This historic and highly celebrated event will commemorate and honor a growing music movement being lead by the country's First Americans.”

— Italian Voice

The Music Industry's Largest and Only Membership Based Organization for the advancement of Native American Music Initiatives & Expressions Around The World



“To me this is just a sign of the times, a sign of the acceptance of Native music out in the world like never before.
And this is just the beginning.” 

Robbie Robertson 
“We’re Still Here. We’ve Survived All This.” 

R. Carlos Nakai 
“I am here again because I was very moved last year.” 

John Densmore, The Doors 
“This is truly heart medicine” 

John Trudell 
“This is more important to me than being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

Rickey Medlocke (Blackfoot/Lynyrd Skynyrd) 
“I just know Jim and my husband are just Tooty Fruity Stomp Dancing up in heaven because of this award.” 
Floy Pepper (Mother of the late Jim Pepper)




Ellen Bello, President & Executive Producer

Donald Kelly, Executive Director

Joseph Bello, Music Director

Robert Bello, Stage Manager

Kae Kotarski, PA, Talent Coordinator

Sharyn Fogelman, Talent Coordinator

Andy Anderson, Video Director

Robin Comey, Teleprompter, Assistant to Directors

Ed Koban Band, House Band, Assistant Music Director

Kim Acosta, Red Carpet Director, Photographer

Leon Thompson, PA

Cody Blackbird, Segment Producer

Keelynn Kelly, PA, Assistant to Director

Ilene Miklos, Travel & Accommodations Coordinator

Billie Artichoker, PA, Merchandise

Cassandra Artichoker, Award Presenter, PA

Shallon Bordeaux, Awards, PA

Butch Artichoker, PA, Spiritual Consultant

Janelle Boucher, Photographer

Rosemary Fernandez Armstrong, PA

Rob Armstrong, Photographer

Mike Mietlicki, Photographer

Brett Maybee, Voice of NAMA



The Native American Music Awards & Association (N.A.M.A.) 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. We aim to raise the awareness level and appreciation of Native American culture to the public at large, both nationally and internationally.

Our logo is a satellite picture of all of North America and the tip of South America, therefore we honor Native American artists from those territories. 
- The Native American Music Awards logo features a music note with an Eagle Feather as the cleff and Mother Earth's Turtle Island as the base of the note surrounded by the four directions.


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 our first Advisory Board membership. We launched our Awards show with their endorsements and 56 annual recordings.
Today we receive over 200 national recordings each year.

As the first of its kind, our awards ceremony was modeled from other local and national music awards shows. In fact we created the first written proposal for the Native category in the Grammys* and were invited to do so by its Vice President.  Our awards honors and pays tribute to Native American authored music which can range various genres.
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 have 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. 

We are a music industry organization first and foremost and an all-volunteer organization. Our national and international membership and media coverage allows us to maintain a high level of credibility as a professional music industry organization.

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, we have broken new ground with an ever expanding international audience.

This 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. 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.


· Each year the annual Awards program features over one dozen mesmerizing and dynamic performances by some of today’s leading Native American artists along with 30 awards presentations including; Lifetime Achievement and Hall of Fame.
· The Awards show is an extraordinary and unprecedented celebration of today’s best contemporary and traditional music.
· The Awards program is an innovative, visually advanced production using prerecorded music of the nominees, voice over, 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 highly anticipated annual awards show program debuted in 1998 at Foxwoods 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 our audience travels from all across the country to attend our 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 honors national recordings by Native American artists that have been released in the previous calendar year. Nominees are submitted and selected by our 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 our national Advisory membership and the general public who can listen and vote to the tracks of our nominees on our website Native American Music Awards Inc.
- Our Annual Awards show event involves over 200 plus artists who submit recordings for nomination consideration.
- Over one million people from around the world will participate in our national voting ballot campaign by visiting our website where, both membership and the general public will listen to music tracks of our featured artists in over 30 categories and vote on their favorites.

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

It has been our personal and volunteer contributions, not to mention, our determination and dedication, that continually creates this magical evening of pride and musical excellence. 

None of this would be possible if not for our tireless volunteer staff, our national membership 
and the support of our sponsors. To all of you, we thank you.


*By request of the Grammys, we also assisted in the creation of a Native music Grammy category in 2000 (see Report below) which has now been merged with a Regional Roots music category.

January 2000


"Music lies at the heart of Indian Country. From birth to death,
all of life's events and occasions are celebrated with Song."


