Navajo Singer Radmilla Cody Nominated For First Grammy

Feb 7, 2013

Navajo singer Radmilla Cody has been nominated for her first Grammy. She will likely turn heads at the ceremony Sunday in Los Angeles in her traditional Navajo dress and moccasins. But, the former Miss Navajo has never been afraid to stand out in a crowd. From the Fronteras Desk in Flagstaff, Laurel Morales reports.

Radmilla Cody's grandmother raised her on the Navajo Nation amidst the rust-colored plateaus and sagebrush. "You have all this land around you," she says. "I had to find entertainment. I would go out and herd the sheep and sing to them and sing to the salt bushes and the rocks. I mean everything had life."

It was here that Cody rode horses, carded and spun wool, lived off the land and discovered her voice. It was also during this time that she dreamed of becoming Miss Navajo. In 1997 she achieved that goal and became the first biracial woman to hold the title. She went on to pursue her next dream - a Grammy. But,  getting to this point has been rough at times. Cody says, growing up half African American on the reservation, even her relatives called her names. "My uncles were not too fond of having a bi-racial child in the family. They would make it known that was how they felt by basically belittling me, demeaning me," she says.

Years later when she ran for Miss Navajo Nation, some tribal members protested because of her dark skin. Because of her own struggles with racism, Cody is working with educators to replace a derogatory Navajo word for African American people with a more respectful one. Cody says, "I sat down with a medicine man and asked him about coming up with a new name. "What name can we come up with so we can empower our children? And he said to me in our ceremonies we call them "Naahilii". And so I sat there and repeated it. And I felt a big difference, I felt that empowerment."

Cody also works to empower victims of domestic violence. A survivor of an abusive relationship herself, Radmilla speaks out about re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act. The current version of hte bill would give tribal courts the jurisdiction to deal with non-native offenders. She quotes frequently cited statistics, like 1 in 3 native women will be raped. "This is very important because in the end it's about protecting our communities and our women who are sacred and give life," Cody says.

Her own violent relationship almost tore her life apart. About 10 years ago she was arrested and served 18 months in federal prison for her involvement in an international drug-dealing ring led by her abusive boyfriend. Cody says of the experience, "I knew even while I was doing time I needed to get to a place of balance, a place of harmony, a place of understanding, a place of inner peace before I could go out and help others."

It was traditional Navajo music that helped her through that difficult time. And if Radmilla Cody's name is called on Sunday, she knows she will also have to thank her grandmother Dorothy Cody, who gave her the strength to carry on. Dorothy passed away last year. When Radmilla got the call that she was nominated, the singer immediately looked toward the sky and said, "What are you doing up there? Are you in cahoots with Whitney Houston?"

After the Grammys, it's on to her next dream: getting her master's in sociology and putting a new spin on traditional Navajo music, maybe even adding African drums.