Welcome to the Utes Nickname Project, an effort to promote awareness, education, and research about the history and contemporary usage of Native American symbols by the University of Utah, particularly the use of the “Utes” nickname. On this website you will find a history of the University of Utah’s use of the “Utes” nickname, likeness, insignia, and other symbols; answers to frequently asked questions about the “Utes” nickname; access to archival materials related to the “Utes” nickname; lesson plans for college courses with a diversity focus; and more.
The Utes Nickname Project provides resources on significant issues surrounding Native American experiences, including sovereignty, (de)colonization, U.S. government-Native American relations, institutionalized racism, and Native American resistance. The Project is animated by three goals: 1) the creation of an accessible digital archive of historical and contemporary texts that document the use of the “Utes” nickname and other Native American symbols by the University of Utah; 2) the development of a set of lesson plans and other teaching materials that can by used by instructors at the University of Utah to teach about the Utes nickname and the University’s relationship to the Ute Native Americans; and 3) the establishment of research opportunities and collaborations that use the archives.
by Danielle Endres
American Indian images in 1933 Utonian.[i]
Ho-Yo mascot and Big Chief Alumni.[ii]
As long as our athletic teams are called the Utes, the Ute will be considered a mascot. And as a mascot, it has no hope for attaining the respect it deserves. The whole purpose of mascots is to arouse school spirit through laughter, antics and display. Animals and fictional characters are conducive to this role; human beings are not. Unless the U. is willing to accept the idea of Mormons, Blacks or Caucasians as mascots, it should no longer consider using Utes in such a way.[xix]
Further, in 1988, the ITSA argued against the live mascot/symbol, despite the support of the tribe, calling it “discriminatory and sacrilegious.”[xx] Even in the earliest manifestations of Northern Ute permission in the 1970s and 1980s and continuing through the 90s, American Indians on campus had mixed reactions to Utes symbols. Indeed, depending on its leadership, the ITSA alternated between support and opposition to the Utes nickname and affiliated symbols.
Figure 3. Live mascot/symbol used from 1985-1993.[iii]
Circle and Feather® logo, also known as the Drum and Feather logo.
Image from the Ute Proud website
Beyond these specific symbols, there are rituals and symbols that also tie into the connection with the Utes, and American Indians more generally. According to the Official Website of Utah Athletics, one the fan rituals is the “U of U Chop, which occurs every time the band plays a specific percussion song and involves MUSS [Mighty Utah Student Section] members forming a U with their hands and ‘chopping’ to the beat of the music” (emphasis in original).[xlii] A student who has been to several Utes football games described the U of U chop as uncomfortable because of its clear relationship to American Indians; the band plays similar music to what is used by the Atlanta Braves for the Tomahawk chop.[xliii] In addition to this ritual, there are other Ute symbols on campus. A statue of a “Ute Brave” is prominently placed outside the student union (see Figure 6) and the streets in Research Park are named after Ute Chiefs (e.g., Wakara).
The Ute Brave Statue outside the Student Union building.
The placard reads: “Ute Brave by Avard Fairbanks Gift of the Classes of 1946, 1947 and 1951.”
Photo used by permission from James Fisher.
We have assembled a wide range of archival records to assist students, faculty, and community members in their efforts to better understand the history of the relationship between the Ute Native American people and the University of Utah, and particularly the University’s historical use of the “Utes” nickname, symbols, and likenesses. In the archives you will find articles from the Daily Utah Chronicle, the University of Utah’s student-run newspaper spanning nearly 100 years; images and stories from The Utonian, the University of Utah’s annual yearbook (no longer active); key documents, such as memoranda of understanding between the Ute Indians and the University of Utah, appeals submitted to the National Collegiate Athletic Association after it encouraged universities to remove any potentially offensive references to Native Americans, documents pertaining to scholarships established to support Ute and other Native American students, and more.
In 1891, several University of Utah students began publishing a periodical called the Lantern. Although the Lantern closed shop just a year later in June 1892, by December 1892 the University of Utah had established a student-run paper of its own, the Chronicle. Since 1946, the Chronicle has been published daily. As such, the University’s newspaper offers an important record of transformations in the University’s engagement with the Ute people and with its use of the “Utes” nickname, Native American mascots, and other symbols, as well as of criticisms and debates about the University’s material and symbolic relationships with the Ute and other Native Americans. The Daily Utah Chronicle archives consist of more than 100 records, including articles, opinion pieces, images, and cartoons. Highlighted below are a few key records from the Chronicle. To receive access to the full Daily Utah Chronicle archives, email Dr. Danielle Endres.
