Native Americans Protest Plan to Build Rail Stop on Historic Land

Tribes in Utah are speaking out against a proposal to develop a commuter rail stop on what was once an American Indian village.

In March, Gov. Jon Huntsman signed a bill paving the way for a possible land swap and the subsequent development of the Utah Transit Authority's FrontRunner stop and a surrounding private development.

The five tribes in Utah said Wednesday they plan to deliver resolutions to the governor's office opposing the project in Draper, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City.

"If this line goes through, we're going to be destroying a lot of history and this is the history of Utah," Jeanine Borchardt, chairwoman of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, said at a news conference in Salt Lake City.

Bruce Parry, chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, said the site is chock full of valuable Indian artifacts from a 3,000-year-old village.

"We've been told they found over 30,000 objects in less than one percent of the area," Parry said. "It's a significant, significant site."

He says the land is also valuable as wetlands and wildlife habitat and he noted an effort by state lawmakers several years ago to protect the land as open space.

The Utah Tribal Leaders Council, which includes representatives from Utah tribes, signed a resolution Wednesday opposing the development and calling for the land to be protected forever by a conservation easement. Councils from Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Nation, the Northern Ute Nation and the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation have also passed similar measures.

Among the objects found on the land are hearths, cooking stones, stone knives and spear points, tribal officials said. The site, which is just north of the state prison, shows signs of farming from 500 years earlier than previously documented in the region. Although its artifacts have not yet been thoroughly studied or inventoried, tribal officials said the site could prove to be among the most significant archaeological sites in Utah.

Tribal officials worry that if the land swap moves ahead, private developers could get control of the site to build offices, condominiums and roads.

They said they no longer want to be left out of the conversation about the future of the land.

"Are we so insignificant that we are overlooked?" said Curtis Cesspooch, chairman of the Ute tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. "I hope that's not the case."

No decisions have been made on the future of the proposed project, UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said. The site that's generated controversy in Draper is one of several under consideration and no swaps have been made.

Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert — who's expected to become governor next month once Huntsman becomes ambassador to China — plans to call a meeting with the transit authority, tribes and other officials to discuss a solution, spokeswoman Angie Welling said.