An East County Indian band has labeled the theme of the 2017 San Diego County Fair, "How the West was Fun," as "extremely offensive," and called on the agency that operates the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new theme and logo.
Directors of the 22nd District Agricultural Association unanimously approved the theme for the 2017 fair and associated cowboy logo at their monthly meeting in October.
But last month, the agency received a letter from Angela Elliott Santos, tribal chairwoman of the Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, expressing her group's concerns.
"There was insufficient public review and participation in this decision. The logo is extremely offensive in light of the history and experience of genocide for the Kumeyaay Nation and other Native nations during the so-called settling of the west," Santos wrote.
Fairgrounds CEO and General Manager Tim Fennell planned to meet with officials from the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association, a consortium of 19 Indian tribes, on Tuesday morning, Dec. 20, to discuss concerns over the 2017 county fair theme and logo, said Fred Schenk, a member of the 22nd DAA board of directors, who sits on the agency's fair operations committee. He said the 22nd DAA is willing to make changes to address the issues raised in Santos' letter.
"When I read that (letter), my reaction was, I want to make sure we don't disappoint any group that we respect and want to have come to the fair," said 22nd DAA board member Fred Schenk, who sits on the agency's fair operations committee. "I want to work with anyone who feels that we didn't give adequate thought to the slogan."
At a board of directors meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, officials had been planning to unveil a new fair website, but that rollout was delayed while the issue regarding the fair theme and logo is resolved. As of this week, the Western-themed logo and theme were prominently displayed on the website.
"There’s a new sheriff in town and it’s You, partner. Grab your cowboy hat, pull on your boots, and ride on over to this year’s San Diego County Fair as we celebrate the legendary rough-and-tumble Wild, Wild West," reads the intro copy. The 2017 fair runs from June 2 through July 4.
The fair logo includes a cowboy rearing back on a horse, framed by cactuses.
Each year, fair officials develop a theme and logo and related marketing materials. Recent themes have included "Mad About the Fair," relating to Alice in Wonderland, and "The Fab Fair," celebrating the Beatles and other British invasion bands.
Schenk, who has served on the fair board on and off since 2003, could not recall a similar circumstance when the planned theme had offended a community group.
The fair always includes an exhibit hall dedicated to the year's theme, which is located near the entrance to the fairgrounds. Schenk said discussions had already been underway before the letter was received from the Manzanita band to include Native American history and culture in the themed exhibit.
In light of the letter, Schenk said, it is understandable how the theme could be offensive to Native Americans. While he hasn't talked to the group, he said he can anticipate that for Native Americans, the period of the mid- to late 1800s "wasn't fun."
Santos did not immediately return phone messages from a reporter seeking comment by presstime. In her letter, she cited several books that chronicle the genocide that took place during the late 1800s in what is now the Western United States.
One of the books was "Murder State: California's Native American Genocide, 1846-1873," by Brendan C. Lindsay.
"In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Euro-American citizenry of California carried out mass genocide against the Native population of their state, using the processes and mechanisms of democracy to secure land and resources for themselves and their private interests. The murder, rape, and enslavement of thousands of Native people were legitimized by notions of democracy—in this case mob rule—through a discreetly organized and brutally effective series of petitions, referenda, town hall meetings, and votes at every level of California government," reads a description of the book, which was published by the University of Nebraska Press, on Amazon.com.
Santos' letter concluded, "The Kumeyaay Nation is interested in working with the Del Mar Fair to meet their mission objective by developing educational and interpretive programs to accurately display the heritage of the Kumeyaay Nation for the general public."
Schenk said he is confident the 22nd DAA can work with the Manzanita band to satisfy its concerns.
"We'll work it out to make sure whatever slogan we have is one that will reflect well on the entire community in San Diego, all communities in San Diego. That's our goal and that's what we will achieve," Schenk said. "We want to make sure they feel welcome during the fair and we'll work with them to make sure they feel that way."