Tsi-Akim Maidu remember tribal leader
It might have been Columbus Day for most of the country, but in Nevada City, it was Indigenous People’s Day.
Monday marked the fourth and final day of the 10th annual Indigenous Peoples celebration culminating with the annual Richard Prout Memorial Dinner at the Miners Foundry.
It was a feast of salmon and “healing of soul wounds” between Native Americans and non-Indians.
Richard Prout was the first tribal chairman of the Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe. He was 46 when he died of heart failure in January 2006.
Prout is buried at the Colfax Indian Cemetery, which remains mired in an ongoing and unresolved controversy.
Last year a storm-blown tree crushed Prout’s grave and a neighbor’s fence, triggering a series of events that led the Colfax Cemetery District to decide to lock the Colfax Indian Cemetery in January.
As reported in the Record, when members of the Colfax-Valley Tribe approached the Colfax City Council April 28 to ask that the cemetery be reopened, council members
and citizens in attendance expressed surprise and outrage over the closure.
There was, however, nothing that the council could do, because the cemetery, near the intersection of S. Canyon Way and Iowa Hill Road, is just outside the city limits.
Nevertheless, the resulting negative publicity and, according to reliable sources, pressure from Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery’s office, persuaded the district to reopen the cemetery in May.
Several dozen tribal members from as far away as Reno and Stockton converged on the tiny cemetery in late May. Some lovingly restored the gravesites of Prout and others damaged in the storm while others cleaned up the neglected, overgrown grounds.
Regaining entrance to their traditional burial grounds in time for the tribe’s cherished Memorial Day service (with full honors from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion) marked only a victory in an ongoing battle over who owns — and who should own — the Maidu Indian burial ground.
The cemetery district holds the deed and responsibility for the graveyard. They don’t want it.
They want to sell it for $37,000.
The Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe wants their traditional burial grounds back, but can’t afford to buy it. And don’t think they should have to.
There have been conflicting reports over the past months over whether the United Auburn Indian Community is, or isn’t, going to attempt to buy the cemetery.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, several sources close to the negotiations say the talks are stalled.
“We’ve always taken care of the cemetery,” said Richard Prout’s widow, Jeannette, on Monday. “We pay the water bills.”
She argued the district should just give the tribe’s ancestral land back to the people whose ancestors are buried there.
The district’s position has been that it would be an illegal gift of public funds.
Ultimately, the disposition of the Colfax Indian Cemetery must be approved by the little-known county agency — the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO).
Don Ryberg, chairman of the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe, was asked Monday why his tribe had decided host a memorial dinner for the leader of another tribe.
Ryberg explained he and Richard Prout had been close friends who had worked to organize the “descendants of the survivors” of the Maidu, Miwok and Nisenan peoples who were all but exterminated during the Gold Rush.
Their goal continues to be to gain federal recognition as independent Indian Nations, as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution.
Who: Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe
What: Hosting booth at Auburn Big Time Pow Wow
When: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17
Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn