Websites and social media over the past couple of days have shown Christina Fallin, 27, wearing a Plains headdress as a publicity photo for her band Pink Pony. While musicians over the past several years have misused Native cultural symbols—Outkast’s performance of "Hey Ya!" at the Grammys comes to mind—there is one difference with this photo. Fallin, a former Oklahoma City lobbyist, happens to be the daughter of current Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin.
After the image appeared, Fallin and Pink Pony issued a release justifying the wearing of the headdress. Dated March 6, 2014, the release said the band is "eternally grateful" for coming into contact with Native culture by way of residing within Oklahoma. Furthermore, the release said that the headdress — referred to as one of "your beautiful things" — was being worn to show "sincere reverence for and genuine spiritual connection to Native American values."
The Plains headdress is an easily recognizable Native American symbol, yet many such as Fallin may not understand its deeply rooted significance. One particular Oklahoma tribe where the eagle feather headdress is worn by men—and women on specific occasions—is the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.
Summer Morgan, an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe, will wear a war bonnet belonging to a male relative as part of the scalp and victory dances as done by the Kiowa Black Leggings Women’s Auxiliary. A great-granddaughter of Kiowa Five artist Stephen Mopope, Morgan has the distinction of being an Oklahoma Ambassador of Goodwill.
According to Morgan, in the Kiowa tradition, headdresses are only owned by men. Each feather on the headdress represents a war deed that a man has accomplished, and that a man doesn’t brag about a war deed.
"A way for those deeds to be acknowledged is a woman—be it their mother, their daughter, their sister, a niece—they’re given the right to wear war bonnets so that these men can be honored," said Morgan. "By being given the right, there’s prayers that are said. It’s explained to each of these girls who are given this right what’s expected of them when they wear it, how to treat these war bonnets. What not to do and what they are allowed to do when they are wearing it. You can’t just pick it up and wear it. You can’t go and pick up anybody’s war bonnet. It has to be somebody from your family. There are dances, there’s songs and there’s times of the year where it is acceptable for women to wear war bonnets."
Morgan said that while Fallin may have had "the best of intentions, she may not have gone about it in the best way possible," and that "there are other ways to show and acknowledge that you have good thoughts or feelings toward Native American culture."