Christina Fallin, singer for the band Pink Pony and daughter of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, has drawn a lot of criticism from the Native American community for what has seemed to be a trend of mocking their culture. The outrage was kick-started by a photo of Fallin wearing a feather headdress; just as that controversy seemed to have died down, she caused more with a performance at the Norman (Oklahoma) Music Festival that Native protesters felt was baiting them.
Fallin feels she's been completely misunderstood, particularly when it comes to the Norman Music Festival performance, and that Native media has jumped to conclusions and practiced sensationalist "yellow journalism." Pink Pony released a statement that said as much on Sunday; nonetheless, Governor Fallin publicly condemned her daughter's performance on Monday. After expressing concerns that her words might be misinterpreted, she consented to an interview with Wilhelm Murg, Osage/Cherokee, who is a veteran journalist on the Oklahoma music scene. This interview was conducted via instant messenger, and has been edited only for grammar and clarity.
What do you think? Has Christina Fallin been treated unfairly by the Native media? Read what she has to say and let us know.
Let's start at the beginning, with the headdress photo shoot. You said you did not know it was offensive to Native Americans, yet protests have been going on throughout the nation about Indian mascots for two decades, and you live in a state with one of the highest proportions of Native American citizens. Your critics say that you must have known that it was offensive. How do you respond to that?
The facts are that I saw the headdress while I was helping out on someone else's photo shoot at a Native American-owned racetrack. It was a reproduction just sitting there in a private suite that we were working from during the shoot. I think Native American culture is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, so I was naturally drawn to it. I put it on, not knowing that I would forever be changed by that moment, and my friend took a picture with her iPhone. We all marveled at the beauty of the picture and I decided to share that with my followers on my personal Instagram page, not my band page. There were several people in the room and everyone thought it was a beautiful picture and headdress. No one warned me or anyone of the potential repercussions. As it was a beautiful picture, it rapidly got a lot of "likes", but it also got a lot of #culturalappropriation tags -- I didn't even know what that meant and had to look it up. I don't live my life worrying about things like cultural appropriation -- that's why I didn't know. I travel around the world, I buy things from different countries and cultures and they are incorporated into my day-to-day wear. No one has ever told me that that is wrong. I don't believe multi-culturalism should be feared because I am a person of this earth, not the culture I was raised in. I'm always looking for ways to expose other cultures to Oklahoma because it's important since we're not a hugely international state. So after my boyfriend and I learned about cultural appropriation, he put it on our Pink Pony facebook page with the caption "appropriate culturation" as part of a dialogue. A dialogue about: What is appropriate? What is culture? What is culturation? We just made that word up, but what is it? My boyfriend (Steven Battles of Pink Pony) gives people stimulating pieces of imagery and words because he's an artist and philosopher and he lets them create their own thoughts. That's what he was doing. But people who are looking to be offended will always be offended. And people looking to stimulate their mind, were stimulated. A lot of us in this community have been stimulated because of Steven.
Do you feel the Native American people ever have the right to feel offended when they see something they hold sacred being "desecrated," according to their cultural point of view?
Everyone has the right to be offended about everything if they want to be. Every individual cannot live by, or within, each person's rules, opinions, or standards. We all have different experiences and walks of life that guide us to our feelings and ideologies about things in life. I personally choose to not be offended by things because it's draining to me to be in an offended state of mind.
I'll also add just to be clear that it was never my intention to offend anyone.
But, even if you don't agree with their point of view, can you at least understand it?
I respect other's points of view that are not my own, yes.
That brings us to this weekend's show. Eyewitnesses stated that you wore a faux-Native American shawl or cape -- the words used interchangeably -- with the word "sheep" on it, and that your drummer did a pow-wow beat and you did an "Indian dance" of some kind. You say none of it was an attempt to offend Native Americans, but they took the term "sheep" as an insult directed at them, and you mother appears to have apologized on your behalf in the Tulsa World this morning. In your own words, what happened?
Photo courtesy Christina Fallin.
