The University of Utah Utes: Working Toward Understanding
In 2011, David W. Pershing, president of the University of Utah, promised the Indigenous Students and Allies for Change (ISAFC) he would slowly phase out the team name Ute as well as the feather and drum logo. But ISAFC co-chair Samantha Eldridge, Navaho, said Pershing changed his mind once the Ute Indian Tribe called for a Memorandum of Understanding.
Phil Chimburas, a council member of the Ute Tribe in Fort Duquesne, Utah, said it was too soon to discuss the MOU. “We are still in negotiation,” he said.
But Forrest Cuche, Ute elder, cultural advisor, and Utah’s former Director of Indian Affairs—a position he held for 13 years—said the MOU could include scholarships for Ute students and an educational plan. While the MOU is not expected to call for retirement of the name or logo, Cuche is in agreement with Ethridge that fan behavior must be addressed.
For Cuche, removing the drum and feather logo and team name “Utes” would be wrong. “I am totally against the name Redskin,” he said. “But we are clinging to the name because we are otherwise invisible in this state.”
“We are ignored as a culture and as a presence,” Cuche said, fearing that removing the tribal references will remove the Ute tribe from the public’s view entirely. “We want an education program that will instruct the university on the customs, culture, and history of the Ute people. They need factual information about Indian people today. We don't want to be depicted as dead and gone, and we also want to be reflected in the museum.”
Eldridge said the fan behavior at games is so disgraceful it is impossible for Natives to attend sporting events. “They used to put the drum and feather on underwear. T-shirts have Ute-aholics written on them. Students paint their face red and wear headdresses. The whooping, the hollering and tomahawk, at every game you will find someone like this.”
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