A new central San Joaquin Valley cemetery was dedicated Tuesday among the sounds of Native American chants.
More than 100 people attended the dedication of the Big Sandy Rancheria Band of Western Mono Indians Veterans Memorial Cemetery on its tribal grounds. The cemetery was built with a $200,000 grant from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The site here that they’ve chosen and everything that they’ve got is beautiful,” said Rene Diaz, president of the American Indians Veterans Association of Central California, taking in Tuesday’s ceremony in the lush Fresno County foothills. “It’s very indicative of service and the individuals that participate in it.”
Big Sandy Rancheria’s cemetery is the second cemetery for Native American veterans. The first belongs to the Yurok Tribe in far Northern California. It opened in 2014.
Big Sandy began planning its cemetery in 2013, tribal chairwoman Elizabeth Kipp said. It takes up about a half-acre with a paved standing area surrounded by cement pillars. In front of the pillars, a small sandy area is reserved for the graves. There is room to double the current capacity of 20 crypts.
Kipp said Big Sandy has a little more than a dozen veterans among its tribal membership. She said Big Sandy will consider for burial veterans from other tribes “who may not have a home or an area to be buried or interned.”
To conclude Tuesday’s dedication, the American Indian Veterans Association color guard conducted a flag ceremony and Ron Alec and Delbert Davis sang a blessing and closing prayer.
George Eisenbach, director of the federal veterans cemetery grant program, said, “I would like to tell you the story of a funeral that took place over 200 years ago led by a tribal leader. Motivated by the respect they had for the deceased when he was still living, the warriors had come to perform the last act of kindness it was in their power to give, that is, to bury them.
“Although written two centuries ago, I think that passage captures exactly the role of your new tribal veterans cemetery,” Eisenbach said. “That is, to bestow honor and tribute from all the veterans, warriors. To bury them with others that preceded them in war and peace.”