The University of Texas at Austin refuses to convey the remains of three Native American ancestors claimed for reburial by the Miakan-Garza Band of the Coahuiltecan people, a state-legislature-recognized tribe of Texas. The three ancestors, unearthed in Hays County over sixty years ago, are part of the University’s “collection” of more than 2,400 Native remains kept in cardboard boxes housed in a warehouse in North Austin. Now the tribe is asking Texans to help them secure these remains for reburial.
“We asked for our ancestors more than four years ago,” says Dr. Mario Garza, cultural preservation officer for the Miakan-Garza Band. “After years of letters, emails, and meetings, we finally got a letter of denial on July 7 of this year.”
According to the letter signed by Brian Roberts, director of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, the Miakan-Garza’s request was denied because the University was unable to identify a shared group identity between the remains and any group, including the Miakan-Garza Band. Documentation of shared group identity is considered during the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) process, which requires institutions to convey remains back to tribes for reburial.
“These remains are classified as ‘culturally unidentifiable’ which means that they are too old to associate with any known, federally recognized tribes in existence today,” says Dr. Garza. “We submitted documentation that our Coahuiltecan people are original Texas Natives who have lived here continuously for the past 14,000 years – these ancient remains belong to us.”
In 2014 the Miakan-Garza Band submitted a similar request to Texas State University for one set of remains unearthed in San Marcos, providing documentation of shared group identity with the “culturally unidentifiable” remains. The documentation was accepted, and the tribe was given possession of their ancestor after proceeding through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act process.
“We gave the University of Texas the same documentation that was accepted by Texas State University, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Review Committee, and the Secretary of the Interior, when those entities gave us one of our ‘culturally unidentifiable’ ancestors to rebury,” says Dr. Garza. “Why won’t the University of Texas accept the same documentation and let us rebury our relations?”
The tribal elders believe that the University wants to maintain the status of holding one of the largest archeological collections of Native American remains. According to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act database, approximately 3,500 culturally unidentifiable Native American remains have been removed from Texas and are held in institutions and museums throughout the country. Of those 3,500 remains, over 2,400 are held by the University of Texas.
“We believe that when a person is buried, they depart on their spiritual journey. When they are unearthed, their spiritual journey is interrupted and they are suspended in agony,” says Dr. Garza. “It is our obligation as indigenous people to return our ancestors to Mother Earth so they can proceed to the Great Mystery of the Cosmos.”
Members of the Miakan-Garza Band have been involved in repatriation for over thirty years. They participated in establishing the Comanche Cemetery repatriation burial grounds at Fort Hood in 1998, and in one of the largest repatriations of almost 200 remains at Mission San Juan in San Antonio in 1999. The tribe collaborated with the City of San Marcos to establish the first city repatriation site in Texas in 2016 and has reinterred seven remains there during the past three years.
“It is extreme arrogance for an institution to own the remains of a people and deny their descendants’ religious right to bury their dead,” says Dr. Garza. “We are now sending a plea to all people of good conscience: Help us to rebury our ancestors.”
The tribe is asking for letters to be sent to the president of U.T. Austin, Jay Hartzell at 110 Inner Campus Drive, Stop G3400, Austin, TX 78712-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, contact the Miakan-Garza tribe through their nonprofit, Indigenous Cultures Institute at https://IndigenousCultures.org or at ICIinfo@IndigenousCultures.org, call Dr. Garza at 512-393-3310.