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6.7.04

Community Involvement Eventually

Indians Upset About Ancient Find in Utah

Some of Utah's Indian leaders are upset that state and federal officials said nothing to them about a canyon filled with nearly untouched ancient settlements, even though the inhabitants could be their ancestors.

Officials have known about the remarkable string of hundreds of sites in a remote canyon southeast of Salt Lake City since 2002, but tribal leaders found out about it through news reports beginning last month. Archaeologists showed reporters part of the area in the Book Cliffs region on Wednesday.

... State archaeologist Kevin Jones said American Indians haven't been notified because archaeologists haven't started digging yet for artifacts or human remains. He said he planned to notify tribes when that as-yet-unscheduled work begins.

... "I do support scientific study that leads to better understanding of humanity, but you have to do it in a diplomatic way," said [Utah Division of Indian Affairs director and Ute tribe member Forrest] Cuch, who plans to visit Range Creek in August.


Jones is exhibiting an awfully narrow view of what interest Indians might have in the site. It seems that to him, the only reason they'd care is if graves might be desecrated -- despite his statement that digging hasn't started, the article makes clear that there has been a good deal of survey work and even some radiocarbon dating done at the site. Jones seems inclined to only give the tribe what Native Americans have been typically successful in demanding, i.e., oversight of the excavation of human remains.

What's especially frustrating is that Jones' attitude appears so unwarranted in this case. I could understand his desire to move ahead as if archaeology were the only possible use of the site, and to grant the tribe only what he had to, if there was a reasonable expectation that the Utes would be hostile to any archaeology whatsoever. But if Cuch's statements are any indication, this was a case ripe for productive cooperation between archaeologists and a tribe with an interest in archaeology.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that it's worth being a little skeptical of how archaeology-friendly the Utes would be. It's easy for Cuch to take the high ground now. The real test will be whether he (and other Utes who would concur with him) takes an adversarial stance toward the whole excavation while claiming to be outraged not over the dig but over the principle of not being informed early enough.

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