I’m a Native American Banned from Commenting on Cultural Appropriation by Pink Pony

Frances Danger

Yesterday a local Oklahoma City band, Pink Pony, comprised of Steven Battles nee Pony (Chrome Pony, The Spy FM) and Christina Fallin (Public Figure and daughter of Current Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin) posted a photo entitled Appropriate Culturation to various social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram. The photo itself is striking, with a vibrant Native headdress offset against icy cool blonde hair, milky white skin, and serious Marilyn red lips.

The initial feedback on the photo was positive, with comments stating the beauty of the photo. Eventually Steven Battles added the tag #appropriateculturation, in an effort, he states, to more appropriately frame the debate.

At the time of that tag being added there were no comments on Instagram (where their content can no longer be found) or Facebook that would necessitate framing a debate. All that would change very soon however.

Eventually as the photo was shared across social media there was both feedback and backlash from Native Americans and those empathetic to the issue of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the act of “borrowing” from cultures not your own and appropriating them for your own use without knowledge or respect of their original uses or intent. This is typified in the Pink Pony photo as Christina Fallin flippantly wears a Native headdress that is traditionally reserved for Native Tribal Chiefs and not for members of unsigned Electronica bands.

Pink Pony was not unaware of this issue, as the title ‘Appropriate Culturation’ suggests. They posted this photo knowing full well that it would disturb those protective of their Native heritage and culture and yet they did it anyway. To make matters worse once the backlash began Pink Pony did not welcome debate as Steven Battles claims they were trying to do on with the Instagram hash tag #appropriateculturation. In actuality Pink Pony began a campaign to target and silence those that would disagree with them, a reality that they are taking great pains to hide from the general public.

This is a small sampling of the comments that were on the Pink Pony photo as of midnight Friday morning. They have been edited to remove identifying information, save for the author.

If you go to the Pink Pony page now those comments are gone, as is the photo. But it wasn’t the removal of the photo that caused the deletion of the comments. Whoever was the Administrator last night on the Pink Pony page was deleting any negative comments; so much so that when they were done this was what was left:

I had the honor of not only being deleted, but also banned from further comment on the page, all because I dared question why comments were being deleted.

I guess that’s one way to frame the debate.

Pink Pony issued a statement regarding the photo early this morning, explaining their reasoning behind the usage of the photo.  In the press release the band defends the use of the headdress, stating it was done with innocence and respect. There is no apology for the misuse of a sacred Native cultural item and, in fact, the statement dismisses the cultural significance by saying a woman in a headdress is beautiful.

Pink Pony is currently riding a wave of national publicity for this stunt (and a stunt it is). Pink Pony willfully and knowingly appropriated Native culture then silenced, and continues to silence, Native voices when it does not fit their particular narrative of how they wish to be perceived.  This is an issue not only of appropriation, but entitlement and institutional racism. Pink Pony feel that they are somehow entitled to use this culture because “pretty” overshadows the very real and very damaging disrespect shown to Native culture and ideals.  If Pink Pony truly had respect for Native culture and saw them as people and not as props they would listen to the feedback, accept help to further their education, and issue a heartfelt and appropriate apology.  Additionally, banning Natives from the discussion is indicative of their mindset in regards to Natives, i.e. “It’s ok for me to wear your pretty headdress and feel picked on when you don’t take it the right way so you should shut up about it and let me do what I want”.  Pretty it up all you want, but marginalizing and silencing Natives regarding issues of their own cultural heritage is nothing short of racism.

There is no room for debate where Pink Pony is concerned. Instead there is their canned press release and condescending and responsibility dodging answers to current comments on their page, stating they don’t see race or gender, which ultimately dismisses and once again marginalizes the culture they are profiting from.  It’s like someone gave them a book on how to act during a PR crisis and they chose to do the opposite. I’d laugh if it weren’t so sad.

Pink Pony would very much like you to believe that this is an open and caring conversation, as evidenced by the last post on their page. I’d take them up on their offer to facilitate the discussion, but this Native is still banned for daring to question them.

