State officials overseeing management of an ancient American Indian village in east-central Utah said Tuesday that from now on they will consult with the state's Indian tribes over the site's future.
"We don't want to infringe on the rights they [the tribes] have," said Bob Morgan, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
Morgan said the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation will be working with stakeholders in the Range Creek ranch site near Price. That includes American Indian tribes in Utah and their members, who are worried about the possible desecration of human remains or sacred sites in Range Creek.
"We want to honor the treatment of artifacts and human remains," Morgan said. "We would hope the tribes would want to participate in the management. We want to make sure we are sympathetic."
The announcement that state parks would be handling the site came Tuesday during a tense meeting between tribal representatives and state employees, who together make up the Native American Remains Review Committee (NARRC). The group is supposed to make recommendations about the repatriation of American Indian human remains found on state lands.
But in the dozen or so years the committee has existed, it has rarely returned human remains to the tribes.
Forrest Cuch, director of the Division of Indian Affairs, presides over the group meetings and plans to make settling claims over human remains a priority.
Tribal leaders are frustrated with the drawn-out process. Some lashed out at archaeologists and state workers over the legal haggling about their ancestors' remains.
"I want closure," said Lora Tom, chairwoman of the Paiute Tribe. "Our intentions are to put these remains back in the ground, but there's always blocks in the road. This is ridiculous and I'm just tired." While state archaeologist Kevin Jones acknowledged the frustration, he said he didn't want to run into legal problems in the future if other tribes claim the remains that Utah tribes say belong to them. The problem lies with a "terribly written, clumsy law" as to how remains should be repatriated, he said.
The pain experienced by American Indians, who attend the remains committee meetings, is anything but hidden. Some cry during the meetings and dart tense looks when state workers try to explain why they can't repatriate remains more quickly.
Shoshone member Patty Timbimboo Madsen said she, too, was frustrated with the scientists and the slow process of repatriation.
"Why do they want to keep [the Indian remains]?" she asked. Is it for themselves? For a museum? To put on a mantle? For their grandkids? Do they want their name in the paper to say 'I discovered this?'
Karen Krieger of Parks and Recreation insisted there was nothing sinister going on. But she agreed that it's time for the committee to take some action.
"It's time we find out what happens [if recommendations are made]," she said.