FORT DUCHESNE, Uintah County — After five years without a formal agreement in place, the Northern Ute Indian Tribe and the University of Utah inked a new deal Tuesday that will allow the school's sports team to continue using the name Utes.
University President David W. Pershing traveled to the tribe's headquarters in Fort Duchesne to sign the five-page memorandum of understanding in a ceremony that included traditional Native American singing and drum music, a prayer offered in the Ute language and the presentation to the president of a Pendleton blanket.
"It was very honorable that he came out here," said Northern Ute Tribe Chairman Gordon Howell. "It shows that they respect us and the name of the Utes."
The new agreement was reached after months of "respectful" negotiations, Howell said. It reinforces the tribe's support for the university's ongoing use of its name.
"More important, (the agreement) talks about education," Pershing said. "It talks about the relationship between the tribe and the University of Utah, and a big part of that is scholarships.
"We want to make sure that the students from down here who want to go to the University of Utah can afford to do that," the president said.
Howell and the other five members of the Ute Tribe Business Committee — the executive and legislative governing body for the nearly 3,200-member tribe — sent a letter to U. officials in November saying that the prior memorandum of understanding between the tribe and the school did not "go far enough to promote tribal human resources." The prior agreement expired in 2009.
The goal was never to force the school to abandon the Ute name, Howell said.
"We've always been really supportive of their use of our name," he said. "We are very proud that they use our name. It's not just a name to us. We're a very proud people."
In their initial letter, tribal officials said they wanted two specific conditions met before they would approve a new agreement:
The creation of an Office of the Special Adviser to the President on American Indian Affairs, which would 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.
The deal signed Tuesday does call for the creation of a position to advise Pershing on Native American Affairs. However, the job is an unpaid part-time post and there is no requirement that the person be Ute. Whoever fills the job will be appointed by the university with the approval of the Utah Tribal Leaders Council.
The council will also appoint at least two members to the advisory board of the university's American Indian Resource Center. A joint committee made up of two members appointed by the Ute Business Committee, and two members appointed by the university will also serve as advisers to the president.
As for scholarships, that condition was met. The U. has agreed to "secure funding to support Ute and other American Indian students while attending the university," according to the agreement. A specific scholarship for qualifying Ute students will be funded from revenues generated by the sale of university licensed clothing and merchandise, from private donors and "other sources to be determined."
"The intent of the agreement is that these funds will be dedicated to support Ute students and not diverted to other needs," the document states.
In addition to the creation of new advisory roles and scholarships, the contract requires the university to:
Prepare materials approved by the tribe that can be used to educate students, faculty, boosters and the public about the history of the Ute people and their contributions to the state of Utah.
Create and widely distribute "Standards for Appropriate Fan Behavior" to encourage respect for Ute traditions by those attending university sporting events.
Work with the tribe to build an educational outreach program for youth on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation and students on campus in Salt Lake City, including summer youth camps, college recruiting trips, and visits by U. athletes to the reservation.
Sponsor an annual opportunity for tribal members to attend university sporting events and meet with athletes, as allowed by NCAA regulations.
Honor tribal members with a special uniform worn by the Utes football team during a home game in November, which is recognized as Native American Heritage Month. An honor guard of military veterans who are tribal members will also be invited to carry the flags on to the field before a November home game.
Pershing added one other item to the list before he and Howell signed the agreement.
"The university made a decision this week to put a person out here, a part of what we call our Utah College Advising Corps," the president said. "This will be a full-time University of Utah graduate that will be (in Fort Duchesne) working with the high school and the high school students.
"If a child from the tribe is qualified to come to the University of Utah, we're going to encourage (them) to do that," Pershing added later.
Miya Cerno, a junior and the reigning Miss Native American at Uintah High School, called the promise of additional help with getting into college "exciting."
"I would consider the University of Utah," Cerno said after Tuesday's signing.
"I think when (my friends) hear about what happened today, I feel they would be more interested in going to University of Utah because it's who we are and they carry our name," she said.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: GeoffLiesik
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company