University of Utah and Ute Relationship “Never Been Better”


Red Spirit conducts opening ceremonies at the Ute Indian Tribe Headquaters in Fort Duchesne, Utah for the signing of the Memoradium of Understanding.

By Zoe Kozlowski

For decades, the University of Utah has used “Utes” as a name and the drum and feather as a symbol.

The relationship between the Ute tribe and the U has had rocky periods, but according to Fred Esplin, Vice President of University Relations, as of today, it has never been better.

While the institution has sought and received permission to use the name in the past, since 1999, when Esplin took over as VP of University Relations, the conditions surrounding permission to use the drum and feather logo and the Ute name have been rehashed twice.

Permission for use is granted by the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee, which is a governing body elected by the Northern Ute Tribe. They have the power to withdraw permission at any point in time and, if they do so, Esplin said the U would cease use immediately.

Representatives from the Ute tribe and the U came together to create the Memorandum of Understanding. This agreement outlines the purposes of the relationship and the priorities of both groups. The memorandum emphasizes the importance of the educational pursuits of members of the Ute tribe.

While there are not royalties or payments for the name, there are many initiatives to increase the rate of enrollment of Ute students at the U. The U holds athletic clinics on the reservation, brings Ute students of all ages to campus for events throughout the year and offers help with the application process. There is also a scholarship fund available solely for members of the tribe.

The memorandum outlines ways that the U can “use the Ute name with honor and respect, and share that commitment with the larger community.” This is being done through the constant expansion of the Ute Proud Campaign, which works to educate the public on Ute culture. More information can be found at

In honor of National American Indian Heritage Month, during halftime of one of the basketball games the U plans to host nearly 400 Ute Tribe members and recognize the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee, followed by a traditional drum circle.

The University is making efforts to preserve the tradition of the institution, while respecting the culture and symbols of the Ute Nation. There are people that believe they are accomplishing this goal and those who disagree.

“If you boil it all down, it is tradition,” said Esplin. “The tradition we have got is Utah and Utes and so the fans love it, the alumni love it and the tribe loves it.”

The Daily Utah Chronicle contacted the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee for comment, but didn’t receive a response as of the time of publication.

The memorandum of understanding can be found at

[email protected]