Okla. Governor’s Daughter Defends Headdress Photo
The daughter of Oklahoma's governor, who is part of a punk band and has posed for revealing photos at the state mansion, defended herself Friday after posting a photo of herself in a Native American headdress that critics called insensitive.
Christina Fallin, who is not Native American, wears a red-and-white feathered headdress in the post, which includes the phrase "appropriate culturation." The post says the photo was taken at Remington Park, a racetrack and casino owned by the Chickasaw Nation, one of the state's most powerful tribes.
The photo was posted Thursday to Fallin's Instagram account and the Facebook page for her band, but was later replaced with a statement saying she felt the "deepest respect" for Native American culture and asking people to forgive her for wearing beautiful things.
Fallin, the daughter of Oklahoma's first female governor, Mary Fallin, made headlines in 2011 after a photo shoot at the governor's mansion. A local magazine focused on 20-somethings posted videos from the session, showing her strolling around the mansion property in avant-garde fashions.
Those videos were removed from the magazine's website after some people said they were distasteful. Christina Fallin issued a statement at that time saying she was thrilled to be a part of the magazine.
The 26-year-old Fallin is currently a marketing consultant for and appears in another local magazine that features fashion trends, health tips and beauty advice. She is also part of a local band that describes itself as "electronic-punk."
In the past few weeks, she's also posted several photos from events with her mother: first one from the State of the State speech at Oklahoma's capitol and others from Washington, D.C., while at the National Governor's Association meeting.
The picture of the headdress quickly drew negative comments on Fallin's social media profiles, many of which were then deleted. Headdresses, historically worn by Native American warriors who received feathers for heroic deeds, are considered sacred items and are still used for some ceremonies.
Christina Fallin said in a statement that growing up in Oklahoma, she has been in contact with Native American culture her whole life.
"With age, we feel a deeper and deeper connection to the Native American culture that has surrounded us," she said. "Though it may not have been our own, this aesthetic has affected us emotionally in a very real and very meaningful way."
Before it became a state, part of Oklahoma was known as Indian Territory and was the landing spot for thousands of Native Americans forced to relocate there. There are 39 tribes based in Oklahoma, only some of which historically wore headdresses.
A spokesman for the governor had no comment. Scott Wells, president and general manager of Remington Park, said in a statement that facility officials were not aware Fallin posed for the photo and don't believe she meant any disrespect.
After previous cases in which retailer Victoria's Secret and the band No Doubt have apologized for using Native American dress, some say Fallin should have known better.
"Not only tribal headgear, but tribal wear at all is usually very sacred to Native Americans and usually part of ceremonial (events)," said Louis Fowler of Oklahoma City, who is Choctaw. "The fact that Christina Fallin even titled it 'appropriate culturation' means that she kind of knew what she was doing. There's a big difference between doing it stupidly and doing it knowingly."
Oklahoma ranks second in the nation in the total number of Native American residents, and Native American culture is deeply embedded in the history and politics. The state flag includes Native American symbols and a warrior statue sits atop the Oklahoma capitol dome.
Mary Fallin, a Republican who became governor in 2011, has been at odds with some tribes in the past, including in a lawsuit over water rights and the signing of an extradition order for a Cherokee Nation member. She has worked to build and improve those relationships since becoming governor, and has appointed a liaison for Native American affairs to her office.