Music In Native American Culture

Generalizations about the relationship between music and culture in Native American communities are gleaned from musical concepts and values, the structure of musical events, and the role of language in song texts. Musical concepts and values encompass ideas about the origins and sources of music, as well as musical ownership, creativity, transmission, and aesthetics. Each community’s musical concepts and values develop over time through complex social and cultural processes. These concepts and values reflect broader ways of thinking and therefore offer important insight into general patterns of culture. Native peoples differ in the degree to which they discuss musical concepts. But even for the peoples who do not verbalize musical ideas, underlying conceptual structures exist and may be perceived by observing musical practice. Despite the great diversity of American Indian peoples, general features of Native American musical concepts and values may be summarized.

Native Americans trace the ultimate origin of their traditional music to the time of creation, when specific songs or musical repertories were given to the first people by the Creator and by spirit beings in the mythic past. Sacred narratives describe the origins of specific musical instruments, songs, dances, and ceremonies. Some ritual repertories received at the time of creation are considered complete, so that by definition human beings cannot compose new music for them. But many occasions are suitable for new music; this music may be received in a variety of ways. For example, shamans and other individuals may experience dreams or visions in which spirit beings teach them new songs, dances, and rituals. (See alsoshamanism.) Many Indian communities learn new songs and repertories from their neighbours and have a long history of adopting musical practices from outsiders. Yet in every case, the music is a gift that comes from beyond the individual or community.

Some Native Americans consider songs to be property and have developed formal systems of musical ownership, inheritance, and performance rights. On the northwest coast of North America, the right to perform ancestral songs and dances is an inherited privilege, although the owner of a song can give it away. Peoples of northwestern Mexico believe that certain songs belong to the shaman who received them in a dream, but after his death those songs enter the community’s collective repertory. Other communities believe that specific pieces of music belong to an ensemble or to the entire community and should not be performed by outsiders without specific permission. Music has intrinsic value to individuals, ensembles, and communities, and performance rights are granted according to principles established by the group through long practice.

New music is provided each year for specific occasions in some communities. An individual may have a vision or dream in which he or she learns a new song; the song may be presented to the community or retained for personal use. More often, however, musical creativity is a collective process. For example, members of native Andean panpipe ensembles compose new pieces through a collaborative process that emphasizes participation and social cohesion. Certain musical genres, such as lullabies or songs for personal enjoyment, are improvised. Where new ceremonial songs are not composed because the repertories are considered complete, individual song leaders exercise musical creativity by improvising variations on traditional melodies or lyrics within accepted parameters. The creation and performance of music are dynamic processes.
Musical transmission involves the processes of teaching and learning that preserve songs and repertories from one generation to the next. Native Americans transmit music primarily through oral tradition. Some genres, such as social dance songs, are learned informally through imitation and participation. Other genres require more formal teaching methods. For example, the Suyá people of Brazil teach boys how to sing certain songs as part of their initiation; the boys learn and practice songs under adult supervision in a special forest camp a short distance from the village. Songs for curing rituals are often learned as part of a larger complex of knowledge requiring an apprenticeship; the student receives direct instruction from an experienced practitioner over the course of several years. Some communities have developed indigenous systems of music notation, but these are used by experienced singers as memory aids, not as teaching tools. In the 21st century, it is common for Native Americans to supplement oral tradition with the use of audio and video recordings for teaching, learning, and preserving traditional repertories.

Aesthetics, or perceptions of beauty, are among the most difficult concepts to identify in any musical culture. Native Americans tend to evaluate performances according to the feelings of connectedness they generate rather than according to specifically musical qualities. Some communities judge the success of a performance by how many people participate, because attendance demonstrates cultural vitality and active social networks. Where musical performance is meant to transcend the human realm, success is measured by apparent communication with spirit beings. Where music and dance represent a test of physical strength and mental stamina, success is appraised by the performer’s ability to complete the task with dignity and self-discipline, demonstrating commitment to family and community. Regardless of the specific criteria used to evaluate performance, musical designs that employ repetition, balance, and circularity are appreciated by American Indians because they resonate with social values that are deeply embedded in native cultures.

Musical events

Native American performances integrate music, dance, spirituality, and social communion in multilayered events. (See Native American dance for further discussion of dance and dance-centred events.) Several activities may take place simultaneously, and different musicians or ensembles sometimes perform unrelated genres in close proximity. Each performance occasion has its own musical styles and genres. Although the organization of Native American performances may seem informal to outside observers, in actuality each event requires extensive planning, and preparations may extend over months or even years. Preparations include musical composition, rehearsal, instrument making or repair, and the assembling of dance regalia. The hosts or sponsors of an event must prepare the dance ground, which symbolizes concepts of sacred geography and social order in its layout. The hosts also prepare and serve food to participants and guests, and they may distribute gifts to specific individuals. In addition, participants prepare themselves spiritually in a process that may involve fasting, prayers, and other methods of purification. Native American ceremonials may last several days, but the different musical components are interconnected in various ways.

