The free Flaming Lips concert at Waterfront Park last night drew more than just fans of the psychedelic rock veterans: A small group of activists were also in attendance, protesting the band over incidents involving frontman Wayne Coyne and the appropriation of Native American iconography.
Spearheaded by the national organization Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, about 20 protestors gathered near the venue's entrance, brandishing signs reading "Culture Is Not a Costume" and "You Still Owe Us An Apology" and handing out photos from Coyne's Instagram account of a dog and friends wearing feather headdresses.
"We wanted to make a statement, and make it clear we haven't forgotten," says Jacqueline Keeler, founder of EONM, which recently led a protest outside a Flaming Lips show in the band's native Oklahoma. In April, the group also protested outside Nike headquarters in Beaverton, demanding the company stop selling merchandise emblazoned with the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo logo. "Basically, we want to hold accountable anyone who appropriates our culture and shows genuine disrespect to our people."
The controversy over Coyne's use of Native American imagery originated in May after Coyne fired drummer Kliph Scurlock, allegedly for speaking out against Christina Fallin, a musician and daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin, who posted photos of herself online wearing a Native American headdress. Coyne came to her defense on Instagram, posting the aforementioned photos, which have since been deleted. He issued an apology in an interview with Rolling Stone, which Keeler calls "backhanded."
Keeler says the protest Sunday night was peaceful and largely without incident, though two protestors inside Waterfront Park had signs taken away by event staff. Representatives from Major League Soccer, which put on the concert as part of its All-Star week festivities, did not immediately return requests for comment.
Keeler says the crowd was "very open to listening" to their complaints, and that some audience members decided not to attend after learning of the controversy.
EONM is also planning to protest a performance by Ted Nugent, who's also appeared in concert dressed in Native American regalia, at the Portland Expo Center tomorrow night. In addition, the group is planning on drafting a letter to Mayor Charlie Hales, calling for a formal ban on cultural misappropriation at public events in the Portland area.
"We see Portland as an inclusive place and not a place where this kind of behavior is accepted," Keeler says.
[Ed. note—A previous version of this story misrepresented comments made by Ted Nugent. He referred to critics who tried to force the cancelation of a concert in Wisconsin as "unclean vermin," not Native Americans specifically.]