When the Recording Academy announced it was restructuring its Grammy Award categories earlier this year, it was hard to envision Native American artists getting anything but the shaft. And with the announcement of the 2012 nominees, that has indeed come to pass.
Since 2001, the Best Native American Album category had been presented to pow wow groups, flutists and other Native musicians; winners have included Bill Miller, Mary Youngblood, and artists captured live at the annual Gathering of Nations Pow Wow. The restructuring, though, eliminates the Native American category and groups albums from it with those from also-eliminated categories Hawaiian, Cajun/Zydeco, and Polka.
How does this shake out in the first go-round? Visit the “Americana” nominees page and scroll down to the Best Regional Roots Music Album, here’s what you’ll find in terms of nominees by former category:
Native American: 0
What does it matter if the Recording Academy doesn’t give a miniature gramophone knickknack to an artist playing traditional Native American music? It’s not merely a symbolic slight, say some musicians. Four Latin jazz artists who objected to the restructuring actually launched a suit against the Recording Academy, on the basis that recognition from the organization boosts record sales, and without that recognition whole categories of artists will remain obscure. “There’s nothing like having the ability to say ‘Grammy-nominated,’ ‘Grammy Award-winning,’” said their lawyer.
Grammy-winning guitar legend Carlos Santana called the move “racist.” American Indian musicians, denied even a single nomination alongside the other “regional roots” acts, might be hard pressed to disagree with him.