University of Utah logo and Native Americans

I absolutely don’t want this to be a huge argument about the sensitivities of one group over another. I am just concerned about something.

Yesterday, I was getting gas at a station that is on Native American sovereign land. The gas is quite a bit cheaper than most places in California. I just happened to be wearing my University of Utah cap which has the U surrounded by a circle with two feathers coming off the left. It’s just in my rotation of caps along with the Dodgers, Syracuse, and my 2003 Syracuse wins the NCAA championship (yeah, I’m obsessed).

A rather robust Native American dude walked up to me and accused me of appropriating his culture and he found it offensive. He said I was just like those Atlanta Braves fans (which really hurt). I explained what it meant, that my university were called the Utes in honor of the local tribe. He then asked if the university had explicit permission to do so.

I actually didn’t have the answer. I think I’ve read something that the Ute tribe was OK with it, but I can’t find a document that says, “you can do this as you are honoring our culture.” Or something.

I don’t want opinion. I would like to know that my school has a firm agreement with the Utes to actually do this. Even when I was a student at the U back in the Late Cretaceous, I don’t think we did anything as offensive as Atlanta Braves’ fans. And I don’t think our logo is disrespectful or in anyway mocking their culture.

OK, I’ve written too much. I just want to know if I should put away my hat into a box and buy another Utah hat.

The Ute tribe and the University have a memorandum of understanding. So yes, they absolutely have an agreement, and one that benefits a number of Ute tribe members. Here it is:


Also, this happens at a halftime every year:


Thank you. That’s exactly what I want, although I’m not sure if it would have helped me in a discussion with the man. However, it makes me feel good. And proud that my University did this, including assigning the trademark to the Ute Tribe.


If you read through some of the things that are part of this understanding I’d be willing to bet there isn’t a university in the nation that does more for indigenous people. Scholarships, $100,000 a year for the tribe, proceeds from sales of merchandise, education of students and fanbase, a special advisor to the U president’s for Native American Affairs. List goes one.

It isn’t insignificant… and hopefully a win for all parties involved.


Yeah, I actually couldn’t believe how much our school was doing. This is a real agreement, not a bunch of weasel words that have little meaning. Again, it makes me proud.


Syracuse has more of a problem with its history of segregation through the practice of redlining. I bring it up how our local University destroyed a black community to make way for a Sports complex and got rid of a town that was founded by formerly enslaved people. Most Universities have an awful history.

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When I was a grad student at Syracuse, the mascot was the “Saltine Warrior,” usually a white kid in an inauthentic costume that was supposed to represent the local Onondagan tribe. It did not. The school banned it in the early 80s. We instead got a fearsome giant Otto the Orange. Ugh.

Syracuse University had an awful relationship with the African American community in Syracuse. But, they had black student athletes much earlier than most schools, which caused horrible problems when the school, which used to be one of the premiere football programs in the country, traveled to games in the South. Southern refs would call every penalty they could against our black athletes. West Virginia fans would throw crap (literally) at our black athletes.

I had a similar encounter a few years back. In this case, the native American asked me about the D&F logo first. I told him it was for the University of Utah, a state named after the Ute Tribe. But I did not stop there. I said the university and the tribe have an agreement over the use of these symbols, that the Ute Nation has approved of this use, while provisional. I added that the university provides money in scholarships for member of the tribe to go to the university. And I added, what others have shown here, that one home game per season is devoted to creating awareness of the Ute Tribe and for that game sometimes to players wear a special uniform as well. He was impressed, saying something like that is a cool design and a great relationship.


We all might benefit from reading this detailed lengthy yet challenging piece by Cassidy Hoff:

Ok, that was interesting. I loved the time and research that she obviously put into that but disagree with lots of it. I really don’t think fans are “playing Indian” (her words not mine) by calling themselves “Utes” or by calling former players “Utes”. When Washington refers to former players as “huskies” we don’t assume they are literal dogs or furries, we all know that just means former athletes or students at the school.

I haven’t looked at a media guide in a long while, but I agree with her that the media guides should be more uniform and informative about the Ute Nation (if the school hasn’t already rectified that).

I think it is true that there is a potential problem with the blurring of lines when it come to the Ute name being tied to athletics only but people assuming all students are Utes (which ties back to her “playing Indian” accusation which I disagree with).

I am proud that our University athletics are tied to the Ute name and I am proud to call myself a “Ute” as a graduate of the University (I recognize the contradiction and hypocrisy stated earlier) and I hope the Ute Nation will continue to let us use their name.