The cape was in no way designed or intended to look like a Native American shawl. I am sending you a clear picture of the cape from when I first got it. I didn't have it belted on stage. It was made out of heavy, quilted drapery fabric, and had yarn on the shoulders. It is an eggshell color on the fabric with mauve pink and off white yarn. If I thought it could be connected to Native culture, I would not have worn it because we were not trying to offend or incite Native Americans. The drawings and word "sheep" on my cape was against people who accept lies without proof. It was designed a while ago.
Christina Fallon on stage at the Norman Music Festival. Photo courtesy Christina Fallin.
I also wasn't "war dancing," I was just dancing how I dance. Anyone who has been to our concerts before and seen us perform would know that. We were doing a normal show. The drummer played drums for our original songs as we performed them and did not do anything beyond our songs or that resembled a Native American beat. With all of the cameras rolling there, wouldn't you personally think that someone would have posted that and it would have gone viral if that had happened? The dancing and drum beat is patently false information. I also explained the things you are asking about regarding any dancing or cape and the term sheep in our press release. In my words, here's what happened: I believe people got carried away with what they perceived us or our message to be, and journalists reported it as fact. Then more people believed it and it's spiraled out of control. And it points out my actual message, which was in no way aimed at the Native American community, that people can't believe what they hear and should always seek out the truth for themselves.
By "people who accept lies without proof" do you mean the protesters? Who I take it were primarily Native American?
No, I do not mean the protesters, nor Native Americans -- you jumped to that assumption just like other people have jumped to assumptions. As I just said -- it points out my actual message, which was in no way aimed at the Native American community, that people can't believe what they hear and should always seek the truth out for themselves -- but thank you for asking.
Protesters at Pink Pony's Norman Music Festival performance. Photo by Christina Owen.
So was "sheep" was aimed at anyone who believes lies in general or people who believe in lies about you in particular? And also, can you see how using just one word can get misinterpreted?
If you read the press release, it gives you the answer to your question: "The 'sheep' reference refers to those who blindly follow sensationalist yellow journalism rather than the truth. It is interesting that this cape, designed to convey this message, has been portrayed as a Native American shawl by the very same sensationalist, yellow journalism media it was meant to highlight." Sometimes I can't tell if you're trying to lecture me or get the facts from my point of view -- can you see how I interpreted your last sentence?
I'm just trying to show how it happens. People can interpret things negatively or positively or neutrally.
It's a matter of what you choose to believe about a person -- that's one way people interpret things.
So what about your mother's "apology," for lack of a better term? She seemed to be apologizing and she brought up her relationship with the Native American tribes of Oklahoma. Is she trying to "distance" herself from you for political reasons? What has she said to you about all this controversy?
All I'll really say about my mother's statement is that I love and respect her, but she wasn't present at the concert.
The original photo that kicked off the controversy.
In retrospect, you have any regrets about that photo with the headdress? And are you worried about this controversy derailing the career of your band? It has certainly been a distraction from your music.
If I had known it would incite hate and division, I would have avoided posting it, but I was and still am genuine about my appreciation of Native American culture and I was in no way meaning to disrespect it or offend people. Our band is something we do for fun and as a creative release. We do not sell our music. Music is a fun hobby.
What do you think about all of this now that you have my side of the story?
I understand what you are saying, and the debate over cultural appropriation is many shades of gray rather than simply black and white, but I don't know that you've said anything that will change the minds of our readers. I understand that you are unapologetic because you feel you have done nothing wrong, but there are a lot of people out there who will still feel hurt. I "get" that you were in a photo shoot, you put something on, and had your picture taken, and that started spiraling out of control, but you come across as not caring that people "chose" to be offended by it -- and I don't know that being offended is always a choice.
You don't think they'll care that I didn't do a war dance nor wear a Native American styled shawl? Because that's the issue that brought us together here today. I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings intentionally and I was not trying to hurt people’s feelings intentionally by posting a picture with the headdress; that's my point. I am very genuine about the connection I feel to Oklahoma and Native American culture. For the people who were genuinely hurt, I am sorry because that was never my intention. I also wasn't in a photo shoot -- that was someone else's photo shoot that I was present at.
