Once again, we are seeing a conflict between reverence and revenue, sanctity and symbol.
At issue is the University of Utah’s use of a graphic artist’s depiction of the Ute Tribe’s drum-and-feather symbol on its football helmets, athletic uniforms and fan paraphernalia.
Tribal members consider the drum and feather sacred symbols — the drum the heartbeat of Mother Earth and its people, the feather representing daylight and darkness, summer and winter. Entwined, they are a message to the spirits above.
And, after years of use, the U.’s symbol — most recently known as the “circle and feather” — has again created a rift between the eastern Utah tribe and university officials over the rewards each expected when they agreed to work together.
Isn’t this something that both sides should have been clear about at the time.? Didn’t both have vested interests to ensure that each kept promises made?
As I understand it, the tribe expected its students would get scholarships and other aid; the U. insists there was no “commercial” agreement.
In many cases, there’s a lot to be said about mutual trust. There’s also a lot to be said about a contract, which wasn’t drafted, according to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Lya Wodraska, who wrote about the controversy in Sunday’s edition.
Such a deal would have put some cement on promises of educational opportunities for Ute students. It would have kept the U. out of a debate about whether it was keeping its promises and whether the school and the tribe understand each other sufficiently.
Then there’s the “Block U” now being contemplated as a permanent emblem and, of course, of a fresh, fat stream of merchandising money.
Here’s a potential solution: At present, there are about 300 American-Indian students — only a few of them Utes — on a campus with nearly 32,000 students. The U. should reassess its responsibility to offer higher education and attendant scholarships not only to more Utes but also to members of all tribes in Utah.
Given this latest of many controversies, it just makes sense.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at email@example.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.