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Jack Gladstone has his eye on the prize

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KALISPELL, Mont. - American Indian musician and songwriter Jack Gladstone is hoping the second time's a charm when the 46th annual GRAMMY awards are announced in Los Angeles on Feb. 8.

His latest recording, "Tappin' the Earth's Backbone," is on the entry list for the industry's most prestigious award in the contemporary folk category. His eighth album, "Buffalo Republic," made the same preliminary list for the 2001 GRAMMY's, but failed to win top honors in final voting.

Gladstone has also had near-misses with the Native American Music Awards. "Buffalo Republic" was a finalist in two NAMMY categories in 2001. He was invited to perform at the awards ceremony that year, a clear indication that he's being closely watched. Another bit of good news came this summer, when GRAMMY Magazine listed Gladstone as one of the top three Native artists poised to break into the top tier. The 45-year-old member of Montana's Blackfeet Tribe is also nominated in the best male artist competition for this year's NAMMY's, to be given out Nov. 15 in Albuquerque.

"I don't do stuff expecting to win awards," Gladstone said in a recent telephone interview while on the road outside Chicago. "I do this to move or inspire hearts. I do that by getting inside of my own heart and showing what's there."

While acknowledging that national acclaim certainly doesn't hurt his name recognition, Gladstone said he's unclear why he's never been considered in the GRAMMY's Native American music category.

"They are going to have to learn we're more than bows and arrows and drums and flutes and chants and rattles," he said of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the organization that decides who and what receives the coveted GRAMMY awards. "We are stories, and we are storytellers."

Despite his steady rise to musical prominence over the past couple of decades, Gladstone has faced a tough year in which he was divorced, his father died, and raging wildfires virtually knocked out his annual summer "Native America Speaks" lectures and "Native Reflections" music programs in Montana's Glacier National Park, a main source of close-to-home income.

While reflective about his multiple losses, he's still pounding the pavement and performing in dozens of varied venues all over the country this fall. His "Brother Van," a 1990 Chevrolet, now has an astounding 707,000 miles on the odometer; another newer vehicle already has 155,000 miles racked up.

"I've put on 60,000 miles or more each of the last 12 years," he said. "You have to rotate your crops. Montana is a pretty small market."

One of Gladstone's main projects these days is the multimedia production of "Odyssey West," dubbed as "a musical and visual narrative" of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The program explores how the American West and its Native inhabitants were forever altered by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny and the arrival of President Thomas Jefferson's wide-ranging emissaries.

Gladstone performs "Odyssey West" with long-time collaborator Rob Quist, a non-Indian musician who grew up on a ranch outside the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. As with "Western Harmony," another musical production the duo created in the 1980s, a main theme is reconciliation and cultural respect between the two often-disparate races.

"Western Odyssey" gained sponsorships from the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and is coinciding with Lewis and Clark Signature Events as they move up the Missouri River and on to the Pacific Coast.

Gladstone said he wants to make sure audiences realize the impacts the expedition and ensuing waves of white settlers had on Native peoples, including the Blackfeet. Part of the program focuses on the July 27, 1806 meeting between Blackfeet members and expedition leaders, where Lewis announced that the United States government was claiming ownership of their Aboriginal lands.

"They also introduced them to the concept of 'Great White Father,'" Gladstone explained. "We didn't know what to think of that."

What Lewis and Clark didn't understand, he said, is that the Blackfeet had traded with the Hudson Bay Company and other non-Indians for 20 years or so before the expedition ventured West and "discovered" them.

Along with a compact disc of "Odyssey West" songs and an accompanying video, Gladstone is also about to release his new "Mountain West Christmas" recording, which features guest performer Lloyd Maines - Gladstone's main producer and the father of Dixie Chicks member Natalie Maines - and other singers and musicians from around the nation.

Gladstone's other recordings include "In the Shadow of Mt. Lassen," "Wolves on Sea & Plain," "Noble Heart," "Buckskin Poet Society," "Legacy", "Buffalo Stew" and "Buffalo Cafe." A work in progress that looks at the 1890s through the 20th century in terms of American Indians may be named "Buffalo Commons," he said.

"It's going to tie things together" as part of his historical trilogy of Native lore and events, said Gladstone, a grandson of the legendary Blackfeet leader Red Crow.

Meanwhile, "Tappin' the Earth's Backbone," his latest release, derives its name from a Blackfeet belief that the Rocky Mountains at the Montana-Canadian border represent the sacred Backbone of the World. Gladstone said he's convinced that it's his best work yet.

For more information on Gladstone or to order his recordings, visit www.jackgladstone.com or www.hawkstone.com.