As disheartening as this incident is I do take solace in seeing the amount of support there has been for those who were upset by the cultural misuse of Native imagery by Pink Pony. I reached out to So6ix Magazine, who has worked with Christina Fallin as a freelancer, and they reiterated that while Fallin “… does indeed do outside business consulting for the magazine from time to time (she) is not currently and has never been employed by So6ix. Christina Fallin’s personal opinions and posts and those of her band, Pink Pony, do not reflect that of So6ix magazine. So6ix respects and supports Native American culture.” Josh Sallee,  a local musician and artist, was initially misidentified as the photographer for this shoot.  Sallee states “A photograph was released yesterday of a head dress claiming to be a part of one my photoshoots. That is not true and in no way does the picture represent me and in no way was the head dress used for my photos. I apologize to those offended by the image.”

This distancing from Pink Pony is not an attempt to dodge what may be a PR nightmare for the band and those associated with it. Rather, I see it as those from the cultural majority recognizing the need for sensitivity and respect for cultures not their own and giving that respect without qualification or equivocation of their comments, showing that it can be done and that at this point Pink Pony is simply choosing not to. It is that kind of willful and dismissive attitude that changes what could have been a learning and growing experience for all into an examination of hurtful racial attitudes and just how far we have to go as a society to address those inequities. Starting the conversation doesn’t excuse Pink Pony and their subtle racism, however. Only an acceptance of and learning from their ignorance can do that.

I contacted Steven Battles via the Chrome Pony Facebook page last night in an effort to get a comment regarding this piece. I would have done it through the Pink Pony page but as I’ve been banned I cannot send messages to the page either. As of press time I have had no response so the press release below stands as the Pink Pony response.

24 Comments
  1. What a bunch of entitled twats. I’m not surprised with Christina Fallin as she comes from money and is in a terrible band. The level of narcissism and short sighted unapologetic behaviors are telling of our media driven ignorant youth.

  2. It should be noted that all traces of this have now been removed from the Pink Pony Facebook, including their apology. The band has also removed the ability to post to their wall except as comments on existing posts and then only if you aren’t banned.

    So much for that discussion they claimed to love to have.

  3. I saw way too many abusive & hateful comments coming from so-called “sensitive” people/Native Americans. Maybe this is where all the abuse in Native American society/culture comes into play? The fact that a woman has no right to wear headdress because she’s is less than a man?

    Anybody who thinks this is “insensitive” needs to calm the f*** down and get over themselves. This is the same reason people can’t do the “chop” at Braves games anymore.

    Other than that, who gives a s***?
    More important things are going on in the world. Stop being so sensitive about things like this and do something to change things that are actually happening right now – like getting Fallin out of office.

    ‘Announcing “I’m offended” is basically telling the world that you can’t control your emotions so everyone else has to do it for you.’

    People shouldn’t have to censor themselves just to make you feel comfortable.

    Taking offense is your ego’s response to what someone else did or said. When you are offended, you are in an ego-driven state, which is, ultimately, disempowering and a victim mentality.

    • Gonna disagree with you. People do censor themselves all the time to get along at work or whatever, because in certain situations everyone recognizes it makes sense to not piss each other off, unless of course you’re antisocial and pissing people off is your goal. Witness Internet trolls. But ya know, being an asshole is just as much anyone’s right as it someone else’s right to be offended. I’m also going to point out that since you censored your curse words with asterisks, it demonstrates that you are censoring yourself to make some people less uncomfortable. Personally, I’m all about typing out fuck, shit, blah-bitty-blah. But I also won’t say the N word. I totally acknowledge that I self-censor, it’s part of getting along in a multiracial society that’s had a less than stellar history and present day narrative when it comes to real equality, addressing institutional racism, and all that jazz.

    • TS, I’m not asking anyone to censor themselves. Pink Pony can do whatever they choose, as demonstrated by this entire incident. They did exactly what they wanted with no regard for anyone but themselves.

      But freedom from censorship does not mean freedom from consequences. Pink Pony made a choice to post that photo knowing full well about cultural appropriation and then told Natives to shut up by deleting their comments and banning them from commenting. The attention they are receiving now is a direct result of their choices and their attitudes and every single bit of it was earned the minute they chose not to listen to the people they had disrespected.

