By Selwyn Harris
Pahrump Town Board members did not anticipate what unfolded during a special town board meeting last Thursday.
Two individuals who identified themselves as members of the Pahrump Paiute Native American Indian Tribe voiced their displeasure with the Veterans Memorial section at Chief Tecopa Cemetery.
The meeting was held exclusively for the Pahrump Veterans Advisory Board to approve procedures for the Veterans Cemetery Columbarium at the site.
A columbarium is a structure used to store the cremated remains of the deceased.
Pahrump Town Board member Dr. Tom Waters said the Paiutes attended the meeting to inform the town of their opposition to having a veterans’ memorial and cemetery section at the East Street location.
He added that while he understands the Paiutes’ concern for the land where the cemetery is located, he noted that their argument seemed a little misguided.
“They use things that are always negative. They talk about something that happened to a veteran back in the 60s or 70s and for that reason they oppose everything for veterans. I don’t understand it. I really do not. I think they should respect everything for veterans,” he said.
Town Board Chair Vicky Parker said it is not the first time that the same individuals have vocally opposed town proposals.
“They are the Native American family who live at the base of the mountain and they come in when we are trying to do something with Last Chance Park. They come in and oppose things like the fairgrounds. We had the open house on Mountain Springs about widening Highway 160 over the mountain for two lanes in each direction. They were even protesting that,” she said.
Board member Harley Kulkin noted that the individuals would have been better served by expressing their grievances when plans for the veterans’ memorial were in the early stages.
“They feel that the Native Americans are being brushed aside. I told them at the meeting and talked with them afterwards that when you show up at a meeting after a lot of people have done a lot of work and invested time and money, you can’t come up and say, ‘you can’t do that.’ I explained to them that they needed to be involved in the beginning,” he said.
Kulkin also said he offered a few suggestions to the group about how to work with the town on such issues.
“I suggested that they could get together at least five people and create a Native American Advisory Board. I hope very strongly that they do that because they can then be involved and give their input on things from the beginning. You just can’t show up afterwards and say we shouldn’t do this,” he said.
“They made a comment that they just want to be left alone. I tried to reason with them by letting them know that the system doesn’t work that way. If you want to have input and if you want to have your issues represented, you have to participate. I’m certain that I speak for the board and the town staff that we would love to have some Native American representation and do things to promote the culture locally. We need their help,” he said.
The cemetery is divided into sections where Native and non-Native Americans are interred.
The Veterans’ section is the newest plot at the cemetery.
Jose Tellas is the former vice chair of the Pahrump Veterans’ Memorial Advisory Board.
Tellas, a decorated Marine veteran, is also Native American.
On Wednesday, he said he was very disappointed with the Paiutes’ position on the issue.
“I told them that we are not taking over the Chief Tecopa Cemetery. The Town of Pahrump is letting us put in a columbarium in the veterans’ memorial on the community side of the cemetery. We don’t bother the Indian side at all. I told them that I’m Native American and I don’t like arguing with other Native Americans. These warriors fought for the United States of America and they deserve to be recognized.
“We are all Americans and I think a lot of it is thinking way back in the 1800s instead of the 21st century. I spent 26 months in combat and I fought alongside Native Americans, Koreans, and Japanese. You name it,” he said.
Tellas noted that through a little research, he learned that the individuals who are protesting the veterans’ memorial are not recognized by the state and federal government as an organized Paiute tribe.
“If they had something to say, they should go to Las Vegas to the Paiute area out there and talk to them and let them decide what they want to do about this. As long as we go by what the Paiutes in Las Vegas believe, we are in good standing,” he said.
Like Kulkin, Tellas also questioned the timing of the complaint about the memorial.
“Why did they do this at the last moment? This has been in the papers and on television about the columbarium and how much it was going to cost and all that. The town allocated the money for us to do this. Why weren’t they there in the beginning? They said they read it in the paper but they should have read about it all along. If they had a problem, they should have gone to the Paiute Council in Las Vegas a long time ago,” Tellas said.
When all was said and done, board members voted unanimously to approve the columbarium procedures where families can have the remains of loved ones who served in the military interred in the columbarium.
The board also accepted the applications of four local residents who want to serve on the Veterans Advisory Board.
Those individuals are, Bruce Cox, Richard Goldstein, Alice Lubbers and Ken Shockley.
Attempts to reach the two Paiute individuals who protested the town board’s action were unsuccessful.