SALT LAKE CITY ― The University of Utah will keep its “Ute” name for sports teams under a new agreement announced Tuesday with leaders of the Ute Indian Tribe that also provides increased recruiting and financial help for tribe members.
The arrangement was spelled out in memorandum signed by university leaders and the Ute Tribal Business Committee, the governing body of the 3,200-member tribe based 150 miles east of Salt Lake City.
The university won’t pay to use the name and instead will create ongoing scholarships for Ute students and appoint a tribe member as an adviser to school administrators on American Indian affairs.
The document doesn’t specify where the scholarship dollars will come from, but points to merchandise sales and private donors as possible sources.
American Indians are the school’s smallest ethnic group. In the 2012-2013 school year, just 171 of its 31,520 students, or a little over half a percent, identified as American Indians.
Ute tribe business leaders last year said they supported the current name but sought tuition waivers for tribe members, as well as the advisory post, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
A student group in December petitioned the school to drop tribe references altogether, saying if it didn’t, it would constantly need to rework its policies.
In addition, keeping the name will prolong stereotypes and negative portrayals of Native Americans, Samantha Eldridge, a liaison for Native American Outreach in the National Education Association, told the Tribune.
Wearing mock headdresses and red face paint at games is inappropriate, she said.
The university said it is taking such views into consideration. Under the pact, sports fans will be given materials detailing Ute history and a list of behavioral standards at games.
Nationwide, universities have grappled with similar issues over the past decade.
In 2005, the NCAA cracked down on the use of American Indian symbols and nicknames.
The University of Utah is one school that has been allowed to keep its nickname with permission from local tribes. Another is the Florida State Seminoles.
Under the agreement in Utah, admissions workers will help tribe students apply to colleges. Players will continue to visit students on the reservation. They will also wear special jerseys to honor the tribe in November.
The university also promised more summer camps and other youth programs on campus and the reservation.
In 1972, the university and tribe leaders agreed on the nickname “Runnin’ Utes” and a warrior routinely rode onto the football field and drove a spear into a hay bale through the mid-1980s.
The school has tended to use a “Block U” symbol instead of the drum in recent years. Its official mascot is “Swoop,” a red-tailed hawk.
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