Native Americans honor their ancestors

Tribe members gather to clean cemetery
By: Tom Durkin
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Locked out of the Colfax Indian Cemetery for five months, three dozen members of the Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe returned Saturday to prepare the overgrown, damaged cemetery for Memorial Day ceremonies. By Monday, they had restored the property to respectability. Around noon, members of the tribe welcomed a contingent of the American Legion and Colfax Post 2003, Veterans of Foreign Wars, who held ceremonies in honor of their Native American comrades-in-arms. The Colfax Cemetery District reopened the small cemetery earlier this month, but the tribe balked at the restrictions imposed by the district’s insurance company. Nevertheless, with Memorial Day approaching, tribe members and friends from as far away as Reno converged on the half-acre burial ground Saturday with lawn mowers and weed-whackers. While some cleared the cemetery grounds of overgrowth, others tended the gravesites of relatives and ancestors. In fact, two of the gravesites receiving attention were ones crushed when a tree fell onto a neighbor’s fence last winter. One of those graves was that of Richard Arlen Prout, who had been the first chairman of the tribe, said his widow, Jeanette Prout of Roseville. She and two of her foster children repaired the perimeter of her husband’s grave with bricks. At a nearby site, Clyde Prout III and Janelle Marks restored Prout’s mother’s grave, which had also been damaged. Although the Colfax Cemetery District has re-opened the cemetery on a month-to-month basis, tribe members were upset by the restrictions, particularly the prohibition against hand-digging graves, a Native American tradition that has been handed down through the generations. Clyde Prout Jr., 58, said he was taught to safely dig graves as a teenager, and he hopes to pass on the tradition. “I want the old way,” he said Saturday. Having safely dug graves in Colfax and Foresthill most of his life, Prout said, “I’ve never had no problems.” There appears to be a consensus among the cemetery district trustees, concerned community members, and the tribe itself that ownership of the cemetery should be returned to the Native Americans. Complex legal and financial barriers stand in the way, however. According to available documents, the district holds the title to the property. However, the Indians believe the property was once in their name. No documentation has been found that shows they either gave away or sold the land. Additionally, Placer County’s Local Area Formation Commission, which has jurisdiction over the Colfax Cemetery District, has yet to provide any guidance on when, how or even if the district can sell or transfer title to the Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe.