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Celebrating Native music

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TORONTO - "We are here to celebrate role models in Native musical talent," said Phil Fontaine. The Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief was a presenter at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards held Nov. 28 in Toronto. Now in its fifth year, the awards celebrate the best in Native Canadian music from country to hip hop to traditional.

Hosted by actor/producer Jennifer Podemski ("Dance Me Outside") and writer Tom King ("Green Grass, Running Water"), the show gave awards in 18 competitive categories and three special honors.

First-time winner Lucie Idlout, originally from Iqaluit, Nunavut, walked away with the Best Female Artist trophy for her rock album "E5-770, My Mother's Name." "I began working on this album many years ago. It's been a lot of hard work and this award feels like a big payoff," she said. "It's a huge honor and it's been the best night of my year."

Idlout has become something of an iconic figure in Canadian music. Her powerful voice and songwriting - complemented by her edgy fashion sense - have brought her a devoted following. She made history at this year's event with her second nomination of the evening for Best Rock Album, a first for a female artist in this category.

The evening offered some surprises. Best Male Artist was won by newcomer Jay Ross from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. "I never expected to win," he stated at the post-show reception. "I can't tell you how much this award builds my confidence. I describe my album 'Old Town' as 'bush boy meets the city' and that's what I feel like tonight."

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A musician since the age of 12, Ross toiled in small town bars singing cover songs. Gaining inspiration from his home and experiences, he began to write his own music. "I quickly realized that the only way I would get anywhere in this industry is if I wrote my own songs," he said.

In the country categories, crooner Mitch Daigneault won Best Country Album for "Keep On Believing." His songs are classic tunes of lost and unrequited love. "Everybody suffers from the blues, whether it's caused by a broken heart or from the government," he laughed. "I'm a sucker for love songs. They're what I like to feel and what I want to share in my music."

Native Canadian radio pioneer Elaine Bomberry was honored with the Music Industry Award for her contribution to Aboriginal music, she personifies the growth and success of this art form in Canada. Responsible for launching the Best Music of Aboriginal Canada category at the JUNO Awards (the nation's version of the GRAMMYs) 10 years ago, Bomberry continues to champion Native musical talent through radio. "Music really does heal the soul," she said. "I'm living proof of that."

Performances from nominees interwove the show, two of the most popular coming from Best Rap or Hip Hop Album winners Tru Rez Crew from the Six Nations of the Grand Reserve and the Red Power Squad from Edmonton. The latter featured break-dancers performing with a traditional grassdancer.

Still fresh from his victory, Jay Ross put the evening's festivities into perspective. "We have so many talented musicians from all across the country," he said. "They all have something special to say. And what better way to tell people where you're from and who you are than through music."