- November 9, 1926: “Redskins Scalp Pioneer Eleven”
- November 21, 1930: “The Redskin Outgrows His Toys”
- November 9, 1933: “Hello-Homecoming Celebration Inaugurated”
- November 10, 1938: “‘U’ Homecoming Starts Indian War”
- October 20, 1947: “‘Hoyo’ Tagged on L’il Ute”
- October 20, 1950: “Indian Plays Important University Role”
- October 9, 1951: “Indian Youths Enter U on Tribal Grants”
- October 5, 1953: “Transfer Student Plays Hoyo for U Ball Games”
- October 29, 1985: “Return of the Ute Must Be Done With Respect and Dignity”
- September 30, 1987: “Chronicle Urges New U. Mascot”
- October 1, 1987: “New Policy Distinguishes ‘Utes’”
- October 6, 1992: “Abandoning Mascot Just a Politically Correct Concept”
- October 15, 1992: “Mascot Trivializes Tragedy”
- November 12, 1992: “Ute Mascot Increases Pride”
- September 29, 1993: “U. Considers Changes ‘Ute’ Mascot”
- January 3, 1996: “Search for Mascot Gives U. the Bird”
- January 17, 1996: “Red-Tailed Hawk to Generate Hysteria in Fans”
- February 20, 1996: “No Agreement Between Pres. Smith, Ute Leaders”
- May 14, 2004: “Swoop”
- September 1, 2005: “Tribes Should Get to Decide”
- September 19, 2006: “Utes Fed Up With U”
- November 4, 2009: “Ute Scholarship Program a Myth”
- September 17, 2012: “Native American Justice Revisited, Logo Debated”
- December 9, 2013: “Group Petitions for Name Change”
- April 16, 2014: “Ute Name Here to Stay”
The Utonian was an annual yearbook published by the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) from 1906 to 1981. Like most yearbooks, The Utonian included listings of students; images and notes about significant student activities; photographs documenting the year; and essays highlighting changes to the University landscape. Several volumes of The Utonian demonstrating the extent to which the University of Utah’s identity is entangled with Native American imagery, traditions, and lore. Like the Daily Utah Chronicle, The Utonian offers an expansive record of the University’s relationship to the Ute Indians and its deployment of symbols related to Native Americans. The Utonian archives consist of more than 300 records. Highlighted below are a few key records from The Utonian. To receive access to the full Utonian archives, email Dr. Danielle Endres.
- 1914: Utonian title page
- 1920: Images of “Ute Club” members
- 1926: Description of Utah football team
- 1928: Line drawing of University’s “New Camping Grounds” (football stadium)
- 1929: Utonian title page
- 1929: “The Story of the Utes”
- 1929: Description of Utonian theme
- 1930: Image of “Ute” mascot
- 1933: Illustration of “Ute Redskin” football player
- 1939: Utonian title page
- 1945: Freshman opening page
- 1945: Image of University students dressed as Indians
- 1947: Images of Homecoming decorations
- 1951: Image of Utah cheerleaders in Indian headdresses
- 1953: Images of Homecoming decorations
- 1956: Illustration of Native Americans
- 1960: Photo of live “Hoyo” mascot
- 1965: Photo of “Hoyo” mascot at Homecoming
- 1966: Photo of “Hoyo” at football game
- 1968: Photo of live “Hoyo” mascot on horseback
In 2003 and 2014, the University of Utah and the Ute Indian Tribal Business Committee co-signed Memoranda of Understanding that outlined the intentions of both parties to support American Indian students seeking higher education. In the 2014 Memorandum, the Ute Indian Tribe “encourage[d] the University of Utah to use the Ute name for the University’s sports programs with its full support.” This archive includes the 2003 Memorandum, a 2005 renewal, and the 2014 memorandum, as well as related documents.
- 2003 “Memorandum of Understanding”
- 2005 “Memorandum of Understanding Renewal”
- 2014 “Memorandum of Understanding”
- Ute Indian Tribal Business Committee Request for New Memorandum of Understanding, 2013
- “Ute Indian Tribe and University of Utah Renew Agreement,” University of Utah News, April 15, 2014
- “Ute Indian Tribe and U Renew Agreement,” FYI Faculty for News and Staff, April 25, 2014
In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) issued guidelines to its member schools, including the University of Utah, that “[prohibited] colleges or universities with hostile or abusive mascots, nicknames or imagery from hosting any NCAA championship competitions.” The University of Utah was found to be potentially in violation of the 2005 policy. Former University of Utah president Michael K. Young filed an appeal to this decision on August 31, 2005, with support from both the Ute Indian Business Tribal Council and the Mountain West athletic conference. The University won the appeal and the NCAA allowed it to continue to use the Utes nickname.
