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Texas indigenous tribe calls for UT-Austin to return stolen ancestral remains

By Jake Holtzman |
September 13, 2020
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Dr. Mario Garza conducts a blessing at the Sacred Springs Powwow on October 19,
Dr. Mario Garza conducts a blessing at the Sacred Springs Powwow on October 19, 2019. (Rene Renteria)

Austin, TX – The Miakan-Garza Band of the Coahuiltecan people is calling for the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) to return three stolen sets of ancestral remains, so that they can be properly buried in the tribe’s Reburial Grounds in San Marcos, Texas. The university currently has the remains stored away in cardboard boxes in a warehouse at the Texas Archeological Research Center Laboratory, along with over 2400 other indigenous remains labeled as “culturally unidentifiable.”

In a letter to UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell, Dr. Mario Garza, on behalf of the Miakan-Garza Band, wrote: “The University of Texas upholds and perpetuates white supremacy and colonialism by denying our ancestors a proper burial so they can continue their spiritual journey.” The letter lists many reasons why the university has no right to refuse to return the stolen ancestral remains.

The Miakan-Garza Band initially contacted UT-Austin about the remains in 2016, and after four years of many emails, letters and meetings, the university finally replied with their decision to reject the tribe’s request. The university’s refusal comes in spite of significant documentation provided by the Miakan-Garza Band that clearly shows why they have legitimate claim of the ancestral remains. The university’s decision also ignores the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) process. Others, including Texas State University and even the federal government, have returned stolen remains under similar circumstances.

“UT keeps coming up with new excuses why they won’t return our ancestors,” says Dr. Mario Garza. “We can refute every single excuse; and it all comes down to doing the right thing.”

The Miakan-Garza Band organized a teach-in and ceremony on September 7 outside of the Texas Archeological Research Center Laboratory at the UT-Austin’s JJ Pickle Research Campus. Around 40 attended in person, and thousands viewed the online livestream. The tribe also calls on any supporters of their cause to join in a letter-writing campaign to tell UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell to return the stolen remains. Further information on the letter-writing campaign can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/774290413400614/.