After almost a decade as the public voice, and many times the face, of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Frances Snyder has resigned from her position as the tribe’s public relations director.
A tribal member, Snyder began handling public relations for the tribe at the time it was preparing to open its Chumash Casino Resort in August 2003 and embarking on other business ventures.
In the years since, the tribe bought Solvang’s largest hotel and remodeled it, introduced a magazine, and bought 1,390 acres of agricultural property at the northeast corner of Highway 154 and Highway 246-Armour Ranch Road, among many other things.
Snyder said she felt it was time to move on to the next chapter in her life.
“I’m not retired, but not sure what my next venture will be. Maybe something in Indian gaming, something in fashion, something in Paris … who knows?”, she said in an email.
Her immediate plans include training for November’s New York City Marathon, which she last ran about 20 years ago.
Snyder anticipates that the tribe, led by her cousin, Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta, will continue to prosper.
“I look forward to seeing our tribe continue to thrive and build upon its foundation of economic strength. We have a dynamic and forward-thinking tribal leadership team that has led our tribe to success, and I have complete faith and trust that they will continue to do so,” she said.
Armenta said Snyder leaves a void that will be tough to fill and that her dedicated work has been very much appreciated.
“Frances Snyder’s contribution to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Tribe is immeasurable. Not only did she bring vast knowledge of public relations to her role, but she also brought a deep connection to her Chumash culture and tribal community. As a result of her tribal connection, she knew how to tell our tribe’s story in a fair and accurate way,” Armenta said in a written statement.
“In addition, she gave the tribe a strong voice not only in our local community, but also nationally by writing columns and speaking at conferences on behalf of our tribe. She leaves an amazing legacy that we will strive to carry on. We will miss her greatly.”
His father and her mother were brother and sister.
Prior to her time working for the tribe, Snyder was the public relations director for a couple of banks and spent most of her corporate career as an external communications consultant with companies such as Bank of America, Levi Strauss & Co., IBM, Visa International, Price Waterhouse, several small businesses and some nonprofit organizations
She holds a master’s degree in communication from Stanford University and a bachelor’s in journalism from San Francisco State University.
As the tribe’s director of public relations, Snyder oversaw all aspects of communications for the tribal government and its business enterprises — primarily the casino and hotel on the Santa Ynez reservation and Hotel Corque, formerly the Royal Scandinavian Inn, and Root 246 restaurant, both in Solvang.
“I made the decision to put my skills to work for my tribe,” she said. “I saw ways that I could help enhance the tribe’s image by providing consistent messages and a higher quality of communication vehicles that better reflected the direction of the tribe.”
She was responsible for launching Chumash! Magazine, a quarterly lifestyle glossy magazine placed in all hotel rooms and distributed through a mailing list, and Chumash Magazine Channel, a video magazine program that airs in hotel rooms.
Through the tribe’s accomplishments, such as releasing an encyclopedia-style dictionary of the tribe’s Samala language and through controversies in the Santa Ynez Valley, such as seeking to annex property or expand the casino’s liquor license, Snyder has been at the forefront of shaping the tribe’s message to the public.
“I worked with local media to develop solid relationships and help educate members of the media about Indian gaming, tribal government and issues pertaining to Native Americans,” she said. “When I first began working for my tribe, some members of local media thought it was acceptable to treat the tribe and its members disrespectfully and write about tribal government issues in a derogatory manner. It took a few years, but I believe that we have a great relationship with local legitimate media, and we now see fair and balanced reporting when it comes to the tribe.”
Snyder grew up in Arroyo Grande and visited her grandmother in Santa Ynez a couple of Sundays a month; her mother also regularly attended the tribe’s monthly general council meetings in Santa Ynez.
She lives in Truckee with her husband Mark.
On her official last day, Jan. 31, Snyder gave the keynote presentation at a national Indian gaming marketing conference at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage and on the following day she was part of a public relations panel at the California Nations Indian Gaming Association’s Western Indian Gaming Conference at the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon.
Snyder resigned on Christmas Day and stayed on an additional month, at Armenta’s request, to help with the transition.
Former KCOY TV co-anchor Nerissa Sugars, who joined Snyder’s staff in May 2008, has been named the tribe’s interim director of public relations.
Sugars said working alongside Snyder has been a valuable learning experience and they’ve formed a strong bond.
“When Frances first asked me about coming to work for her and the Chumash, I had just left my job at KCOY. Having been in TV news, I was very familiar with Frances and all she had been doing on behalf of her tribe. I thought, ‘How could I not come work for her?,’” Sugars said in an email. “I knew that with Frances’ background — from farm laborer’s daughter to Stanford grad to a major player in the corporate world — there’s so much I could learn from her, and I have. ...
“What only a handful of people know is that underneath that tough, no-nonsense exterior is a very funny, incredibly generous, and amazingly loyal woman. If there’s any upside to her leaving, it’s that instead of calling her my boss, I can now just call her my friend.”
Hildy Medina, a former Santa Barbara News-Press reporter, also got to know Snyder through her media job and went on to join the Chumash public relations department in June 2008.
Besides two former journalists, the public relations staff includes two tribal descendants — Tere Sat and Veronica Sandoval.
Snyder described her former team as the best she’s ever had.
“In all my years of working in a variety of PR-related positions, I have never had as much fun working with any group as I have had working with this team — and as a team we have produced a tremendous body of work,” she said.