Fairgrounds reaches agreement with Native Americans on 2017 fair theme

Officials with the Del Mar Fairgrounds have reached an agreement with a group representing local Native American tribes over a change to the theme for the 2017 San Diego County Fair. An earlier version of the theme had been deemed as “extremely offensive” by at least one local tribe.

The new theme will be “Where the West is Fun,” and will highlight the history of the West and San Diego County in the mid-to late 1800s, said Fred Schenk, a member of the board of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which operates the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds and runs the annual county fair.

The agreement came Tuesday morning, Dec. 20, during a meeting between representatives of the 22nd DAA and the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, a consortium of 19 tribes, said Schenk. A representative of the association could not be reached for comment as of press-time.

“We worked that out and everybody is very pleased,” Schenk said Tuesday.

Schenk said the county fair website will be updated with the new slogan as soon as possible. As of Tuesday, the former slogan, “How the West Was Fun,” was still prominently displayed on the website.

According to Schenk, the original theme – approved by the 22nd DAA board in October – may have given the suggestion that the winning of the American West from Native Americans had been “fun.”

That suggestion offended local Native Americans.

“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,” Angela Elliott Santos, tribal chairwoman of the Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, wrote in a letter to the 22nd DAA that was also copied to the tribal adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Earlier, Schenk said, “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. 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 introduce a new fair website, but that rollout was delayed while the issue regarding the fair theme and logo was resolved

“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. Those efforts to incorporate Native American cultural contributions into the exhibit will continue now that the theme issue has been resolved, Schenk said.

Santos did not return phone messages from a reporter seeking comment. 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

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 the issue was resolved thanks to the prompt response by all parties.

“We were able to come up with a slogan that pleases everyone,” he said.