It’s been a wild year for Chaz Wagner and Tony Parson, the founders of the band War Bonnet. In late September, the two members of the Ojibwe reservations of northern Minnesota announced that they were nominated for New Group of the Year for their debut album “The Ghost Dance” and Best Rock Recording for their track “War Horse” for the 2019 Native American Music Awards.
As a manager at KBFT 89.9 FM Bois Forte Tribal Community Radio, the frontman has also received a Best Radio Show N.A.M.A. nomination for his show, “The Deep End,” where he talks about the Ojibwe language and interviews authors, musicians and cultural leaders on air at 2 p.m. every Monday and Thursday.
Earlier this week, Wagner told the Hibbing Daily Tribune that he felt honored to be recognized as a solo radio show host and as part of a band which made their first public appearance last year. “It’s a huge tip of the hat to our vision and our art,” Wagner said. “It’s a huge achievement in my career as a musician and it’s one of my goals to be nominated for an Indigenous award and to be accepted and seen by my people and knowing I have support in my music and for the band.”
Created in 1998, N.A.M.A. was modeled from other national awards shows like the Grammys to pay specific tribute to Native American music in various genres: rock, pop, blues, hip hop, country and distinctly Indigenous like Waila. Two years after its inception, the grass roots initiative assisted in the creation of a Native music Grammy category which has since been merged with a Regional Roots music category.
War Bonnet plans to attend the N.A.M.A. event on Saturday at the Seneca Niagara Hotel and Casino in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Cherokee Tribe of Oklahoma actor Wes Studi, who recently became the first Native American actor to receive an Academy Award, is set to host the show. Studi, who is being inducted into the N.A.M.A. Hall of Fame, will be joined by several special guests, such as country music singer and World Wrestling Entertainment star Mickie James, of the Powhatan Tribe.
The success of War Bonnet is mainly due to Wagner as a singer-drummer and Parson on the guitar and keyboards. The two met in the 1980s while students at Mountain Iron-Buhl Public Schools and spent hours learning how to play music from listening to their favorite bands like Metallica, Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains. Wagner went on to drum and sing in cover bands and in traditional pow-wows on the Bois Forte Reservation, while Parson fine-tuned his skills playing in polka and western bands and for local events, such as the Finnish Festival in Embarrass.
Two years ago, the pair formed War Bonnet as an “honorable representation” of their traditions and began creating music influenced by the actions of Native American leaders Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Geronimo, as well as the musical talents of Chester Knight, a Cree singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan in Canada and Keith Secola, an Ojibwe folk and blues rocker from Cook.
In February, War Bonnet released the “Ghost Dance,” which was named after a religious movement — post-Wound Knee Massacre and in the era of The Battle of Little Bighorn — taken on by numerous Native Americans in the 1880s that taught a dance to bring back the spirits of the dead to fight on behalf of the living. In the months afterward, the band played at numerous events, such as the Wild Waters Festival and the College Invasion in Duluth, a set for KKWE 89.9 FM Niijii Radio in Mahnomen and the Iron Range Original Music Festival at Rainy Lake downtown in Virginia.
With their nominations, War Bonnet is now the latest Indigenous musicians from the region to be up for a N.A.M.A. In 2006, Secola won Best Artist for his album “Native Americana.” The band has played with Secola in the past and KBFT hosted him while he jammed out several weeks ago in Cook and Tower.
“This is just the beginning,” Wagner said.
Wagner and Parson have already been working on their second album, “The Ancestral Legacy,” which focuses on honoring the “warrior society” of Native Americans.
Data from the U.S. Department of Defense shows there are 140,000 living Native Amerians veterans and 31,000 American Indian and Alaska Native men and women are currently on active duty, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. At 18.6 percent, Native Americans served in the post-9/11 period in a higher percentage than veterans of other ethnicities.
“I want to honor a lot of the past chiefs, like Geronimo and Sitting Bull and the military veterans and active military not only in Native Country but all over the world,” Wagner said.
In the meantime, the members of War Bonnet hope to enjoy their time at N.A.M.A. and are eagerly awaiting the release of their first music video. This year, Wagner’s cousin, Cecilia Martinez — a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa — shot a music video for one of their songs. The track’s title “Ikwe” comes from an Ojibwe word that translates into “woman” in English and honors missing Indigenous females in Minnesota, as well as those who have been affected by domestic abuse. The video is scheduled to be posted next month on Facebook, YouTube and War Bonnet’s website at www.warbonnetofficial.com.