The roles of musicians, dancers, and other participants in a Native American performance are often complex and may not be apparent to an outsider. Everyone who attends the performance will participate in some way, either through active involvement in music and dance or by witnessing the event. Performances may be specific to one community or may involve several communities or even different tribes and nations. In addition, unseen spirit beings are usually thought to take part. Lead singers and dancers may be political as well as spiritual leaders, who have an important voice in decision making and are influential in the community. Musicians performing in collective ceremonies do not expect to receive applause or verbal response from the audience; their role is to serve the community. Native men and women have complementary musical roles and responsibilities. Among native Andeans, men play instruments while women sing; in the Southeastern United States, men sing while women shake leg rattles. Some South American Indians hold separate events for men and women.

Humour is essential to many native ceremonial events. Some ceremonies include ritual clowns, with their own songs for entering and exiting the dance arena; their antics serve the dual purpose of keeping people lighthearted while reinforcing social values by demonstrating incorrect behaviour. Certain song genres may feature humorous lyrics that poke fun at people or describe comical situations.

Music and language


Traditional music plays an important role in perpetuating Native American languages, some of which are no longer spoken in daily life. American Indian song texts constitute a genre of poetry in terms of structure, style, and expression. Native Americans often perform songs as part of traditional storytelling; these songs may illuminate a character’s thoughts and feelings. Song texts may employ the traditional language, although words are modified by adding or eliding syllables to accommodate the music. Song texts usually refer to local flora and fauna, specific features of the landscape, natural resources such as water, or aspects of the community. Sometimes archaic words appear in ceremonial songs, and many communities use words or phrases from foreign languages; these practices tend to obscure the meaning of the text, distinguishing it from everyday language. In certain regions, Native Americans developed lingua francas in order to facilitate trade and social interaction; in these areas, song texts may feature words from a lingua franca. Many Native American songs employ vocables, syllables that do not have referential meaning. These may be used to frame words or may be inserted among them; in some cases, they constitute the entire song text. Vocables are a fixed part of a song and help define patterns of repetition and variation in the music; when used in collective dance songs, they create a sense of spirituality and social cohesion.

Native American Musical Styles And Genres

Aspects of style

The following discussion of styles and genres by region addresses a number of characteristics of music and how they are produced. It is possible to speak of musical regions because, although each Native American group has distinctive musical styles and genres, certain musical similarities exist between those who are roughly neighbours. However, musical boundaries continually shift and change as people from different cultures exchange musical ideas, repertories, and instruments.

Generally, in each regional category a description of the music encompasses vocal style, melody, rhythm, phrase structure, use of text, typical instruments, and occasions for music. Vocal style may be said to be tense (requiring greater muscular effort) or relaxed to varying degrees, depending on the use of the throat, tongue, mouth, and breath. Higher notes for a particular voice type often sound more tense than notes in the middle of a singer’s vocal range. The sound may be nasal or not. Men especially may use falsetto voice, for a higher timbre than is available using full voice. Vibrato is a rapid, slight variation in pitch that may be ornamental and is often part of the aesthetic of musical performance. When people sing together, they may perform the same melodies in very nearly the same way (blended unison) or without attempting to sing exactly together (unblended unison). Choral singing may also entail the simultaneous performance of separate musical lines (polyphony). Scales may be described by the number of discrete pitches used, as well as by the intervals between those pitches. Melodies form contours as they move higher or lower in pitch, proceeding by relatively large or small intervals. Rhythm encompasses the underlying musical pulses and how they are organized (i.e., metre)—often into groups of two or three (i.e., duple or triple metre)—as well as how the melody relates to that structure with its varying durations of notes and syncopations that contradict the regularity of the beats. Melodic and rhythmic units organize into larger phrases and then into phrase patterns that involve repetition, variation, and contrast. Meaningful text and vocables may be sung in varying combinations.

Each region uses characteristic musical instruments, sometimes without voices, and each uses music in identifiable ways—e.g., private and public, social and ritual, or as pure song and as accompaniment to dance.

North America

North American Indians (i.e., those in present-day Canada and the United States) emphasize singing, accompanied by percussion instruments such as rattles or drums, rather than purely instrumental music. North American musical genres include lullabies, songs given to individuals by their guardian spirits, curing songs, songs performed during stories, songs to accompany games, ceremonial and social dance songs, and songs to accompany work or daily activities. Music, dance, and spirituality are tightly interwoven in a worldview that perceives little separation between sacred and secular. Six musical style areas—which differ somewhat from anthropologists’ designations—exist in Native North America: Eastern Woodlands (including Northeast and Southeast Indians), PlainsGreat BasinSouthwestNorthwest Coast, and Arctic.


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