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Peter Taksoe-Jensen, the Ambassador of Denmark to the United States, right, apologized late last week for comments he made in Solvang regarding Indian casinos "taking over the Danishness of Solvang."

Len Wood, Staff

A week after making remarks regarding Indian casinos “taking over the Danishness of Solvang,” Danish Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Taksoe-Jensen is apologizing to the city and local tribal members.

“I realize and regret that my remarks may have been misunderstood by some or may have been misconceived as more than an attempted humorous reference to the legend of Holger Danske … Please accept my sincere apology for any inconvenience my remarks may have caused,” Taksoe-Jensen wrote to Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson in a letter obtained by the Santa Ynez Valley News.

The ambassador’s comments came March 3 during the ribbon cutting at The Copenhagen House, an anticipated Danish design center in the town’s village center.

When developers unveiled the building’s centerpiece, a hand-carved statue of the mythological sleeping soldier Holger Danske, fabled to wake if Danish culture is threatened, Taksoe-Jensen said that he was sure “he will wake up someday if some Indian casino or some other stuff tries to take over the Danishness of Solvang. He will guard that.”

Taksoe-Jensen’s remarks gained international attention when Solvang City Council members began distancing themselves from the ambassador over concerns that the comments could damage the relationship the town has with the neighboring Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

The Danish village has for decades had what some city council members describe as “a rocky relationship” with the tribe, whose reservation and casino lay about five miles east of Solvang.

City council members, however, have been repairing their relationship with the Indian nation. More than a year ago, they became the only governing entity recognizing the tribe’s sovereignty.

“Please convey to your City Council colleagues and to Chairman [Vincent] Armenta of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians that my remarks were in no way intended to interfere with local affairs in Solvang and that it was certainly not my intention to offend anybody,” Taksoe-Jensen wrote.

Armenta could not be reached for comment.

Richardson, who received the letter March 13, described the remarks as a “faux-pas.”

“I think other things may have been going on in his life … I don’t know. He was trying to make a joke, but maybe he’s not a very good comedian,” Richardson said.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has purchased several former Danish-owned properties in town, including Hadsten House, Root 246 restaurant, and Hotel Corque, where Taksoe-Jensen was staying during his week-long visit for the Cultural Frontrunners Conference, a networking meeting to promote Danish culture in the U.S.

Members of the conference group visited the Chumash Casino Resort the night before the ribbon cutting, sources said.

“After almost five years as the Ambassador of Denmark to the U.S., I truly appreciate the cultural diversity that makes the United States a remarkable country where different cultures, beliefs and ethnicities thrive together. And I see the well functioning cooperation between the various actors in Solvang, including the Chumash Tribe, as a fine example of this strength,” Taksoe-Jensen wrote.

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Esther Jacobsen-Bates, executive director of Elverhoj Museum, who persuaded officials to make Solvang the location of the 2015 Cultural Frontrunners Conference, said the widespread circulation of the ambassador’s comments “wasn’t [the] goal with the conference, and clearly unfortunate remarks have a large impact, that’s for sure. It’s regrettable.”

Others said that despite a diplomat making the comments – and not a Solvang official – they could still cast a negative light on the town.

“Even though it was an ambassador from a foreign country making it [the remark], it was made in Solvang,” Solvang Councilman Hans Duus said this month.

Press coverage stemming from the comments, which spread as far as Denmark, did have a silver lining, Richardson said.

“The owner of The Copenhagen House [Rene Kaerskov] has gotten sufficient publicity and the town of Solvang has gotten more recognition. It has its good side. Its collateral damage was good,” Richardson said.

Taksoe-Jensen is being reassigned to India this year. His visit to Solvang this month marked his last official tour of the town as Danish Ambassador to the U.S.

Harold Pierce covers the Santa Ynez Valley as a reporter for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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