City leaders respond to concerns about depiction of Native Americans in Wellsville ‘Sham Battle’

Posted at 10:13 PM, Sep 20, 2017

WELLSVILLE, Utah -- People packed the city council room in Wellsville Wednesday night, to listen to discussion over the Wellsville Founders' Day Sham Battle.

The Sham Battle's been at the center of a controversy after taking place on Labor Day.

Wellsville City Manager Scott Wells said the event's been a part of the Founders' Day celebration nearly every year since 1930.

During the battle, people dressed as pioneers fight with people costumed in red body paint, war-style face paint and feathers.

An announcer tells the story of the founding of Wellsville, and says that the pioneers worked to protect themselves from the "hostile Indians."

After video of this year's event surfaced online, several Native American groups spoke out against the Sham Battle.

On Wednesday, those groups, along with citizens and local Wellsville residents came together for a press conference before the council meeting.

"There's definitely a problem when a city-sanctioned event like the Sham Battle occurs," said Robert Lucero, director of the Ute Political Action Committee.

They said the Sham Battle needs to end.

Darren Parry, Chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, said not only is the battle historically inaccurate, the way Native Americans are portrayed is an issue.

"They talk about the Natives sneaking around, spying, taking children: which was not true," he said.

Some have argued that the Sham Battle has become a town tradition, and isn't meant to mock or offend Native Americans.

"The perspective is, it has been going on for a long time," Wells said.

Both sides filled the council room after the press conference to hear what council members had to say Wednesday night.

Parry delivered a speech to the council, in which he asked the city not to move forward with the battle when celebrating Founders' Day. He explained the impact the portrayal has on Native American groups and the community.

"Have your celebration, but be historically accurate in how you depict us," he said.

He also asked the city to allow the Shoshone Tribe to be a part of the festivities.

"We would come up and perform our native dances, songs, bring our culture with us," he said. "Let the community experience that side of what you've been missing."

The council then spoke, and council member Carl Leatham offered an emotional apology. He said he's participated in the event many times and dressed as an Indian, and that he never meant any offense by it.

They agreed that the event as a whole went well this year, and they thanked the many volunteers who made it happen.

Mayor Thomas Bailey announced the forming of a committee that will include Parry and others in the community. They'll be tasked with discussing the future of the Sham Battle.

"The last thing they want to do is see anybody get offended," Wells said. "They wanted to look at it from a historical standpoint, and make sure that it was historically accurate."