However, I would not be surprised in the least if in the next 20 years the university on its own decides the unintended offense, negative media, loss revenue, and general hassle are not worth it and just changes it to an animal (moose, cutthroat, etc.) or an inanimate object (red rocks). And sadly, I would support them 100% in that decision.


I was fortunate enough to talk with a Ute tribal elder, Lacey Harris, who was involved in the name change from the “Runnin Redskins” to the Utes, in 1972. He explained that what we call the “Drum and Feather” is actually the Ute’s sacred “Circle of Life” with the 2 Eagle feathers pointing upward to the Creator.

The Constellations piece has a couple of errors - the Utes’ historical land is the Wasatch Front and east, into western Colorado & down to the four corners area where the White Mesa band is south of Blanding, Utah, and the Ute Mountain band is in SW Colorado near the New Mexico state line.

North & northeast of SLC were the Shoshone, close cousins of the Utes, up into Idaho & Wyoming, and the western side of the continental divide in Montana.

West of SLC in the Great Basin were both the Western Shoshone and the Goshutes / “Nene” (desert people).

Utes, Shoshone, Paiutes & Goshutes are all related, same language group & I’m told they can understand each others languages, more or less, depending on geographic proximity.

For example, a younger Ute tribal leader told me the Utes of eastern Utah can understand the Shoshone of Windriver, Wyoming about 80% of what’s spoken, but struggle more understanding Great Basin & Idaho Shoshone dialects.

The tribe in Utah that is completely different are the Navajo, who came down from northern Canada maybe 1000 years ago, or so.

Here’s an archeology article that’s really interesting - the desolate land on the way to Wendover used to be lush & marshy, enough to support Whooly Mammoths, after Lake Bonneville drained: Humans used tobacco 12,300 years ago, new discovery suggests - BBC News


Thanks for doing the yeoman’s work on dissecting that piece. Like you, some I agreed with, some I struggled with. Lots of repetition of ideas too. Also, when I read it, the term woke came to mind and I wondered if this article was freighting ideas about how all colonialists were exploiters and discriminatory (e.g., akin to CRT).

The one point the author made that I did find interesting was on profiting from use of the name Utes, or even Utah, and in the D&F symbol. I have no idea if the university has a license agreement to use the Ute tribal name or the symbol. Does anyone know?

Also, when pondering all of this yesterday, I wondered and tried to find out if at anytime has a member of the Ute tribe been on an athletic scholarship for Utah. Football or basketball or something else. Does anyone know?

As far as dropping the name Utes, that would be a very sad day for me. I am really proud of the University’s namesake in sports and who the Utes represent. These people are a proud tribe, with an amazing history.


So, if “Utes” gets dropped from Utah Utes, then why would “Utah” still be OK?


My mind just exploded.


Yep same goes for Illinois.

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26 states


The Universities of Utah and Illinois are similar in that their nicknames both represent native peoples from which the State name is also derived (and by extension, the institution name). This creates a particular irony anytime one calls for removal of their nickname.

I believe Utah and Illinois are the only two that fit this description… or am I missing some?

I think that’s right. A team name change for those 2 could spark a discussion about the state name. Illini, meaning ‘man’ might have it’s own issues with gender equality.

I just wonder if the irony kicks off a broader discussion. I mean, I think it’s great we retain so many names based in etymology rooted in Native American languages (e.g. Alakshak - peninsula, quinnitukg-ut - at the long tidal river, Minisota - white water, etc.). Others are the peoples that inhabited those lands (e.g. Alibamu, Ioway, Kansa, Dakota) so I don’t think there are issues with those (although there could be sensitivities about borders and land taken). Some might be a little more questionable/problematic (e.g. Oklahoma comes from Chocraw “red people”).

I don’t know much about linguistics (only took an upper level elective :wink: , had Geico at one point, and regularly stay at Holiday Inns) or these types of issues. I’m just a hack googler who has not spent the necessary time to deeply understand it at the right level. I definitely don’t have much credibility to speak on these topics. Just a few thoughts.

I do love that we have solid communication and agreements with the Ute tribe and “Utah” and “Utes” is derived from ‘Yuta’ describing a people that lives high in the mountains. So, as long as they are ok with proper, respectful usage, awesome. Otherwise, I love some of the several other suggestions for mascots out there.

Of course, the caveat here is that Utah is taken from the SPANISH name given to the area/people. They certainly never called THEMSELVES “UTE”.