Tribal leaders, University of Utah officials set to negotiate future use of Ute name
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
ROOSEVELT — Cameron Cuch feels a strong tie to the University of Utah.
He attended graduate school there, earning a master's degree in education. His father, former state director of Indian Affairs Forrest Cuch, is also a U. alumnus.
Both men were Utes, though, long before they set foot on the university's Salt Lake City campus.
Like his father, Cameron Cuch is an enrolled member of the Ute Indian Tribe, which lent its name decades ago to the state of Utah and its flagship university. And like his father, Cuch supports the university's continued use of the Ute name.
"The university has always had the support of the tribe, all the way back, for the use of the Ute name," the younger Cuch said Monday. "I'm proud of that."
That support has come through a series of informal and formal agreements that are once again up for negotiation.
Last week, the Ute Tribe Business Committee — the executive and legislative governing body for the nearly 3,200-member tribe based in Fort Duchesne — sent a letter to U. officials requesting a Nov. 22 meeting to discuss the future use of the Ute name and the drum and feather logo.
Attached to the letter was a copy of an April 22 Business Committee resolution which states that the prior memorandum of understanding between the tribe and the school "does not go far enough to promote tribal human resources."
Based on that finding, a task force composed of Business Committee members and tribal members who are University of Utah alumni was formed to negotiate with school officials.
Two specific terms the tribe will seek before inking a new agreement, according to the resolution:
The creation of an Office of the Special Adviser to the President on American Indian Affairs, which will be headed by a member of the Ute Tribe
A switch from scholarships to tuition waivers for all Ute tribal members who attend the university.
"There were a number of issues suggested by the tribe in their letter," University of Utah spokeswoman Valoree Dowell said when asked about the tribe's proposed conditions Monday.
"I'm sure those and other things will be on the agenda," Dowell said.
U. officials clearly understand that the Nov. 22 meeting will be an important one, if the school wants to continue using the Ute name and the drum and feather logo, something the NCAA allows only because of the tribe's ongoing support and consent.
"Some people — with American Indian mascots and logos — don't agree that that's the right thing to do," Dowell said. "Some see it as a symbol of respect and honor though."
That's how Cameron Cuch, his father and others members of the Ute Tribal Alumni Association of the U. see it. In a March 12 letter to the school's board of trustees, nine alumni association members voiced their support for the continued use of the Ute name and symbols.
"We feel other institutions throughout our state have largely ignored our people, the Ute Indians and our Ute heritage," the letter's signatories wrote. "To eliminate the drum and feather logo, and eventually the Ute name, thus our affiliation with the university, would be worse than disrespectful; it would be cruel."
Cameron Cuch acknowledged that "very few" Ute tribal members attend the U., where tuition alone for a full-time student taking 12 credit hours is $2,700 per semester.
"We have maybe one or two going to school there now," he said. "If our students get there, they're probably our best students and we need to support their success."
The tribe does that with scholarships, Cuch said, but there is a belief that the university should do more to improve the learning environment for tribal students.
"We simply want to make sure our history and our culture is being well-represented," Cuch said. "And we want to see that Ute (tribal) students, as well as other American Indian students, have the support they need to be successful at the university."
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