By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
part 2 of 2
In 1973 Congress passed the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, which prohibits disturbing sites of human habitation over fifty years old. Seventeen years later the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act was made law, requiring that human remains be returned to Native Americans for reburial.
Still, there was nothing that specifically protected sacred sites--which might be nothing more than a crumbled stone altar on top of a mountain or even a mere depression in the ground--from vandals, artifact hunters or developers. And there was a new threat: the new-agers. Few transgressions angered those who wanted to protect such sites as much as discovering a new-age bonfire in an ancient kiva--which could destroy any efforts to carbon-date the spot--or modern pictographs scratched into rocks along with those centuries old.
Word of Frost's work with Roth soon reached the archaeologists with the BLM's office in Craig. They asked Frost if he would look at certain sites and help determine if they needed to be protected. As Frost's reputation grew, Forest Service archaeologists with the Routt National Forest contacted him to do similar work for them.
In 1992 Kight, the heritage resource manager for the White River National Forest, was planning a ceremony to mark the opening of the Ute Trail trailhead near Dotsero on the east end of Glenwood Canyon. The trail is a 58-mile trek between the White and Colorado rivers, much of which was once traveled by the Utes as they pursued game. Kight thought it would be appropriate to have Utes present, and he invited elders from the reservations to bless the event. He also asked Kenny Frost to attend.
Although Kight had received his archaeological training at universities in New Mexico, he'd also attended a seminary and felt a spiritual kinship with Indians who pursued their ancient rites.
The white and Ute archaeologists immediately hit it off. Following the ceremony, Kight asked Frost to check out a nearby location where he had found some artifacts that he'd been unable to place in context.
On the top of a hill, Kight pointed out a ring of stones. "It's a vision-quest site," Frost confirmed, noting the toppled stone altar. Bending over, he picked up a bright yellow rock that crumbled easily. "This is paint," he said. "Someone left it here as an offering."
Frost asked Kight to show him other sites. About a mile away, on the edge of a cliff overlooking Interstate 70 and Glenwood Canyon, Kight pointed out a jumble of sticks and a nearby wickiup--a type of teepee built against a tree. Farther up the hill was an ancient cedar; a scaffold built of poles lay across its branches.
"This is where a medicine man lived, probably with his family, to watch over the vision-quest site," Frost said, pointing out how both the spot on the cliff and the scaffold offered such a vantage. "He used the scaffold to get off the ground to pray. That's why it faces east.
"Over there," he continued, indicating the cliffs across the canyon, "there are probably paint caves--yellow, red and black."
Kight was impressed--especially after the paint caves were found. He began calling on Frost whenever a new site was discovered or an area needed to be checked before approving development.
As they worked together across Colorado, Kight began noticing that eagles almost always appeared when Frost was around. Other people, including Forest Service higher-ups, soon remarked on the same thing. It became a running joke--particularly if Kight happened to be absent when the bird was spotted--that the archaeologist and his Indian friend were arranging for the release of the eagles.
Frost enjoyed the joke as much as anyone.
As his friendship with Kight grew, Frost decided to move to Glenwood Springs. Working in the area, he'd started to think about holding a powwow and inviting all the Utes to visit the land of their ancestors. With the help of Kight, the Forest Service and other new Glenwood Springs friends, Frost's concept quickly took off. An April 1993 date was set for the powwow.
Frost thought it would be a good idea to have access to a sweatlodge, but there wasn't time to build one. He'd heard that Wallace Black Elk, who billed himself as a Lakota medicine man, had built one nearby.
But when Frost asked if the sweatlodge would be available during the powwow, Kathleen Menten, the self-described "lodge-keeper," told him it had been left in her care by Black Elk and that the Utes could not use it. Frost was outraged. Sweatlodges weren't supposed to be something you owned. They were for the people--and in this area the people were the Utes.
Menten eventually agreed to let the Utes use the sweatlodge after Frost threatened to go public with her refusal. But she also wrote an angry letter to the Aspen Times, accusing the Utes of "claiming sole ownership of spiritual philosophy" that she had a right to practice.
Nevertheless, the Ute powwow was a huge success. There were dances and the telling of old stories. There were visits to some of the sites Frost had found, and the elders debated which mountain or valley might be part of their legends. They left promising to return the next year, bringing more of their people back to their ancestral lands.