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Earlier this month, archaeologists officially confirmed the existence of human remains at Range Creek Canyon near Price. In turn, the federal Bureau of Land Management notified more than a dozen Indian tribes of the findings.
Range Creek has been in the spotlight since June, when national attention was drawn to its pristine Fremont artifacts. The state owns more than 4,000 acres in Carbon and Emery counties, where the artifacts are centered, while the BLM manages most of the surrounding land. The lack of tribal involvement at the site has raised the ire of American Indian groups, but the Aug. 4 notification letter and an invitation to the site later this month are the first steps toward making amends.
''There is a need to join forces,'' said Forrest Cuch, director of the state Division of Indian Affairs. Cuch made his first visit to the site Saturday and said he was pleased to find no excavation taking place. His main concern is preservation and security.
Duncan Metcalfe, curator of archaeology at the Utah Museum of Natural History and one of the lead archaeologists at Range Creek, sent a description of the four Range Creek sites with evidence of human remains to the BLM on Aug. 2. Two of the four sites were cataloged during pedestrian surveys in 2002, while the other two were found this year - one as recently as July 24.
Metcalfe's letter triggered the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, requiring tribal notification within three days and consultation with tribes who claim affiliation to the remains.
In the Aug. 4 letter to tribal representatives, Patrick Gubbins, the BLM's Price field manager, assured tribal leaders: ''The sites containing human remains were discovered because human bone was evident on the surface, having been exposed through natural forces. The human remains are in stable condition, and there are no plans to remove them or disturb them in any way.''
All four sites were ''found on lands we believe are administered by the [federal] Bureau of Land Management,'' according to Metcalfe's letter.
The slow movement in notification was a result of confusion over whether the remains rested on federal or state land, said Shelley Smith, a branch chief at the BLM's state office. Smith confirmed that all four sites containing remains rest on BLM land, according to Global Positioning System coordinates.
The BLM sent the letters to the following 14 tribal representatives: Northwestern Band of Shoshoni Nation; Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah; Uintah and Ouray Tribal Business Committee; Fort Washakie Shoshone Tribe; Southern Ute Tribe; Pueblo of Zuni; Laguna Zuni; Zia Pueblo; Shoshone-Bannock Tribes; Navajo Nation; Hopi Tribe; Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; Kaibab Paiute Tribe; and Nambe Pueblo.
The consultation followed outcry from tribal leaders in July after word of the human remains and the cultural significance of the site first filtered out. The Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians issued a complaint that month on behalf of tribes claiming cultural affiliation to the Fremont.
''It was done in complete silence and secrecy as if native Indians of Utah do not exist,'' the statement read.
Betsy Chapoose, cultural rights and protection director for the Ute tribe, late last month raised the question, ''What's going to happen from here? [State archaeologist] Kevin Jones has been quoted as saying they will involve the tribes when it becomes necessary, and my question is: At what point does it become necessary?''
Chapoose seems to have finally received her answer.