Native American Music Awards & Association (NAMA or NAMMYs)

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The Native American Music Awards & Association (NAMA or NAMMYs) celebrates the rich cultural heritage of our nation’s first people and promotes cultural preservation and renewal on a national level through new music initiatives.

They aim to raise the awareness level and appreciation of Native American culture to the public at large, both nationally and internationally.

The Beginnings

N.A.M.A. began in 1998 as a grass roots initiative among music industry professionals and record labels and others to prove that there was a viable music industry.

Members from those companies, their artists, various communities and tribal radio stations and media personnel served as the first Advisory Board membership.

The idea of music industry executive, Ellen Bello, the Annual Native American Music Awards is the largest membership-based organization for Native American music initiatives and consists of over 20,000 registered voting members and professionals in the field.

The NAMA show was inspired by the Black Elk prophecy and a band from the Rosebud Reservation called 7th Generation. Its founder, Ellen Bello, was a mainstream music industry executive with over 20 years of experience and one who was previously involved with the MTV Music Video Awards, New York Music Awards, SPIN Magazine and more.

As the first of its kind, this awards ceremony was modeled from other local and national music awards shows. They created the first written proposal for the Native category in the Grammys® and were invited to do so by its Vice President.

Before NAMA was launched, it was merely an inside wish whispered on the reservation, became a vision, and then a realized dream. It embraced and required the support of music industry peers and Native community members who all gave it its blessings and approval and remain involved to date.

What the NAMMY Awards Recognize

The NAMMYs recognize outstanding musical achievement in styles associated with Native Americans, predominantly in the United States and Canada.

While Native American performers in a variety of genres are also recognized, nominees do not have to be Native American themselves.

The program often reaches beyond talent from Indian reservations and embraces internationally renowned artists such as; Robbie Robertson, Rita Coolidge, John Densmore, Nelly Furtado, Rickey Medlocke, Felipe Rose, and others.

The awards were created in 1998 to offer Native American musicians greater recognition from the American music industry and to create opportunities for international exposure and recognition.

Their awards honors and pays tribute to Native American authored music which can range in various genres.

The Roots of the Music

Native American, American Indian and Canadian Aboriginal music is the original roots music of the North Americas.

Originally a traditional music which was an integral part of Native American life and tribal identity, Native American music has grown to encompass many contemporary genres such as rock, pop, blues, hip hop, country, and new age, as well as has created some unique genres that remain distinctly indigenous such as Waila or Chicken scratch, and Native American church music.

All the music, whether lyrically or by genre, distinctively retains its cultural identity and offers cultural renewal.

Without NAMA there would be no recognition of Indian music initiatives on a national and professional level. The artists and their record companies enter their music recordings to receive greater exposure and awareness.

After over a decade and a half, they have broken new ground with an ever expanding international audience.

Historical Landmarks of the NAMAs

The highly anticipated annual awards show program debuted in 1998 at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and drew its first audience of 1500 people in the Northeast.

It has since been held throughout the country in cities such as Albuquerque, Milwaukee, Ft Lauderdale, and Buffalo and has drawn its largest audiences in the Southwest and most recently in the Northeast.

Based on ticket sales, an estimated 43% of the audience travels from all across the country to attend the award shows.

The first annual awards show featured 56 national recordings with a mission and obligation to showcase and bring music from the reservations to larger audiences. Today, over 200 national recordings are submitted each year.

The Awards Show

The awards show honors national recordings released in the previous calendar year that encompass traditional and contemporary Native American music instrumentation and/or lyrics.

Each year the annual Awards program features over a dozen mesmerizing and dynamic performances by some of today’s leading Native American artists along with 30 awards presentations including the Lifetime Achievement Award and inductions into the Hall of Fame.

There is also a “Native Heart” category (an award given specifically to non-native artists in the field).

The Awards program is an innovative, visually advanced production using prerecorded music of the nominees, voice overs, live presentations and performances, and large screen imaging.

This critically acclaimed Music Awards show and its high production values have been featured in Billboard Magazine, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, NY Times, Boston Globe, and CNN.

The dedicated Native American Music Awards successfully proposed the Grammy Award for Best Native American Music Album in 2000.

From 2001 to 2011, the American Grammy Awards presented an annual award for Best Native American Music Album, and the Canadian Juno Awards present an annual award for Aboriginal Recording of the Year.

On April 6, 2011, it was announced that the Grammy Award for Best Native American Music Album would be merged into a new category, Best Regional Roots Music Album.

Nomination and Voting Process:

The Awards show honors national recordings by Native American artists that have been released in the previous calendar year. Nominees are submitted and selected by a national Advisory membership consisting of individuals directly involved in recording, manufacturing, distributing and promoting Native American music nationally.

Winners are selected by a combined vote by the national Advisory membership and the general public who can listen and vote to the tracks of the nominees on Native American Music Awards Inc.

The Annual Awards show event involves over 200+ artists who submit recordings for nomination consideration.

Over one million people from around the world will participate in the national voting ballot campaign by visiting the website, where both membership and the general public can listen to music tracks of the featured artists in over 30 categories and vote on their favorites.

Today, they are the World’s Leading Resource for Contemporary and Traditional Native American Music Initiatives consisting of over 20,000 registered voting members and professionals in the field of Native American music.

They hold the largest Native American Music Library in the World with a national archive featuring a collection of over 10,000 audio and video recordings in all formats housed since 1990.

The Annual Native American Music Awards continues to proudly honor the outstanding musical achievements of Native American artists from across the country in over 30 Awards categories.

Since their inception in 1998, NAMA continues to honor songmakers, foster pride, provide national exposure and celebrate the gift of music with others around the world.

Lifetime Achievement Awards and Hall of Fame inductions

Another feature of the Native American Music Awards is the Lifetime Achievement Awards and Hall of Fame inductions.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

  • Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), 1998
  • Rita Coolidge (self-identified Cherokee descent), 1999
  • Tom Bee of XIT (Dakota descent), 2000
  • R. Carlos Nakai (Navajo/Ute), 2001
  • John Densmore, 2003
  • Tiger Tiger (Miccosukee), 2007
  • Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida), 2008
  • Bill Miller (Stockbridge-Munsee), 2008
  • Stevie Salas (Apache descent), 2009
  • John Trudell (Santee Dakota), Living Legend, 1998
  • Navajo Code talkers (Navajo), Living Legend, 1999
  • The Neville Brothers, Living Legend, 2001
  • Floyd Red Crow Westerman (Santee Dakota), Living Legend, 2002
  • Tommy Allsup (Cherokee), Living Legend, 2009

Hall of Fame inductions

  • Jimi Hendrix (self-identified Cherokee descent), 1998
  • Buddy Red Bow (Oglala Lakota),1998
  • Hank Williams (English descent), 1999
  • Jim Pepper (Kaw/Muscogee Creek), 2000
  • Crystal Gayle (self-identified Cherokee descent), 2001
  • Kitty Wells, 2002
  • Doc Tate Nevaquaya (Comanche Nation), 2006
  • Link Wray (self-identified Shawnee descent), 2007
  • Redbone (Yaqui/Shoshone descent), 2008
  • Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd/Blackfoot, 2008
  • Janice-Marie Johnson (Stockbridge-Munsee descent) of A Taste of Honey, 2008
  • Felipe Rose of Village People (Lakota descent), 2008
  • Ritchie Valens (Chicano), 2009
  • Russell Means (Oglala Lakota), 2013