In March, Christina Fallin, the daughter of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Instagramed a promotional image of herself wearing an elaborate, albeit imitation Natuve American headdress. The tagline on the image read, “Appropriate Culturation,” which seemed an obvious play on the term “cultural appropriation” - the practice of adopting elements of one culture by another. The fallout from this promotional photo shoot sparked a series of events which culminated with a heated war of words and signs during the 2014 Norman Music Festival.
Christina Fallin’s use of the war bonnet to promote her rock band Pink Pony was seen as insult by many in the Native American community - where the headdress is highly symbolic and even sacred. Further, Christina Fallin’s tagline suggested that she was aware of the concept of cultural appropriation, and its negative connotations.
Fallin issued an apology for the incident, but further angered the American Indian population with a subsequent Facebook post which announced that her band's performance at the 2014 Norman Music Festival would be in "full regalia."
Singer/songwriter Samantha Crain is a member of the Choctaw Nation. She saw this announcement and quickly put together a protest via her own Facebook page.
Louis Fowler is the film and music critic for Red Dirt Report, an online newspaper directed at the Oklahoma City metro area. Fowler, also Choctaw, was familiar with the controversy and asked his editor if he could cover the NMF performance/protest in his capacity as a reporter.
“The show was in two acts. The first part was Steven Battles’ rock project,” Fowler said. “He immediately started goading the protestors, who were peacefully standing to the side of the stage, out of the view of everyone.”
Fowler says this compelled him to set aside his objective role as a journalist, and join the protesters.
“When I started seeing what was happening around me, when I started seeing the fervor of a lot of these people toward the protesters, it just clicked in me,” Fowler said. "I could not stand by, I had to support my people."
Fowler said the actions of Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne and his entourage only heightened Fowler's resolve.
“They were pointing and laughing at us, " Fowler said. "That immediately was like the first major hurt of the show."
Fowler said Battles called the protestors “haters” and extended his middle finger toward them. Soon thereafter, NMF stage security asked the protestors to leave, but Norman Police officers informed the security guards the protestors had the right to stay.
The second half of the Pink Pony performance began with Christina Fallin on stage draped in a cape with the word “sheep” written in large letters.
“She lifts the shawl over her head and starts doing a twirl, this just wasn't just like a typical twirl like somebody that's in a club or at a Grateful Dead concert," Fowler said. "She was stomping her feet like natives do in their dances."
Fowler said he and his fellow protesters were stunned.
“At that point we were all kind of like, ‘Are you for real?'," Fowler said.
Despite surrendering his objectivity by actively participating in the protest, Fowler went forward with his story for Red Dirt Report.
“I was almost crying when I was writing it, re-living the event," Fowler said. "It was hard to write because I have never really experienced anything like that before.”
Gene Bertman, chairman for the Norman Music Festival apologized for the events Fowler described. Governor Mary Fallin offered a similar condolence in a statement saying she did “not approve of her (Christina Fallin's) behavior on that night or that of her band.”
Louis Fowler said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the incident, but he’s okay with that.
“This is a tireless thing, this is something we have to work on and fight," Fowler said. "We made a dent but you know we still have to crush the whole car."
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