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Stars Come Out at NAIIA Event Honoring Outstanding Native Entertainers

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On April 29, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Albuquerque, NM, welcomed Twilight actors, up-and-coming rappers, pioneering directors, Native comedy stars and a rock and roll legend for the second North American Indigenous Image Awards. The event was emceed by Pax Harvey, a comedian from the 49 Laughs Comedy Show, and featured performances by nominated acts Gary and the Troublemakers (nominated for Outstanding Blues Jazz Album), DOC featuring Spencer Battiest (Outstanding Album Single), Victoria Blackie (Outstanding Country Album), and the Pow Wow Comedy Jam (Outstanding Comedy Performance, which the trio of funnymen won).

Going in, the Outstanding Actor category generated the most buzz as there were two Twilight actors, Chaske Spencer and Gil Birmingham, among those vying for the award. In the end, Spencer, Birmingham, Zahn McClarnon, and Noah Watts looked on while Hollywood veteran Gary Farmer accepted the hardware. The Outstanding Actress winner was Georgina Lightning, who as a director also took home the Outstanding Feature Film award for Older than America. These were the latest in a series of triumphs and achievements for Lightning; Older than America is considered the first feature film directed by a Native woman, and it had won Lightning a Best Director award at the American Indian Film Festival. The other film awards went to "The Search for the World's Best Indian Taco," for Outstanding Short Film, and Reel Injun, for Outstanding Documentary.

The 2011 Honorary Award went to guitarist Micki Free, Cherokee and Comanche, a Grammy and multiple-Nammy winner who was discovered in the 1970s by Gene Simmons of Kiss and went on to be a member of Shalamar. Free has been a mainstay of the music scene ever since, playing with many of rock's most esteemed musicians, and more recently exploring his roots with albums of Native flute music.

Other musical winners included rapper Chase Manhattan (Outstanding Album Single, "The Original 2 Step”), Desiree Dorion (Outstanding Country Album, Soul Back Jack), Supaman (Outstanding Hip Hop Album, Deadly Penz), and the Jir Project (Outstanding Blues Jazz Album, Sun Child). Awards also went to the publications "Pow Wow Model Calendar" and Native Peoples magazine.

Both Spencer and Free also served as presenters, as did a host of influential Natives: Actor/comedian/designer Tatanka Means, Viewfinder Productions president and NAIIA senior producer Shaunya Manus, guitarist Gabriel Ayala, comedian Ernest David Tsosie III, Hollywood casting director Rene Haynes, and Indian Country Today's own style columnist Lisa Charleyboy. Proceeds from the event were given to a scholarship fund at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.