      And as for not censoring anyone, you seem pretty ok with the fact that Natives were censored from their page. Why is it ok in your mind for Pink Pony to say what they want without fear of reprisal but it’s not ok for Natives and others to do the same? I’m not going to answer that question for you but I will say it’s contained in the very article you’re commenting on.

      And lastly, you can view the comments I left on the Pink Pony page in this article. Save for one, which was just a tag of Native Appropriations, they’re all here. There was nothing abusive or hateful in anything I posted, yet my comments were deleted and I was banned. Tell yourself what you need to to rationalize Pink Pony’s behavior but it’s clear that this goes beyond a simple “oopsy I didn’t mean to offend anyone” and does not pass go, does not collect $200 until it hits Native censorship and oppression.

    • I should also clarify that this isn’t about a woman in a headdress, not specifically.

      The headdress is traditionally worn by Tribal Chiefs, as pointed out in the piece. there have been female Chiefs, so it is not exclusively a male adornment in some tribes. There are some tribes that have clearly defines roles as to which gender can wear them as well.

      What Christina Fallin is wearing in that photo is a Warbonnet. Warbonnets have feathers that are earned in battle or in other ways. But make no mistake, they are earned, as is the right to wear them. The closest I can equate this to is a Purple Heart. If Pink Pony had high fashioned up a military photo shoot complete with medals that weren’t theirs and weren’t earned they’d be getting the same kind of feedback, although probably from a larger majority.

    • That was very disrespectful TS. Announcing that you’re offended is a way of expressing personal emotions and opinions and is a perfectly valid response.

      Not everyone will be as upset by cultural appropriation BUT that doesn’t mean no one will be upset by it.

      If some behavior offends you (or your religion, your ethnicity, your gender, your age group, whatever demographic you identify as) it’s okay to speak up. Unfortunately it does not guarantee that any one will have a respectful conversation about the behavior that prompted such emotional responses.

      I commend Frances Danger for trying to have a conversation about a photo that WAS offensive.

      Christina Fallin should not wear a headdress, not because she is less than a man, but because she is NOT a Native, and she has not earned the honor of wearing a culturally significant outfit.

      Would you wear a US Army uniform if you had never been in the Army, and had no relatives who served? Would you wear Tibetan robes if you were not a monk and had no background ties to Tibet? What about a bindi or a Star of David or the crest of Islam? Those are all cultural items, just like the headdress. If it is not your culture, please don’t wear it.

      And if your behavior offends someone, please apologize and keep that conversation in mind the next time you are tempted to borrow another culture.

      Yes, even something as seemingly benign as the Tomahawk chop at Atlanta Braves games can offend people. In that case, your intent was likely to enjoy a ball game, not to offend anyone. Offense still occurred, and therefore people should admit their actions were not as harmless as they assumed.

      In the case of Christina Fallin’s photo, they deliberately co-opted a tag that is normally used to point out cultural insensitivity and tried to make it a joke. When they received criticism, they deleted the comments rather than discuss anything. Then they went and banned Frances simply for asking why the post had been removed.

      It was not just some innocent costume choice (which still would have been wrong even if it wasn’t deliberate), Christina Fallin and Steven Battles demonstrated through their actions afterwards that they did not care who they offended and they did not want to take responsibility for the negative reactions their photo and their hashtags provoked.

    • I am an educator… and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

      In reply to this comment, “The fact that a woman has no right to wear headdress because she’s is less than a man?” – Historically, there were female warriors. So long ago, some women may have had a headdress. But do women wear headdresses on my reservation? No. We have our own regalia; and because we don’t wear men’s regalia does not make us less than men.

      And to these comments, “Stop being so sensitive,” and “Announcing “I’m offended” is basically telling the world that you can’t control your emotions so everyone else has to do it for you.” Additionally, “People shouldn’t have to censor themselves just to make you feel comfortable.”

      My response is that your own response lacks not only merit, but a clear thought process. You are basically asserting that Native Americans should not comment on this at all because everyone has a right to say what they want. Charging anyone who ‘felt offended’ with being ‘sensitive’, over-emotional, and further suggests that whatever people want to say about Native Americans being “sheep” is okay in a public forum. These statements are not only laced with discrimination and bigotry, but are illustrative of institutional racism.

