and hammered by climatic climate change.

Indian Country Today reports that 2013 looks more promising in that the Grammys have nominated a Native American album for that ridiculous Best Regional Roots Album category.


Radmilla Cody’s album Shi Keyah: Songs for the People, is going to carry the mail for all of Indian Country in the 2013 Grammys, a single nominee, competing against polka, Hawaiian and Cajun/Zydeco musicians for the Best Regional Roots Album….

So the ground gained at the Grammys this year is about an inch and a half….

Check out the audio stream at the Nammies to hear what you and the Grammys and the record-buying public are missing….

The Nammies have 19 nominees for Artist of the Year alone, and more than a hundred nominees across all 26 categories.


Check out Gary Small’s Santana-esque guitar lines set to a reggae beat in Hostiles and Renegades and it immediately becomes clear why it is ridiculous to attempt to distill the music from Indian Country into a single Grammy category, much less to just a single nominee.

Joseph Strider’s String Theory will disrupt all stereotypes about the Apache.

Nightshield’s The Hangover can hang with the best of any urban or hiphop Grammy nominee (adult language advisory)….

Here in Portland, we are organizing the first annual Jim PepperFest, the first annual Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival, looking at late August 2013.

Look down the list of Nammy nominees and you will see a roster of fabulous talent, and realize that almost none of these artists ever get booked in Portland.

This fact is symptomatic of the real-life marginalization of Native peoples here in this region ever since the settlers arrived and stole all of what is now Portland, and that persists to this day.

The so-called Vanishing Race remains largely invisible in Portland.

But don’t take my word for it. Here is the Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable document Making the Invisible Visible:


The Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival will showcase indigenous musicians from across that broad Nammy spectrum, becoming an important anchor gig as they build out other performing opportunities in the region.

This is how change will take place, a song at a time, artist by artist, voice by voice, and in the wake of one of the most hellaciously imaginative saxophonists to ever pick up the instrument, Portland’s own Jim Pepper, the Flying Eagle.

2013 is looking better by the day….

“Water spirit feelin’

Springin’ ‘round my head

Makes me feel glad

That I’m not dead

“Witchi Tai To….”

–Jim Pepper, Witchi Tai To, 1970



About 1000nations

Sean Aaron Cruz is Executive Director of 1000 Nations and a co-founder of The Friends of Celilo Falls. He is the organizer of the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival. He is co-author of Winona LaDuke's new book, "The Militarization of Indian Country." He is the father of four children who disappeared into Utah in a Mormon abduction in 1996, and the author of Oregon's landmark anti-kidnapping statute "Aaron's Law" (Senate Bill 1041), named for his late son Aaron Cruz. He writes online as Blogolitical Sean.
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