Ute Tribe Wants More in Exchange for Use of Name

SALT LAKE CITY ― The Ute Indian Tribe wants more in exchange from the University of Utah to continue allowing them to use the tribe’s name and logo for sports teams.

The Tribe’s business committee has requested a meeting later this month to renegotiate the terms of an agreement last revised in 2005, when the NCAA reviewed the agreements between schools and the tribes that served as namesakes. In a letter to University of Utah President David Pershing, the tribe says the current model doesn’t go far enough to promote tribal human resources.

They are asking for tuition waivers instead of scholarships for Ute students and the appointment of a Ute tribal member as a special adviser to the university’s president on American Indian Affairs. The business committee is the governing body for the 3,200-member tribe based in eastern Utah.

In the letter, dated Oct. 23 and first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, the tribe said it supports the use of the name with the goal to “ensure the continued representation of the Ute Tribe is carried out in a fair and accurate manner.”

Ute Indian Tribe leaders did not immediately return calls by The Associated Press requesting comment.

The controversy over the use of American Indian tribal names by sports teams has flared up recently, with some calling for the removal of the “Redskins” name by the NFL’s team in Washington D.C. President Barack Obama recently said he would “think about changing” the name if he owned the team.

The Ute name has also been a focus of criticism in the past, but University of Utah Vice President Fred Esplin said he would be surprised if it is a problem in the upcoming negotiations. He said the tribe has historically valued the use of the name by the school’s sports teams.

Esplin said school officials were not surprised by the request for the meeting, scheduled for Nov. 22. The 2005 memorandum of understanding, which is not a contract, expired and a meeting to renew it is overdue.

University of Utah sports teams have used the tribal name since 1972 when the university formed an informal agreement with the tribe.

Esplin said the university is aware of concerns from students and faculty about teams being called the Utes. The school continues to limit the use of the logo, which features two feathers around a round drum with the school’s block “U” inside. It is only used by sports teams, with the academic side of the university using only the block “U.”

The school’s mascot is “Swoop,” a red-tailed hawk.

“We’re trying to increase the use of the block U and trying to avoid and minimize the use of native American images that would offend native American people,” Esplin said.

The Ute Indian Tribe has never asked for royalties from the sale of sports merchandise with the name and logo, he said.

Esplin said the university will have to hear more about what the tribe wants on the tuition waivers before it takes a stand, but he said the school remains committed to helping Ute students get access to a college education. There are only a handful of Ute students at the university, based in Salt Lake City, he said. Most attend a campus of Utah State University located near the reservation, he said.