- NCAA press release: “NCAA Executive Committee Issues Guidelines for Use of Native American Mascots at Championship Events,” August 5, 2005
- University of Utah appeal to NCAA mascot guidelines, August 31, 2005
Following the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding co-signed by the University of Utah and the Ute Indian Tribal Business Committee, the University established a scholarship program for tribal members. Eligible students can apply for the Ute Indian Tribe Scholarship or the Native American Scholarship. Additionally, the Nick and Helen Papanikolas Scholarship Fund supports students who are members of Native American tribes.
- “U Establishes New Scholarship Fund for Ute Tribe Students,” University of Utah News, September 11, 2014
- Ute Indian Tribe Scholarship Details
- Native American Scholarship Details
- Nick and Helen Papanikolas Scholarship Details
Since 2014, the University of Utah has hosted a “Ute Proud” website, which includes information about the Ute Indian Tribe, the University’s relationship with the Tribe, and tips for respectfully cheering on “Utes” athletic teams. Over the years, the website has changed. This archive includes PDFs of the way the website has looked over the years. The current website can be visited here.
- 2014: “Ute Proud,” FYI News for Faculty and Staff
- 2014: Ute Proud Homepage
- 2014: Ute History
- 2014: Relationship
- 2014: Respect
- 2015: Ute Proud Homepage
- 2015: University of Utah Homepage featuring “Ute Proud”
- 2016: Ute Proud Homepage
- 2016: Ute History
- 2016: Relationship
- 2016: Respect
The Athletic Department of the University of Utah includes information about the school’s mascot, including brief historical notes, information about Utah athletic traditions, and promotional materials for the “Ute Proud” campaign. The current website can be visited here.
- “Utah Traditions,” University of Utah Athletic Department
- “Utah Athletics is Ute Proud,” University of Utah Athletic Department
- “Mascot/Nickname History,” University of Utah Athletic Department
Various groups have created and disseminated short videos through YouTube that document recent developments in the relationship between the University and the Utes nickname.
- University of Utah signs new deal with the Ute Indian Tribe
- The Tailgating Tale of Apache McLean and the Utah Utes
- Ute Tribe Utah Football Halftime Performance
- Ute Tribe Halftime Performance
Indigenous Students and Allies for Change (Coming Soon)
Frequently Asked Questions
No, in the early days of the University of Utah, athletic teams were referred to as the “Crimson.” Later, monikers like “Redskin” and “Indians” were adopted. In 1972, the University officially adopted the “Utes” nickname, abandoning others. In 2003, 2005, and 2014, the University co-signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ute Indian Tribal Business Committee that outlined its use of the “Utes” nickname.
The current mascot of the University of Utah is “Swoop,” a red-tailed hawk that is native to the state of Utah. Prior to “Swoop,” from 1985 to 1993, the University’s mascot was the Crimson Warrior, a University student dressed in traditional Native American garb. Before that, the University’s mascot was “l’il Hoyo,” an Indian caricature decided in a contest in 1947. Images of each of the mascots can be found in the Daily Utah Chronicle and The Utonian archives.
Yes. Beginning in 2003, the University and the Ute Indian Tribal Business Committee co-signed non-binding Memoranda of Understanding in which the Northern Utes give the University permission to use the “Utes” nickname. In 2005, the two parties renewed the Memorandum of Understanding and in 2014 a new Memorandum was signed. The Memoranda of Understanding archives includes these and related documents. Notably, the University does not have permission from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe/Reservation in Southwest Colorado or the Ute Mountain Tribe/Reservation.
In 2014, the University established two scholarship funds for Ute Indian students: the Ute Indian Tribal Scholarship and the Native American Scholarship. The scholarships were stipulated in the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding that both the University and Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee signed. The Memorandum declared that the University would create the scholarship “to support Ute students, and that an ongoing source of funds will be created from revenue sources such as merchandise sales, private donors and/or 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.” Applicants are evaluated on academic merit, leadership, commitment to citizenship, school activities and community engagement, in addition to tribal affiliation.
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H2 Professorship, University of Utah College of Humanities and Honors College
Diversity Requirement Fellowship, University of Utah Office of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Communication, University of Utah
Joshua Trey Barnett, Research Assistant