Miakan-Garza group calls for return of UT Austin remains

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About 100 Indigenous students from the University of Texas at Austin have come together in an effort to have UT return three Hays County ancestral remains to the Miakan-Garza Band of Coahuiltecan people.

Students shouted “give back the remains” during a pilgrimage and prayer event that took place on Friday. The Miakan-Garza Tribe intends to rebury their three ancestors in Sacred Springs Cemetery in the City of San Marcos, a cemetery they helped establish in 2016.

“We believe that when a person dies, two processes begin,” said Dr. Mario Garza, cultural preservation officer for the Miakan-Garza Tribe. “The body is buried first and becomes part of the life cycle of Mother Earth. Then the spirit begins its journey into the Great Mystery.

Garza added that “if the body is exhumed from the ground, it stops the natural process. The body is no longer in balance with Mother Earth and the spirit stops its spiritual journey and lingers in agony until the body is reburied.

The students who participated Friday gathered at the Winship Building, about three blocks from the tower, and made a pilgrimage to the base of the UT Tower where elders of the Miakan-Garza tribe waited to receive them. At the tower, the danzantes – people who pray through dance – had built two altars, one for their prayer dances and one for the ancestors. The Ancestor Altar had flowers and gifts, and displayed cardboard boxes to symbolize how 2,400 Indigenous remains are stored in a warehouse on the JJ Pickle campus.

The Miakan-Garza group began publicly seeking to secure the remains of their three ancestors discovered in Hays County, which are currently part of the University of Texas at Austin’s collection of more than 2,400 native remains as of 2020.

UT President Jay Hartzell announced in a September 25, 2020 letter to Garza that the university would quickly seek permission from the National Park Service to reinter the remains by seeking a recommendation from its review board. of the law on the protection and the repatriation of the Amerindian burials. The recommendation would allow the university to quickly offer the remains for reburial, Hartzell’s letter said.

“The University of Texas at Austin respects the Indigenous peoples who live and have lived in Texas and recognizes the spiritual and cultural significance of the burial of their ancestors,” Hartzell wrote in 2020. “I also recognize the special importance of this matter for you and the Miakan-Garza Band. We are committed to respecting your cultural and religious perspectives, while continuing to follow established legal procedures outlined in federal law.

Maria Rocha, a member of the Miakan-Garza and the council of elders of the Institute of Indigenous Cultures, founded by the tribe, said “this is why we are committed to reburying our ancestors”.

“Two years ago, the president of UT promised to return our ancestors for reburial; and he broke his promise,” Rocha said.

The Miakan-Garza Group says UT lawyers are fighting against the transportation of the remains.

“UT says it can’t return our ancestors because two federally recognized tribes oppose this transfer,” Garza says. “The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) allows federally recognized tribes to object, but this does not prevent the institution (UT) from passing on the remains. NAGPRA says that only if a federally recognized tribe wants to claim those remains, then the institution cannot pass the remains on to a non-federally recognized tribe. The tribes that oppose it do not want the remains of our ancestors. UT therefore has the power to transmit them to us.

The tribe says it has documents from a NAGPRA official that support the tribe’s claim that UT has the power and authority to pass on ancestry to the Miakan-Garza, despite all objections.

“UT also says we have not provided sufficient documentation to prove cultural affiliation,” Garza said. “We submitted the same documentation to Texas State University, the NAGPRA review board, and the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, and all three accepted that documentation. Why does UT refuse to accept this same documentation? »

UT claims the remains are prehistoric, meaning they are over 500 years old. The only native communities in Texas at this time were the Coahuiltecans, descendants of the Paleo-Indians of that region. The Miakan-Garza belong to Coahuiltecan communities and are linked to the three prehistoric remains that have been excavated from Hays County, the tribe said.

The Miakan-Garza Group said UT officials are looking for a solution to repatriate more than 2,400 remains from their collection, establishing a cemetery where they can perform a mass burial of all the remains. They intend to make this land mass the shape of the state of Texas. Miakan-Garza members, however, said they did not want to wait for this new cemetery, which requires the allocation of funds, the acquisition of a significant amount of federal land, obtaining the approval of recognized tribes by the federal government and preparation of burial sites for all remains. .

“First, we don’t believe UT will release its collection for reburial,” Garza says. “Secondly, if UT is successful in establishing this cemetery, we are talking many years from now. In the meantime, the spirits of our Hays County ancestors who lived at our people’s original site at Sacred Springs, continue to die while waiting for their reburial.

The Miakan-Garza group said several communities started a petition and sent it around the country. This document should be available soon on the website of the Institute of Indigenous Cultures: https://indigenouscultures.org/.

“We have an obligation to bring these ancestors home,” Rocha said. “UT does not respect our spiritual beliefs and that is the problem. UT sees this as a legal issue. We see it as a spiritual issue, a moral issue, a human rights issue. UT should do the right thing.

For more information, visit IndigenousCultures.org/reburial.

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