NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Native rapper Litefoot, along with civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, are calling for OutKast to apologize at this year's Gathering of Nations Pow Wow for their performance at the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards. The Gathering of Nations will run April 22 - 24 at the University of New Mexico Arena.
OutKast's appearance at the awards ceremony in faux American Indian costumes, complete with a smoking tipi and dancing girls in buckskin dresses, has been compared to a minstrel show by many Native writers and commentators, including Litefoot, since the Feb. 8 live broadcast on CBS.
In the weeks since the event, neither Arista Records (parent company to La Face, OutKast's label,) nor the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS, which presents the GRAMMY Awards) have made any comment on the performance, despite numerous calls to both organizations by Indian Country Today. This comes just weeks after representatives of NARAS spoke with ICT about wanting more Native involvement in their organization.
Litefoot, one of the pioneering rap artists in American Indian music and star of many films, including "The Indian in the Cupboard" and "Kull the Conqueror," said that while this may seem negative, it could be a positive catalyst for the minority communities of the country to come together. "I see no other choice except to step beyond what I am known for in Indian country and become political in a very public way," Litefoot told ICT.
"Rev. Jesse Jackson will appear as my guest at the Gathering of Nations on April 23. I have spoken with Rev. Jackson and invited him to help us bring OutKast to our 'Reach The Rez Concert Stage,' the Gathering of Nations, which unites over 100,000 people from around the world. Our concert stage at the event gathers over 60,000 people in two days. This would give OutKast the perfect platform to say what they have to say to the largest American Indian crowd that they would ever be able to gather in person."
Out of all of the organizations involved, only CBS, which aired the GRAMMY Awards, has apologized. CBS spokeswoman Nancy Carr reportedly issued an eight-word statement: "We are very sorry if anyone was offended." Litefoot wants more than an apolgy from someone who was not actually responsible for the performance.
"OutKast's people have officially been given letters of direction as to the way they should proceed if they are going to make any apologies regarding Native American people," Litefoot said. "If I went on stage at the GRAMMY Awards with a bone in my nose and my face painted black with white lips on, singing 'Mammy,' with a spear in my hand in a tiger outfit, would I, even for a moment, be given the benefit of a doubt? Or a moment to explain my position on how I was honoring African-American people? We should be consulted before images, like the Atlanta Braves' mascot, are put up there like they're honoring us. We should be given the opportunity to say whether it is uplifting or degrading to us as a people."
The rapper said he doesn't want to go to war with OutKast, he wants to give them every opportunity to do the right thing. "I want them to say to the world 'we made a mistake.' A statement like that could possibly cause the world to rethink their attitudes and their opinions and move forward on this, causing an alliance between different races, creeds, and colors to come together and fight this issue as a collective.
If OutKast doesn't show up, I think that would speak louder than their performance at the GRAMMY Awards. There are many other performers, from the Dixie Chicks to Tim McGraw, who will stand with us on that stage. I've also had many people from hip-hop say they want to be there to make sure this goes down. We will be standing on that stage waiting for OutKast to show up. If they don't, we will be standing on that stage without them, but we will be standing together for the world to see that they did not show up."
Litefoot noted that people don't realize there is a problem with appropriating American Indian images. He is also demanding an apology from FOX 11-KTTV in Los Angeles for "Good Day L.A." newswoman Jillian Barberie's statement that Native Americans need to "get a life" in regard to the OutKast protest. He is also protesting Vibe Magazine for using an African-American model in a American Indian headdress.
"We are prepared to move forward with the thousands who have supported me over the years," Litefoot said. "We will look forward to civil rights being given to Indian people for the first time, truly, in the history of Indian country. We will do this with members of the Latino community and the African-American community, and we will let our voices be heard throughout the world. I will not let this die; I will not let the press sweep in under the rug."
Litefoot also wants to see more categories at the GRAMMY Awards. While NARAS only has a single category for traditional music, citing that Native rock music would not be significantly different from mainstream rock music, the rapper noted that no other minority in America would be satisfied with only one category. "It would behoove the academy to stop looking at Indian people as only traditional music makers and start to recognize us in the 21st century as people who have expanded beyond those things, even though they are very sacred and precious to us. They would receive more nominations if they began to look at us as more than just beads, buckskins and feathers."
Litefoot's new album, "Redvolution," will be released at his April 23 performance at the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow. For more information, visit www.redvinyl.com.