Native American groups call Wellsville Sham Battle an ‘ignorant’, ‘racist portrayal’

WELLSVILLE, Utah -- Several groups and a number of people are speaking out against an annual celebration takes place each Labor Day in Wellsville, saying it's racist and historically inaccurate.

The Wellsville Founders' Day Parade and Sham Battle celebrates what locals consider the history of the founding of the Cache Valley town.

While people in town would say the battle portrays how pioneer settlers persevered against Native American attacks, others say that's not at all how history unfolded.

During the battle, men and women painted in red yell and fight with people dressed as settlers. A woman with a painted face said in an interview that she loves dressing up, and showing people how the town came to be.

"You kind of get to act crazy, and hoop and holler, and... like you're a threat," she said of portraying a Native American in the battle.

During the re-enactment, a wooden building is lit on fire, while an announcer reads the story.

"The settlers had to be cautious about the hostile Indians, and they had to guard their horses and cattle day and night," the announcer says.

The story goes on to outline the narrative of hard-working pioneer families who faced trials against Native Americans, a group who had decided, the announcer says, "the white men could not stay."

"The Indians thought they could burn the pioneers' building to the ground," the announcer says.

According to the story, a fight ensued with Native Americans in the Battle of the Bear River.

Ultimately, the announcer talks of how the pioneers stood their ground, and Wellsville went on to flourish.

"The pioneers, they were here to stay," the voice says to the crowd.

It's the portrayal of Native Americans, and how they're woven into the Sham Battle's narrative, that has groups upset. Among those reacting are the Ute Political Action Committee (Ute PAC), Utah League of Native American Voters, and Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue & Organizing Support (PANDOS).

"I just could not believe what I saw," said Robert Lucero, director of Ute PAC.

While he didn't attend Monday's event, he saw video of the parade and battle online.

"This is just nothing but a false portrayal, a racist portrayal," he said, of what he saw. "It's ignorant, and it's offensive."

Lucero also said the battle is not historically accurate.

"Pioneers were attacked by this outside force, is just a false narrative. It's just not true," he said.

Upon talking with historians and researching the topic, he said the Battle of Bear River is documented as a massacre of Native Americans by the U.S. military.

Seeing people painted in red, with war paint on their faces and running around 'hooping and hollering' is also disrespectful, Lucero said.

"To portray the Indians as the savages is just... We're supposed to be over that portrayal," Lucero said. "It's just not right."

Lucero said he hopes to spark healthy discussion and educate the community. He said Ute PAC is working with other organizations in the area and on the Utah State University campus to hold events and community meetings.

They're also planning a rally before the next Wellsville city council meeting.

He said he's like to see a response on what takes place during Founders' Day from the city.

"What I think they'd like to see at least, is that Wellsville come out strongly and say, 'We don't support a racist portrayal of the relations between settlers, pioneers and the Indians," he said.

Fox 13 attempted to reach to Wellsville Mayor Thomas Bailey and City Manager Scott Wells a number of different ways-- including by phone, email and knocking on their doors.

Bailey and Wells have yet to respond.