  4. I mean, it was their page. They can delete comments. That’s not silencing you. Look see, you wrote your own article (very thoughtful overall) and I’m reading it.

    • It is their page and they can choose to do with it what they wish. What they cannot expect is to not have to deal with the consequences of their decisions and choices. I shouldn’t have had to write this because there should have been a respectful dialogue about this. The band claimed that’s what they wanted but then put a stop to it. That’s bothersome, at least to my mind.

      But thank you for reading and your comment.

  5. Entirely tautoko (support) this kaupapa… I’m a Maori from New Zealand and this often happens here, with our indigenous culture. Maori are often stigmatized, our cultural practices sneered at and devalued and then “appropriated” for commercial use in some way- and when Maori protest over inappropriate use WE are called racist, we are told this is one nation etc, we are told we shouldn’t be so exclusive.. we’re not!! We’re happy to share, happy to teach, happy to educate provided that our customs, our taonga (treasures) and our culture are respected. I imagine it’s the same for Native Americans: happy to teach, educate and share provided that the customs and culture is used in a way that doesn’t offend the people it comes from. Beautiful article; completely tautoko this! Should also probably add that whilst it often happens in NZ, many non-Maori will come out in support of Maori- thus while it happens often it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the majority that does it.

  6. I think it’s important to have our voices heard, be it by Pink Pony, Christina Fallin, or the overall media. I appreciate you posting this info. I wrote and sent the following email:

    “Dear Christina Fallin and Chrome Pony,

    I have come upon the above mentioned image, as well as the thoughtful response that you had crafted after the reaction of many Native people. I am writing as a person of undocumented Cherokee heritage, meaning I am not enrolled in any particular tribe or nation. Like you, I have had the blessing of experiencing Native American culture, through both the Chicago urban Indian community and many other nations across America. I understand being emotionally affected in a meaningful way. I think that the issue that arose for me with your “innocently adorning yourselves in our beautiful things” is that I believe actual thought went into creating such an image. I don’t believe you woke up one morning intent upon riling 95% of American Indian people. I believe that you were intent upon the creation of beauty as you understood it. It took effort to find a headdress, match lipstick to it, hire a photographer, pose for it, and post it. I am going to leave the issue of cultural misappropriation aside, for others to speak to it. I want to communicate to you my own personal concept of beauty.

    Our beautiful things aren’t things at all. They have a cherished cultural and communal significance. A life, intent and meaning unique to their creation, as all of us do. Our beautiful things aren’t things at all. They are the people who created them. The multigenerational intent and purpose of cultural persistence and perseverance. Our beauty comes in these forms and a sense of community. You’ve mentioned being touched by our culture, but have you yet immersed yourself in our communities in order to be involved and learn from our people? I mean more than books or articles or pow wows. I mean direct, continual, dynamic interaction with our people? When you do (and I encourage you to do so) it may help to understand the reactions you have encountered.

    You mentioned not wanting to keep yourself at a distance your whole life out of fear. Wonderful! That being said, my call to you is to actually do so and join in with community to learn. The statement of wanting to publicly acknowledge that your efforts are a show of this not wanting to keep yourself at a distance your whole life out of fear does not ring true until you step into community as a learner. In such a way, I think that you will come to understand how we define beauty and why the aforementioned image has absolutely no reflection of it. To do otherwise is somewhat akin to being an armchair activist, sitting in front of your TV pontificating on the issues of the day from the comfort of your armchair. In some respects, your letter indicates to me that you wish to be seen as anti-racist, that your intention was never to be seen as racist. Yet, in the claims made in your letter, in the absence of actual action, it reads as nothing more than an armchair anti-racist rhetoric.

    I believe you’re capable of much more than that, which is why I decided to write. I wish you well and hope to hear how your journey unfolds.”

