Putting the Ute Back in Utah: University of Utah and Indigenous Populations

Sadly, it’s easy to forget about the violence perpetuated against Native American bodies every day, and our whitewashed media, textbooks, curriculums, and media only make it easier. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, colonialism is not behind us, and violence against indigenous peoples is most certainly not Trail of Tears-exclusive. Today, we only seem to be adopting new methods/forms of colonizing Native American bodies, whether that violence be in the form of sexual assault, domestic violence, all-time-high suicide rates, or otherwise. But as a Utah resident and full-time student at the University of Utah, I believe it’s my duty (and my fellow students' duty) to acknowledge the Native American history behind our school, our state, and our nation, and work to put the Ute back in Utah.  

First, I’d like to take a second to humanize the Ute tribe that has given our school life, and give them a name and a face they are more than deserving of. To start, the Ute Tribe “is the second-largest Indian Reservation in the United States and covers over 4.5 million acres” (University of Utah). The Utes also “have a tribal membership of 3,157 and over half of the membership lives on the Reservation.” The tribe even “operates their own tribal government and oversee approximately 1.3 million acres of trust land. The Utes also operate several businesses such as the “Uinta River Technologies, Ute Tribal Enterprises LLC and Water Systems. Cattle raising and mining of oil and natural gas is big business on the Reservation.” (University of Utah). These are people walking among us. Descendants of the Ute Tribe are sitting next to you in class and shopping next to you at the grocery store, and more importantly, these are individuals we owe our history to. Without Indigenous land, we wouldn’t have a nation in the first place; and without the Ute tribe specifically, Utah would be nearly unrecognizable (as we have the Ute tribute to thank for our name).

With this in mind, the University of Utah is using its privilege to close the gap between white institutions and Indigenous culture. According to the official University of Utah website, the U hopes to “use the Ute name in a considered and respectful manner, reflecting the pride and dignity of indigenous people and their traditions.” But despite the University of Utah’s desires to “build genuine respect and understanding of the Tribe’s history,” and “assist tribal members in helping their children lead healthy lives and be prepared to pursue a college education,” we must, still, work to overcome centuries of whitewashed history. Sure, we may have moved away from cultural appropriation by rejecting the use of culturally-insensitive and disrespectful mascots (looking at you, Washington Redskins), but there is still work to do; and the first step is, undoubtedly, educating ourselves about the issues. So, here is some much-needed exposure to the dark-side of Native American/White relationships, with 5 facts about Indigenous populations our whitewashed media probably never told you about.

1. According to the NCAI Policy Research Center, "American Indians and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times as likely to experience violent crimes – and at least 2 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault crimes – compared to all other races." 

2. Among these victims of violent crimes, an average of 63 percent describe the offender as non-Native, busting the myth that a majority of these assaults are domestic cases with Indigenous perpetrators. 

3. Sadly, 39 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be subjected to violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, compared to 29 percent of African American women, 27 percent of White women, 21 percent of Hispanic women, and 10 percent of Asian women (NCAI Policy Research Center

4. According to a Quartz article "Native Americans are typically prosecuted under federal law for serious offenses committed on reservations,” he explains. “State punishments for the same crimes tend to be lighter.” As a result, since 2015 Native American incarceration has increased 27%. 

5. According to the Suicide among Racial/Ethnic populations, "despite the general decline in suicide rates as the AI/AN population ages, a recent CDC4 study found that AI/AN men and women ages 35–64 had a greater percentage increase in suicide rates between 1999 and 2011 than any other racial/ethnic group."

In order to move forward, as detailed by the University of Utah, we, as a university, must seek to understand the "tribe’s history, culture, and contributions to the state (past, current, and future)." To do so, we must combat our discomfort, and acknowledge Native American's turbulent history, the history that has continued to disparage Indigenous peoples today.  It is not enough to appreciate Native American's rich culture; in order to effectively honor these communities, we must address the good with the bad, so that we are able to "reaffirm the long and valued relationship between the University and the Tribe'" (University of Utah). 

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