Photos taken at a West Mountain Conference volleyball game between the University of Utah and the Brigham Young University show an unidentified fan holding up a dry eraser board with the words "Trail of Tears Part II" and "Back to the reservation for U."
"Native people are always being stereotyped and the more schools use Native people or images as a mascot it opens doors for bigotry and racial discrimination," she said.
Yazzie's explanation of the incident is plausible. The mascot's history plus the continued use of the "Utes" name encourages students to think in racial terms. Thus they say thoughtless things such as "Back to the Reservation for U" or "Trail of Tears Part II." To them "Utes" are basketball players, not real Indians.
Even if only one student produced the signs, you have to wonder. She obviously felt comfortable displaying them in public. That suggests the problem is much larger than one student's insensitivity. It's not as if the people around her groaned or shouted her down once they saw the signs.
Of course, she and her fellow BYU students are probably Mormons. They probably think Indians are one of the lost tribes of Israel. They're probably ignorant of how real Indians think and feel. Which is why they hoisted their sign.
Fortunately, the university reacted appropriately: denouncing the sign, banning the student from using it again, and apologizing to those who were offended. That's good. Every time we protest an incident such as this, people learn a lesson. Next time they'll be less likely to do something similar when the opportunity arises.
For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.