  7. With all kinds of wrong on all kinds of levels, the irony of creating a hashtag that stirred controversy (it seemed to be slipping under the radar as “cute pic bro”) and claiming a desire to frame a debate, then slicing and dicing said debate into a stock framework of praise. That becomes symbolic of the entirety of their original photo: self serving, manipulative and exploitative. Then we some one defend them by attacking this author (and others also offended) as being super sensitive and needing to get over themselves? Like, really? Yep, they probably said the same of genocide, abuse, betrayal, theft, all of the pain and horrors colonization inflicted – just get over it and move out of the way. Fast forward, “post” colonization realities. We get to steal more and you’re just over sensitive. Shesh. Sorry, indignation affects my coherence clearly.

  8. Frances,

    thanks for the article. i too was online watching it all go down friday night, and i also was banned after making a statement about how inappropriate it was.

    i found it laughable the next day when pink pony were comment had they “encouraged discussion and feedback”, when just hours before myself and many other friend were banned.

    there’s a lot that is so wrong on so many levels i want to laugh, but i can’t. for the Oklahoma governor’s daughter to act this way, and have this deep a level of historical/cultural amnesia, really makes me question what kind of home environment she grew up in.

    more importantly, this ISN’T DONE. christina, when asked to comment on this head dress controversy on a local OKC news channel, said she was “waiting for this to blow over.”

    let’s not make that happen, she needs to issue a sincere apology and take a history lesson.

    mvto!

    • I love people who are respectful of all culture. You do not have to come from the same background as me to earn respect, you just have to behave with some sensitivity.

      I do not believe expressing emotions such as indignation counts as attacking or counter-attacking anyone and if that is your definition of a personal attack, it’s going to be that much harder for you to have a serious conversation about anything even remotely controversial or provocative.

    • sounds like a uneducated drug user with out a clue in direction in her life , educated citizens protect there characters better this looks like a crack band of the 1990s

  9. Pingback: Interview with Reverend John Norwood | Writing Possibilities

  10. “innocently adorning yourselves in our beautiful things”….that we acquired after kicking you out of your homes and/or murdering you.

    Am I super sick for thinking that would easily fit into her “apology”?

  11. It is funny coming across discussion/rants about multiculturalism. Months after its conclusion.
    Can we just look at this whole argument in a rational form. It is the truth that what was worn is in fact a war bonnet, these are in actuality rare pieces. So rare in fact it is a Federal crime to sell one, own one if it is NOT a family heirloom, transport across state lines, internationally without express permission from the BIA. Most people that own these do not in fact have a BIA card or a member of a recognized tribe/nation.
    Now, the caveat of this whole discussion, That we make a claim about the disparity of a female wearing a war bonnet. Culturally wrong, wearing a War Bonnet. However, in many cultures women are the wearers of such feathered adornment, the Mayan, the Aztec and the Inca. These were to show wealth and station in their lives. We must remember “WE” live in a culture”Europeans” that have spanned the entire globe, taking and ridding the global populace of cultures, rituals, freedoms and land “discoveries”.It was and is still seen as an inherent right to do this to save “people” and not the savage. This is what over 2000 years of incongruity has accomplished. This has been going since before the time of the Gregorian calender Year 0. Items, cultures, dress, customs, languages were taken, destroyed, assimilated into other cultures. Instead of going straight to, this is wrong and you are wrong, the beginnings of a fight and argument. Stop and think, take the time to teach, to educate the unknowing of the tradition, the meaning and the history of these items. I have to teach young minds all the time, through group lectures, Ladies teas for what ever organization. This is how “WE” need to advise, teach and spread the truths about where we come from, why we see as we do, why Sioux, Apache, Cherokee, Lenape have the differences we do. And how we are similar in some respects. It is about respect we teach other Who, Why, What we are as Humans. When I get confused about fighting against a traditional European viewpoint and MY Indigenous beliefs and teachings, I stop and remember these words from a movie I saw long ago titled “Little, Big Man” Dustin Hoffman played the title character. After being found and raised by “Indians”, they were raided and found him. While in the white mans world he learned many things. But the most profound statement was ” I was thought to be a savage living with the Indians, Now I see that I am actually a Human Being, and My rescuers are really the savages.” Remember, as a human we can teach, as a savage we neither teach nor learn.

  12. Pingback: OKC.NET | Week in Review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *