UT-Austin denies request for Indigenous remains from Miakan-Garza Band

Amanda Figueroa-Nieves

The University denied a request this June from the Miakan-Garza Band, a Coahuiltecan tribe, for the remains of three Native Americans after the tribe initially requested them four years ago.

The Miakan-Garza Band requested the remains in March 2016 through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires federal institutions receiving federal funds to transfer Indigenous remains to appropriate parties, according to the National Park Service website. UT responded to ten requests from multiple tribes between 2004 and 2019 for 340 different human remains, according to the website

The Texas Archeological Research Laboratory recently denied the request in a letter because the University could not find evidence of a shared group identity between the tribe and the remains.

Mario Garza, cultural preservation officer for the Miakan-Garza Band, said in a letter to the research laboratory that the remains are related to original Texas Natives, which his tribe is descended from.

“Today in Texas, hundreds and thousands of years later, we see that the remains of Native people have been removed from their original graves … a large percentage have been carried far away from their burial-homeland to be reinterred in unfamiliar, foreign territory,” Garza said in the letter.


Maria Rocha is executive director of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, which members of the Miakan-Garza Band founded. She said the tribe is not federally recognized, but is recognized by the State of Texas. She said the repatriation act favors federally recognized tribes because it initially did not consider hundreds of non federally recognized tribes.

Rocha said the tribe believes remains should be reburied as close as possible to their original burial homeland because they were buried in places their relations believed to be proper. Splitting up the remains would fragment their spiritual wholeness, she said.

“The remains are not culturally affiliated with any federally recognized tribes, and it is our responsibility to rebury our relatives as close as possible to where they were unearthed,” Garza said in the letter.

David Ochsner, director of public affairs for the College of Liberal Arts that oversees the research lab, said two federally recognized tribes, the Caddo Nation and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, objected to returning the remains to the Miakan-Garza Band.

“Without specific information connecting the remains to the Miakan-Garza Band, the archaeological research laboratory cannot provide them the remains, particularly over the objections of other tribes,” Ochsner said.

Ochsner said the remains were found in a region where many tribes spent time. He said it is not clear the remains are Coahuiltecan, since there is no evidence showing cultural affiliation. Many types of evidence can be used to prove cultural affiliation, including oral tradition and geography, according to the National Park Service website.

The tribe was previously granted a request by Texas State University for a set of remains, according to a press release in Indian Country Today. 

Garza said he does not understand why the remains have been kept in the collection for so long and hasn’t seen any evidence to show that the practice is beneficial to anyone. 

“When I first started college … I learned that countries are judged by the way they treat the dead,” Garza said. “To me, that also applies to how you judge a university.”