The skeletons of 15 Indians who died centuries ago and have been gathering dust in the Utah medical examiner's office for years because no one wanted them will finally be reburied, a state environmental law specialist said Monday.
"I think we're finally going to get them back in the ground with a traditional Indian burial ceremony," said Grant Bagley, a member of the Utah attorney general's staff.The Native American People's Historical Foundation in Blanding, San Juan County, accepted the skeletons during the weekend, he said, and is working with state archaeologists "to find an appropriate site for the ceremonial reburial."
Bagley was an obstetrician and gynecologist for nearly 20 years when he decided to change careers and enrolled in the University of Utah law school.
While still in law school two years ago, Bagley attended a party and met a doctor from the medical examiner's office who told him of the skeletons, some of which are at least 300 years old.
"If you find a dead body somewhere in Utah, it's got to go to the medical examiner," Bagley said.
Most unclaimed skeletons are buried. Or, if they are Indian and the tribe can be identified, he said, the bones are turned over to tribal officials for reburial.
"As near as we can tell, most of these 15 skeletons were Fremont Indians," a tribe that disappeared from Utah hundreds of years ago. And the medical examiner's office "didn't feel comfortable," Bagley said, allowing them to be reburied without a traditional Indian ceremony.
"As a clever guy, I said, `I'll take care of it. I can solve this. I can find a satisfactory resolution.' That was two years ago. I didn't realize how difficult it would be," he said.
He picked up the skeletons "and kept them at my home. But they had been sitting in 15 boxes in my closet until Saturday."
Bagley said he "started going through the list of tribes," trying to find a group willing to accept the skeletons. But after initial talks, he said, "I never could get anybody to call back."
He then contacted the Utah governor's office, "but I didn't get anywhere. It's kind of a dead issue with them."
He rejected the University of Utah Natural History Museum "because human remains should not be an archaeological show. You don't see people digging up (Mormon pioneer leader) Brigham Young's bones and putting them on display."
But he finally found Stan Bronson of the Native American People's Historical Foundation, who agreed to accept the bones, even though they are not Navajo.
"The foundation represents the Navajos and the Hopis and a whole bunch of folks. They've agreed to hold an appropriate ceremonial reburial," Bagley said. "We're finally going to get it done."