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Saturday, February 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Native Americans seek apologies over Outkast Grammy performance

By Levi J. Long
Seattle Times staff reporter

Andre 3000 of the group OutKast performs "Hey Ya!" during the Grammy Awards. OutKast won for album of the year.
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Right on the heels of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident, several Native American groups are demanding an apology after a performance by OutKast at Sunday night's 46th Grammy Awards ceremony.

The performance of OutKast's "Hey Ya!" featuring Andre "Andre 3000" Benjamin featured a Native American-themed dance and actor Jack Black reciting a monologue with a Navajo "Beauty Way" song playing in the background.

A flying tepee came down on the stage amid a group of women wearing green buckskin-like skirts and fringed halter tops. Benjamin sported an Indian brave-themed costume. Many Native Americans also say the lyric "Hey ya" sounds similar to chants in powwow songs.

For the past week, American Indian communities around the country have been saying the performance portrayed Native Americans in poor taste.

Now a national Native American newspaper and other American Indian groups are issuing an ultimatum to the Grammy organizers: Apologize publicly or face a discrimination lawsuit.

"Never have I seen a public apology for Native Americans ever," said Frank J. King III, owner and publisher of The Native Voice, based in Rapid City, S.D. "Hollywood never apologized for old films. When it happens to natives nobody ever apologizes. That's what we'd like. Apologize or we'll see you in court."

The newspaper, the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Association are drafting letters to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which produces the Grammys.

"The recording academy should be held responsible for what happened. We're looking at who's ultimately responsible for approving the performances," said King, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe.

CBS, which aired the Grammys, issued an apology yesterday, according to The Associated Press. "We are very sorry if anyone was offended," said Nancy Carr, a CBS spokeswoman in Los Angeles.

"It's a beginning," King said. "At least somebody is apologizing to natives at the national level. But we're still looking for an apology from the academy. CBS owns the airwaves, but the Grammys own that stage and they're ultimately responsible for the content on their stage."

After the performance, hundreds of e-mails were posted to the Indian Country Today and news Web sites.
The Native American Cultural Center in San Francisco has organized a national boycott against CBS, the academy and Arista Records, OutKast's record label. Chairman Andrew Brother Elk said national support from tribal leaders and organizations continues to grow.

Brother Elk also filed a complaint with the FCC and has asked the NAACP to withdraw its nominations for OutKast in the Image Awards in March. OutKast has six Image Award nominations.

Angela Picard, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Washington, said the performance reminded her of the sports-mascot issue.

"These are real stereotypical types of images — images natives have been trying to move away from for the past 50 years in the media," Picard said.

Picard, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, dances in the jingle-dress category at powwows: "You feel all this and think I'm going to dance at the powwow this weekend and here they are making fun of it."

Ron Roecker, senior director of communications for the academy, said nobody had contacted the organization about the uproar.

"We regret if anyone was offended," Roecker said.

Levi J. Long: 206-464-2061 or

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