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Award-winning musician gives back through his music

BOIS FORTE, Minn. - Karen Drift, Bois Forte Head Start teacher and champion of the Ojibwe language, speaks softly, repeating each word several times as a flute sings gracefully in the background. Her granddaughter, Larissa, repeats words to the soft strum of an acoustic guitar. These traditional Ojibwe language lessons accompanied by music can now be heard on Drift's new compact disc, ''Anishinabemoin,'' was released on Jan. 25 under the new Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Music and Akina Records label.

Award-winning musician Keith Secola, who provides the music on ''Anishinabemoin,'' was asked by the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Tribal Council to be part of an Ojibwe language CD. He happily agreed and jumped on board as the producer, consultant and solo musician. With his accomplished songwriting, producing and own style of Native contemporary music, Secola was perfect to make the CD complete.

Secola, a member of the Anishinabe Nation of northern Minnesota and southern Ontario, spoke proudly about ''Anishinabemoin'': ''This CD is the first of its kind and can be done in other Native languages. I hope many more are soon to follow. This is the first step [toward cultural preservation]. The background music on 'Anishinabemoin' and the repetitive nature of our language really enhances the learning. ... Our ancestors wanted these things to happen, so we are doing it. We do it to honor them.''

This past year, Secola, too, was honored by the music industry and by his fans. The Native American Music Awards, or NAMMYs, were held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., where Secola was crowned Artist of the Year 2006. Secola said, ''It brought tears to my eyes when I won because it showed what I mean to the people. We [Native musicians] have become a voice. We have become an uncle in the Indian way to those who understand our music.''

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Secola took home the NAMMY for the Best Folk/Country Recording for his 2006 CD, ''North Americana.'' He has also won NAMMYs for Best Independent Artist, Best Instrumental Recording, Best Blues/Jazz Recording and Best Producer in previous years giving the Native rocker six NAMMYs in seven years.

In November, ''North Americana'' was voted Best Folk/Acoustic Recording at the inaugural Aboriginal People's Choice Awards held in Winnipeg, Canada. Even though Secola is not a Canadian citizen, he was still eligible for these awards because his mother was born there. To Secola, this award was a way to honor his mother and her family.

In addition to all his awards, Secola has spent a lot of his time giving back to communities all over Indian country by playing at benefit concerts, teaching young people how to write songs and raise awareness of Native issues. Twice last year, Keith Secola benefit concerts were held in northern Minnesota to support programs for the homeless and local food banks.

Secola was invited last summer to perform at a benefit concert for Kanenhstaton, Six Nations, in support of its land reclamation issues. Eight hours into the concert, when Secola played the introduction to ''NDN Krz '49,'' a highly requested song on Native radio, the crowd came to its feet. The crowd, composed of Native and non-Native peoples, held hands to form one of the biggest Round Dance circles Secola had ever seen.

''It was heartfelt by the people that night. That is what our music can do for people. A thousand or more of them used all that energy in a positive way. As peacemakers, we used our music and songs for effect. The musicians were a servant for a higher being that day,'' he explained.