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National Award Honors Seminoles

7th Annual First Americans In The Arts

By Peter B. Gallagher

LOS ANGELES - The Seminole Tribe of Florida was honored at the 7th Annual First Americans In The Arts awards program, Feb. 13, when Tribal Chairman James Billie received one of two Outstanding Musical Achievement prizes.

Mohawk musician Robbie Robertson was awarded the other during a two-hour ceremony attended by 2,000 in the California ballroom of the grand Century Plaza Hotel. Sponsored this year by Universal Studios and the San Manual Band of Mission Indians, the awards honor American Indians who have excelled in film, television, music and the media; it is the Indian Country equivalent of the Oscars or Emmys.

Among the honorees were Melrose Place actress Heather Locklear (Lumbee), Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton (Powhatan/Cherokee), Port Charles soap opera star Mitch Longley (Passamoquaddy/Penobscot), Young and the Restless grand dame Jeane Cooper (Cherokee), actor Wes Studi (Cherokee) and CBS newswoman Hattie Kauffman (Nez Perce).

The Seminole Chairman was honored for his recent SOAR Records CD Alligator Tales. As singer/songwriter Chief Jim Billie, he performed one of his signature tunes "Old Ways Will Survive" at the close of the awards event, accompanied by album producer John McEuen and the California based String Wizards band. The audience also viewed the Chief's much-acclaimed video Ways Of The Glades, directed by Leslie Gaines.

The event was hosted by Menominee Tribal Chairman Apesanahkwat and included a hilarious five-minute comedic routine by Drew Lacapa (Apache/Hopi/Pewa) and a Southern traditional dance exhibition by Morgan Tosee (Comanche) and the Hale Family drum. Also assisting was Miss Indian USA, Anna McKibben (Ouapaw) and Miss Indian World April Whittemore (Lumbee).

"This is a great honor, not only for the Chief, but for the whole Seminole Tribe," said producer McEuen, the former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band great who joined SOAR founder Tom Bee on stage to present the award to Chief Billie. "There were a lot of important people here, especially in the film industry, who got their first glimpse into the unique Seminole culture through the video and the Chief's music."

Smoke Signals, the first native full length feature film released nationally, grabbed three awards: Actor Evan Adams (Coast Salish) took Outstanding Performance by an Actor; Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) took the Outstanding Achievement in Directing award; and screenplay author Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene) garnered the Outstanding Achievement in Writing accolade. Actress Irene Bedard, who played Suzy in the film, was a presentor.

Locklear took Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a TV series; Newton (who appeared as "shock jock" Harold Wick on Ally McBeal won the Outstanding Guest Performance by an Actor in a TV drama Series; Longley won Outstanding Performance By an Actor in Daytime TV; Cooper won the Actress version of the same award; Studi was named Outstanding Guest Performer in a Non-Traditional Role; and Kauffman (CBS News' This Morning) won the coveted Trustee Award.

Other winners included Kateri Walker (Chippewa) Outstanding Actress in a Film; Lois Red Elk (Dakota/Lakota) Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress; Matthew Montoya (Taos Pueblo) Outstanding Performance by a supporting Actor in a TV Movie; Michelle Thrush (Cree) same award for an actress; singer Floyd Westerman (Dakota) for Outstanding TV Guest Performance for his stint on the ABC sitcom Dharma and Greg; Selina Jayne (Muskoke Creek) Outstanding Achievement in Technical Arts; Joyce McNeal (Mission/Yurok) Outstanding Achievement in Stunts; and L.A. casting director Rene Haynes won a Trustee Award.

The late (Kaw-Creek) jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper was awarded a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award and the late Chief Dan George (Squamish), Indian Country's only Oscar nominee ("Little Big Man") was posthumously elected into the First Americans In The Arts Hall of Fame.

A Seminole jacket donated by the Seminole Tribe was one of several dozen items sold by silent auction to raise money for the non-profit First Americans In the Arts foundation.

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