Utah's New Deal with Utes Mandates Freshman Education

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The University of Utah will continue to call its sports team "Utes" under a new five-year contract with the Ute tribe signed Tuesday. However, the deal mandates that the university educate incoming freshmen about the tribe.

According to its website, the University of Utah has used the Ute name with the tribe's support since 1972. As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, the university has supported scholarships for tribal members and agreed to support those students through graduation. Despite those efforts, Native Americans are the smallest ethnic group on campus, accounting for about 200 of 33,000 total students enrolled.

In addition, the school provides annual financial support to the tribe for K-12 education on the reservation in northeastern Utah. And it holds awareness events on campus about Native American culture and history.

According to the Tribune, the university specifically launched the Ute Proud program to showcase tribal traditions during football and basketball games and gymnastics meets, during which tribal members talk about their history and perform before attendees. They also teach fans about inappropriate behavior — such as wearing sacred regalia or red face paint — that dishonor the tribe and other Native American groups.

That said, this latest agreement is the first to require the school to teach all first-year students about the tribe at freshmen orientation.

“This agreement renews our shared commitment to building genuine respect and understanding of our tribe’s history,” said Luke Duncan, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribal Business Committee, "as well as our goal to support our youth in pursuing their education.”

Duncan added that with that new provision, he’s “pleased to continue” with the partnership.

Agreements of this kind are not common. In fact, schools at every level of sports competition are under pressure to stop using Native American nicknames, mascots and imagery. Some states — including Washington, Oregon and Maine — have banned the practice among high schools.

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