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  • Dispute Over Indian Graves Erupts Near Toquerville
    by John Hollenhorst, AP writer
    Published - 04/30/11 - 03:39 PM | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
    Paiute Indians are upset over a project planned near Toquerville, in Washington County. In question is a hillside with huge rocks and ancient history. The Paiute Indians claim the rock art is evidence it's sacred ground. (AP photo)
    Paiute Indians are upset over a project planned near Toquerville, in Washington County. In question is a hillside with huge rocks and ancient history. The Paiute Indians claim the rock art is evidence it's sacred ground. (AP photo)
    slideshow
    (Toquerville, UT) - A dispute has erupted that has upset and energized the Paiute Indian Tribe. Tribe members say the sacred burial place of a revered chief is in danger of being dug up to make way for development. But is Chief Toquer really buried there?

    When we arrived near Toquerville, in Washington County, we were met by nearly three dozen Paiute Indians, furious that sacred ground is threatened. But the official they're up against suggests it's a case of false information, rumors, or even legend.

    In question is a hillside with huge rocks and clearly an ancient history. The Paiute Indians say the rock art is evidence it's sacred ground.

    Jeanine Borchardt, chairwoman of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, said, "The rocks themselves, they tell a story of the people that were here, what they did, where they came from."

    They say their ancestors lived in the adjacent valley for hundreds of years and probably buried hundreds of loved ones.

    Corrina Bow, chairwoman of the Kanosh Band of the Paiute tribe in Utah, said, "You try to keep, you try to hold on to everything that you have of the people that have gone before you."

    But the Washington County Water Conservancy District has a plan. It wants to mine rock from the ridge top, which it says was surveyed by professional archaeologists.

    The district's general manager, Ron Thompson, said, "On the top they found no archeology there at all, in the area we would be working."

    The water district bought the land recently for $2 million. The plan is to use some of the rock to build a dam.

    "It primarily will benefit the east side communities of Toquerville, LaVerkin and Hurricane," Thompson explained.

    Toquerville is actually named for the chief at the heart of the controversy. Chief Toquer was respected by Indians and Mormon pioneers alike. The Paiutes believe the great chief is buried near the top of the ridge.

    Bow said, "Our ancestors are a part of us. We're all one."

    Gaylord Robb, director of economic development for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, said, "It's something that should be left sacred. It seems like there's no place left in the world for that which is sacred to the Native Americans."

    But the water district says other oral histories claim Chief Toquer is actually buried closer to town, some distance from the ridge it wants to mine.

    "We're not aware of any burials on this site," Thompson said. "If there are, they'll be avoided. We don't intend to trans-locate them. There is some rock art on that site and we intend to protect it."

    But Paiutes say human bones have been found on the site, along with hundreds of beads. The beads, discovered in the 1950s, supposedly came from Chief Toquer's burial vest.

    Thompson said if the district knew the chief's grave was on the property in question, it would respect that and leave it alone. "Absolutely, we would," he said.

    But among the Paiutes, trust is not high.

    Bow said tearfully, "We don't have a lot of our history. The little bit that we do have, they're trying to take it away."

    After our encounter with the Paiutes, they decided to rebury the beads out of respect for Chief Toquer. The water district promises to follow the law, but it wants the rock and is not backing off.
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