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First American in the Arts (award presentations) takes centre stage.

This year's First American in the Arts award presentations, the fifth-annual production of this event, took place at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel on Feb. 15. As anticipated, this year's event was a great success, with over 1,100 people attending, almost double the size of last year's gala.

Canada's First Nations entertainers continued to make their mark in the United States, with them receiving five of the 10 acting awards presented.

The awards show was broadcast nationally to over 25 reservations in 12 states, from Alaska to New Mexico, with the involvement of American Indian Radio on Satellite Corp. Tom Beaver and Irene Fredericks commented on the activities and interviewed various presenters and award recipients.

Two young women were the award bearers for the evening -- Keduescha Lara, Miss National Congress of American Indians, and Moriah "Shining Dove" Snyder.

The evening started with a opening prayer, followed by an honor song performed by the Soldier Boyz Singers, who were accompanied by grass dancers Jonathan Windy Boy, Brent Brokeshoulder and Randy Brokeshoulder.

The focus of the First Americans In The Arts organization is the establishment of a scholarship fund. Two grants from this fund were given to film students Irene Folstrom and Dina HuntingHorse. Folstrom is a student majoring in film production at Stanford University and HuntingHorse is currently enrolled at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.

In memory of actor Victor Aaron, who passed away last year, a one-time scholarship was presented to writer Francene Blythe. Aaron was a powerful advocate of having Native American scripts actually written by Native Americans. It was his belief that only through Native writers would it be possible to portray the community accurately or to emphasize the importance of role models for empowering Native American youth. In her acceptance speech, Blythe asked tribal leaders across Indian Country to help and support "those writers who are writing the truth."

Comedian Charlie Hill, who wrote much of the show's script, introduced Michael Horse and Rita Coolidge.

The first award for the evening went to a young actress, Jade Herrera, for her role in the CBS television film, Blue Rodeo. In her acceptance speech, the actress thanked her mother and grandmother for their encouragement and support as well as thanking the awards association for "bringing me into this beautiful circle here tonight."

Next, Roger Ellis and Floyd Westerman presented the two Trustee Awards. The first award was presented to the CBS Television Network for such productions as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; Touched By An Angel and 500 Nations. Sunta Izzacuppi accepted the award on behalf of CBS. The second Trustee Award was presented to Frank Von Zerneck and Robert Sertner, who served as executive producers on the TNT Native American series that included films such as The Broken Chain; Geronimo and Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee.

Frank Blythe presented Hanay Geiogamah with an award for Outstanding Achievement in Producing Film, Television or Theatre. Geiogamah is the artistic director of the American Indian Dance Theatre and was co-producer on TNT's Native American series.

Graham Greene won an award for his performance in Showtime's The Outer Limits. Greene was unable to attend and Coolidge accepted on his behalf.

The Will Sampson Memorial Award was presented to Tom Bee. Bee was acknowledged for his valuable contribution to the Native American music industry, not only as a gifted songwriter but for founding the record label Sound of America Records, which took Native American music to a new level of professionalism. Bee thanked his son, Robbie, as well as his wife of 31 years for "allowing me to be a professional teenager for so many years."

Next was a performance from the women's group Walela, who performed the song most sung on the Trail of Tears. Walela is comprised of Rita Coolidge, her sister Priscilla Coolidge and Priscilla's daughter Laura Satterfield.

Ten-year old Cody Lightning won an award for his supporting role in HBO's Grand Avenue. Lightning thanked his mother "for raising me to be a good kid."

Mike Smith, the director of the American Indian Film Festival, presented Nashville-based country music singer-song-writer Rich McCready with an award for Outstanding Musical Achievement.

Greg Sarris, Grand Avenue's writer and co-executive producer, was next up for Outstanding Achievement in Writing of a Screenplay. Grand Avenue has received a lot of praise from the Native community for it's contemporary urban story line.

Throughout the show, Horse and Coolidge kept the evening rolling along with humor and personality. One of the crowd pleasers was their running down the "Top Ten Reasons for coming to the First American in the Arts awards," which included such reasons as "The only time you can get Indian cars valet parked!"

Actors A. Martinez and Irene Bedard presented this year's Humanitarian Award to HBO. It was praised for such productions as Grand Avenue and Paha Sapa: The Struggle For The Black Hills.

This year's Lifetime Musical Achievement Award was presented to Louis W. Ballard, whose career spans over three decades. Ballard, a classical composer, has received numerous prestigious awards recognizing him as a major American composer. He performed three of his own compositions on the piano: "Daylight"; "The Hunt" and "The Warrior Dance." Ballard said that "the music of our people emanates from the beauty of our languages."

The awards has created a Hall of Honor, and the inaugural inductee was Will Sampson. He died in 1987, but will always be remembered and continues to serve as one of Indian Country's most powerful and respected role models. A montage of film clips highlighted his amazing film career: films that include the unforgettable performance in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and other roles in both film and television, including parts in The Outlaw Josey Wales, White Buffalo, Alcatraz and From Here To Eternity. Behind the scenes, Sampson worked relentlessly to advance the participation of Native Americans in the film industry as well as in breaking down the stereotypical image perpetuated by Hollywood films. His widow Darice, along with some of his children, accepted the award. His son Tim,. when talking about his father, said: "One of the things I admired most about him was his faith -- a belief in himself, where he was from and where he was going. He believed in his children and his family, but his strongest belief was in his people."

Alberta's Sekwan Auger presented the award to actress Dianne Debassige for her outstanding role in Grand Avenue and Crystle Lightning presented Zahn McClarnon with his award for Outstanding Guest Performance in the ABC series Dangerous Minds. Michael Greyeyes won for his role in TNT's Crazy Horse, and said in his acceptance speech "this role was a gift -- an honor I didn't want to abuse and I didn't want to let anyone down." He also thanked the Lakota people.

The next awards went to Tyler Baker for Outstanding Performance in the ABC soap General Hospital and to Steve Reevis for his performance in the Oscarnominated film Fargo.

In the last two categories, the Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a television movie special went to Sheila Tousey for her role in Grand Avenue and Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Film went to Gary Farmer in Miramax Films' Dead Man. Farmer spoke of the need to recognize and support "the independent Native film market -- our film makers," and added "we need to support ourselves."

The evening was brought to a close by a performance that included fancy dancers R.G. Harris, Vincent Whipple and Aaron Neskahie.

Hill nailed it earlier in the evening, when he said "we don't need Hollywood -- we've got enough talent right here in this room." Looking back, this was a poignant statement when one considers that, out of the 10 acting awards presented that evening, five went to young people. That sends a powerful message not only to Hollywood but throughout Indian Country -- role models come in all ages and these talented and disciplined actors not only serve to educate the entertainment industry as a whole but also serve as an inspiration for many other generations, some much older that their own.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bissley, Jackie
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Mar 1, 1997
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