Thanks for clearing up the bit about the photo shoot. I don't know if you've said you were sorry before, but if you did, it never seemed to get in the articles.
Well I don't typically talk to anyone -- typically it's best to remain less detailed and let it ride out, but I'm tired of all of the misinformation. No one takes the time like you did today to genuinely retrieve information.
From this weekend's performance it sounds like the protest started over the comment on the Pink Pony facebook page that mentioned "full regalia" as a joke. Many Indians took it as an attempt to bait protesters. Was it a reference to the headdress photo?
The original photo that kicked off the controversy.
That comment had zero reference to the headdress. We heard that rumor and wondered what regalia even meant. So we looked it up to find the definition of regalia, which is "the emblems or insignia of royalty, especially the crown, scepter, and other ornaments used at a coronation." We thought the rumor that we heard, which was "that Pink Pony was going to wear full regalia" was pretty silly because what does that even mean? To us, it didn't mean Native American regalia like it did to the protest organizer. "I heard Pink Pony was wearing full regalia," was meant as an empty statement to poke fun at a random rumor. After it was posted, Samantha Crain posted that we confirmed we were wearing full regalia via our Facebook status, which was an incredible misquote. She did not reach out to us for clarification if she was confused. And after we found out that she was organizing a protest, Steven, as a longtime friend of hers, sent her a message telling her we are not wearing anything Native American. She either chose to keep that information confidential and never posted the clarification and instead carried out the protest or there is a chance that she didn't see it, but she never mentioned after the fact that she received that information and she never clarified her misquote and still continues to say we announced via our facebook that we were wearing full Native American regalia.
There's a story going around that Wayne Coyne fired Kliph Scurlock from The Flaming Lips due to a dispute having to do with you. Scurlock told me he was "fired for telling Christina to go fuck herself after her lame-ass 'apology' when people got upset at her stupid headdress photo. That happened in mid-March." Do you have any comment?
My comment is that I have no part in making decisions about whether or not Kliph is a drummer for The Flaming Lips. That is their own internal matter.
So what is the future? You seem to feel you've been unfairly targeted -- do you think that will continue?
I think as a child of a politician, especially during an election year, and with more and more people learning how to use social media, I will always be a target of various blogs, groups, individuals, etc.
Do you see any of this as politically motivated, because of your mother?
From what I have seen, I believe a majority of many attacks are politically motivated. Cher performed at BOK in Tulsa a couple of weeks after my headdress photo and I didn't see anywhere -- on media or individuals on social media -- that there was any outrage for her wearing a floor length headdress for her music career. I see a huge double standard. I've had many friends send me cultural appropriation type pictures of some of the same people who have been speaking out. Here is how the Tulsa World has portrayed it: "Then, the curtain fell and on a pedestal, bathed in gold light with an enormous Vegas-style headdress was Cher, looking like the Goddess of Pop she is." And here's a Daily Mail article that actually has a picture of it. And there are several examples of this -- which is why the issue is many shades as you say.
Actually, Lisa Snell, owner of Native American Times, walked out on the performance and wrote about it. That’s a good example of where I said the definition of "cultural appropriation" can be a gray area: Some people were upset, while others pointed out that Cher has Cherokee heritage, and in their opinion that made it OK for Cher to wear the headdress. There were still others who did not care whether or not she was Cherokee, they were still offended -- because that headdress is not part of Cherokee culture, and moreover the prevailing view is that women are never allowed to wear them.
Yeah I get that, but I think there were many more people talking about the headdress I wore than Cher's around here. And I know the comments that people leave, which are "women do not wear war bonnets," "you're using a headdress to sell music," "you're not of the Kiowa tribe" -- the several hundreds of people who said that should have been blowing up the "interwebs" with those same statements for Cher. Also, until I stated it in my press release, people didn't know if I had any part Native American in my lineage. People were assuming that I didn't have any -- which I don't -- but they didn't know for sure until I gave the info in my press release.
The photos in this story taken by Christina Owen originally appeared at Red Dirt Report and are used with permission.