Menominee Tribal Chairman and actor Apesanahkwat, along with Elaine Miles, opened the Seventh Annual First American in the Arts Awards (FAITA). The gala event was held on Feb. 13 at the Century Plaza Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. and once again the evening brought together the Native film community and numerous gaming tribes interested in sponsoring and supporting the various art projects.
The awards started with presentations to the recipients of the FAITA scholarship grants. This year four grants were awarded to aspiring filmmakers Cathy Peltier (the daughter of political prisoner Leonard Peltier), Leslie Peters, Brandon Wero and Coral Taylor. Ernie Stevens Jr. from the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin asked everyone in the audience to renew their prayers and efforts for the release of Leonard Peltier, who is still serving two life sentences for the murder of two FBI agents on the Pineridge Reservation in 1976.
Actors Frank Salsedo and Kimberly Norris presented Floyd Westerman with the Outstanding Guest Performance award for his role in the hit sitcom Dharma and Greg. In his acceptance speech, Westerman thanked all the "Indian casinos that are here supporting various art projects, especially my project about the immaculate deception, the American holocaust of Indian nations."
This year's humanitarian award went to the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). A montage of some of the shows that PBS has produced were shown, including Robbie Robertson's Making A Noise; Pepper's Pow Wow; POV-In Whose Honor; and children's shows Puzzle Place and Sesame Street, which exemplified PBS' commitment to quality television programming.
Young actors Crystle Lightning and Brent Brokeshoulder presented the next award to Heather Locklear (Lumbee) for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Television Series for her role as Amanda in Melrose Place. Ms. Locklear was unable to attend but sent a letter thanking FAITA.
Wes Studi accepted the award in the category of non-traditional role by an actor for his work as an undersea pirate in the film Deep Rising. Studi later went on to pick up a second award for his supporting role in the same film.
Outstanding performances by actors in a daytime television show went to Mitch Longley for Port Charles and Jeanne Cooper for the Young and the Restless.
Next up was the award for Outstanding Guest Performance by an Actor in a Television Drama Series, which was presented to Wayne Newton for this role in Ally McBeal. Mr. Newton was unable to attend because of a concert commitment, but sent a taped acceptance speech in which he promised to attend next year's FAITA gala.
The national American newspaper Indian Country Today was honored and presented with the Wil Sampson Memorial Award. Tim Giago founded the paper, which first published under the name Lakota Times in 1981 on the Pineridge Reservation in South Dakota. The paper soon grew to national prominence and moved to Rapid City, S.D. It was renamed Indian Country Today, reflecting the vastness of territory, issues and nations on which it reported. The paper was recently sold to Sandstone Media, an enterprise of the Oneida Nation. Oneida CEO Ray Halbritter accepted the award.
Kateri Walker and Lois Red Elk won for their outstanding performances in the film Outside Osona, a Millennium Films production.
Stuntman Juddson Linn and young actor William Lightning presented Joyce McNeal the award for outstanding achievement in stunts. McNeal is one of two Native American women in the Stuntwomen's Association of Motion Pictures, and her career spans 25 years and more than 200 feature films and television projects.
Actors Steve Reevis and Irene Bedard presented the Trustee Award to casting director Rene Haynes, who has cast major feature films like Dances With Wolves, Dance Me Outside and the TNT Native American Series that included the projects Geronimo and Lakota Woman.
This year there were two awards presented for outstanding musical achievement. The first one u was presented to Robbie Robertson for his album Contact from the Underworld of Redboy. The award was presented by John Trudell, who also accepted on Robertson's behalf since the musician was unable to attend.
The second award for musical achievement was presented to Chief Jim Billie for his hit record Alligator Tales. Chief Billie is the elected chief of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. He takes his passion and tradition of storytelling into the realm of music with this first release that is getting airplay on Native radio across the United States.
Drew Lacapa (Apache/Hopi/Pewa) brought some comedy relief to the audience as he performed part of his routine that included jokes about Monica Lewinsky, his reservation and good ol' "Indian humor."
Michelle Thrush won for her supporting role in the TNT television film Ebeneser. Elaine Miles and Josh Drum presented Evan Adams an award for his unforgettably engaging role as Thomas Builds-the-Fire in the feature film Smoke Signals.
Actor/Comedian Charlie Hill presented this year's Lifetime Musical Achievement Award to Jim Pepper (posthumous). Jim Pepper (Kaw/Creek) was a rare talent who combined Native American music with the sounds of jazz, creating a unique and powerful Indigenous sound. Exerpts from Sandy Osawa's documentary, Pepper's Pow Wow, about the legendary saxophonist/composer was shown, giving insight into Pepper's world. His mother Flora accepted the award on her late son's behalf.
Selina Jayne picked up an award for her work as technical artist in the field of make-up. Her handiwork has been seen on such blockbuster films as Air Force One and Reasonable Doubt. She is currently working on the new Tom Cruise film.
Author/poet Louise Erdrich was honored for her amazing body of work. Novels such as Tracks, Beet Queen and Love Medicine have become contemporary classics that have entertained and made a lasting impression upon all audiences. Erdrich, unfortunately, was unable to attend.
Mathew Montoya for Moby Dick (Hllmark Entertainment) won the Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a supporting Role in a Television Movie/Special Award.
Actors Monique Mojica and Gary Farmer presented the award to Chris Eyre for his achievement in direction for the feature Smoke Signals. Eyre was unable to attend and the award was accepted on his behalf.
Hattie Kauffman was recognized with a Trustee Award. Kauffman was the first Native American news reporter to appear on a nationally broadcast show, and continues to be seen in her role as senior correspondent for the This Morning show.
Sherman Alexie was honored for his work as screenplay writer for Smoke Signals. In accepting his award, Alexie acknowledged the many people who contributed to the making of the film and said that the success of the film is allowing Chris Eyre and himself access to the Hollywood film studios. Alexie is currently working on numerous projects.
This year's Hall of Honor inductee (posthumous) was Chief Dan George. A clip from Loretta Todd's documentary, It's a Good Day: Remembering Chief Dan George, was shown. Bob George was present and accepted the award for his late father. In a moving tribute to his father, George repeated the speech that his father spoke in 1967 at a gathering at Vancouver's Empire Stadium.
After a brief word from Chairman Apesanahkwat, the Seventh Annual First American in the Arts Awards was brought to a close with the live music of Chief Jim Billie and his band.