Stars Shine at First Americans Awards

By Rob Schmidt
February 10, 2002

(BEVERLY HILLS) — Reflecting a strong year for Native-themed productions, First Americans in the Arts (FAITA) bestowed their coveted feather awards on a wide range of movies and TV shows. The winners included “Skinwalkers,” “Windtalkers,” “The Business of Fancydancying,” and “Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner).”

The mood was festive as the stars gathered Saturday at the Beverly Hilton for the 11th annual FAITA awards. Among the luminaries were master of ceremonies Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Michael Horse, Irene Bedard, and Gary Farmer.

A heartfelt Navajo prayer and delicious chicken dinner set the stage for the evening. As they ate, attendees could read projected quotes from such historical figures as Chief Joseph (Nez Perce) and Chief Oren Lyons (Onondaga).

A Six-Pack of Movies

“Skinwalkers,” the Tony Hillerman novel turned PBS-based movie, was the night’s biggest winner. FAITA saluted Wes Studi (lead performance in a TV movie), Sheila Tousey and Saginaw Grant (supporting performances), and Chris Eyre (directing). Grant spoke for many when he said, “This award wasn’t for me. You’re honoring yourself because you support this work.”

Fan favorite Adam Beach was named the outstanding lead actor in a film for his portrayal of a Navajo codetalker in the World War II adventure “Windtalkers.” Joining him was Navajo costar Roger Willie for his outstanding performance by a newcomer.

“The Business of Fancydancing,” the literary rumination on tribal ties, won for Sherman Alexie (outstanding achievement in writing) and Michelle St. John (lead performance in a film). In a written statement, St. John noted that she and costar Evan Adams were tiny actors while Alexie was “a giant.”

“Atanarjuat,” the acclaimed Inuit film, was honored for the supporting performances of Sylvia Ivalu and Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq.

DreamWorks SKG received the Trustee Award for “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” and its message of living with the land rather than conquering it. Studi told the audience he was proud of his son Daniel, who brought the Lakota character Little Creek to life.

FAITA recognized “Skins,” the powerful film about two Pine Ridge brothers, for Chris Eyre’s direction. Some in attendance wondered why the disturbing drama didn’t win more awards. Studi alluded to this when he asked people to applaud the performances of Eric Schweig, Graham Greene, and Gary Farmer.

TV and Music Recognized

Besides his award for “Skinwalkers,” Studi won for his guest performance in the TV series “UC: Undercover.” He thanked the trustees for “giving me awards for what I enjoy doing. There’s really nothing else I want to do.”

Gil Birmingham was commended for his acting in the series “Body & Soul” and Stepfanie Kramer for her acting in the TV movie “Hunter: Return to Justice.”

On the musical front, Derek Miller received the Outstanding Musical Achievement award for his debut CD “Music Is the Medicine.” The program described it as “some of the hottest guitar music to ever be merged with Native American themes.” Miller also performed a song.

FAITA honored Tom Bee with its Lifetime in Musical Achievement award for his career as a recording artist, songwriter, and record producer. Noting the strong role of Native women, Bee said his wife should really get the award. She not only stood behind him but in front of him and all around him. Studi later joked that “Mr. Bee is going to have a good night tonight.”

Danny Tucker, chairman of the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians and accomplished lounge singer, and the Black Lodge Singers offered more musical entertainment. The svelte Tucker had the crowd swaying with his rendition of “On Broadway.”

Attendees also enjoyed two stirring performances by the Eagle Dance troupe.

Fighting the Good Fight

One of the highlights was the Humanitarian Award given to journalist David Robb for his 20 years of reporting at Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Robb earned special praise for his article on the US military order to kill the codetalkers if they fell into enemy hands, which the Pentagon initially denied.

Robb related a story that Floyd Red Crow Westerman told him. Westerman was at the airport when he encountered a boy who had never met a real Indian. The boy’s first words to the actor were, “Do you still kill?”

Because of such deep-seated stereotypes, said Robb, “it’s vitally important that Indians be portrayed accurately.” They’re the most underrepresented minority on the screen, he noted.

“I was only doing my job,” he concluded about his award. “You are doing God’s work.”

Comedian Charlie Hill had people roaring with a hilarious standup routine. He began with a commercial for the New Age tonic Generokee. “One sip and your Native roots will start to grow back.”

Hill gave the evening a political edge with his comments on Washington DC—or “Washington Deceit,” as he called it. He said he had done a show for the American Indian Republican Party—“three of the nicest gentlemen” he ever met.

Perhaps the most moving moment came when codetalker Joe Morris Sr. accompanied stuntman Juddson Linn to present Roger Willie his award. The audience gave Morris a warm standing ovation for the heroes he represented.

As Charlie Hill said, these are the people who saved America, not Nicolas Cage.

For more information on FAITA, visit


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