University officials wouldn't think of hailing the University of Utah as the home of the "Running Whites," yet they continue to promote the Ute Indian as the institution's traditional symbol, a Native American student said.
Inter-tribal Student Association co-chairman Diana Midthun, a Sioux Indian, is seeking support to convince the U. administration to change the University's longtime symbol, the Ute Indian."I think it's derogatory and ought to be changed to represent something that doesn't represent a race of human beings," Midthun said, suggesting the university consider the sea gull as its symbol.
But U. officials, calling Midthun's objections a "cause celebre" on the campus, say the 80-year-old symbol is a dignified representation of the 2,500 Ute Indians living in eastern Utah's Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation.
Moreover, many Native American students, faculty and community members support the portrayal of the Ute Indian as the school's symbol, said Ted Capener, vice president of university relations.
"The vast . . . vast majority think it's appropriate the way we're doing it," he said, adding that he gained approval from Ute Tribal leaders to use the symbol.
"The council said go ahead as long as you do it with dignity," said Maxine Natchees, a member of the Ute Tribe's ruling Business Committee.
Dan Edwards, director of the University's Native American Studies program
alled discussion of the issue an appropriate way to safeguard the integrity of Utes. But in a letter to Capener, he wrote he favored the symbol because it "calls attention to Utes . . . in a positive way."
The university would change the symbol, however, Capener said, if enough support to do so could be raised, if a symbol that captures the tradition of the Ute Indian could be found or if the current symbol lost its dignity.
"We want to be totally respectful of the Ute people, of all Native Americans, and if we ever cross the line on that, we want to be called to task," he said.
The symbol is perhaps most prominently displayed on the University of Utah football field where the Running Ute, better known as the "Crimson Warrior," a student dressed in Indian garb, leads the team onto the field before kickoff.
To Midthun, the Ute symbol is seen by most as a university mascot, an image she says "subjugates Native Americans to a lower level."
"You can call it a symbol but the majority of people will see it as a mascot," she said.
The Crimson Warrior doesn't accurately represent Ute Indians and is dressed in "anything they can find that looks like a stereotypical Indian," Midthun said.
Midthun equates the Ute symbol to referring to athletic teams as "whites" or "Jews" or "blacks." "I don't see that as giving the proper kind of image," she said.
But Capener said the Crimson Warrior is not a mascot and adheres to strict guidelines during his football game performances, appearing only at the game's beginning, and not remaining on the field as a cheerleader.
Objection to the Ute symbol is not new or limited to the U. The issue appears perennially on the campus but has never resulted in a policy change.
"I would just like to give it another try," Midthun said. The Inter-tribal Student Association will meet soon to seek a consensus on the issue, she said, noting that no formal position has been adopted. A petition will also be circulated.
Elsewhere in the nation, objection to the use of Indian mascots has led to the elimination of the symbol. New Hampshire's Dartmouth College no longer has an Indian symbol and in October, New York's St. John's University dropped its Indian symbol.