Miakan-Garza Band hosts teach-in, ceremony urging UT-Austin to return Indigenous remains

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UT alum Mario Ollincoyotl Ramirez performs a spiritual dance during the indigenous culture teach-in Monday outside the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory  at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. The Miakan-Garza Band of the Coahuiltecan people requested the return of ancestral remains to their people in 2016, but the request was recently denied by research lab director Brian Roberts.

Photo Credit: Presley Glotfelty | Daily Texan Staff

The Miakan-Garza Band of Texas hosted a teach-in and ceremony Monday evening to continue to urge the University to return the remains of three of their ancestors. 

Speakers recounted the history of the remains and the band’s request at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus while also livestreaming the teach-in online. The tribe requested these remains in March 2016 and was denied July 7 by the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. 

“For Indigenous people, there is no concept of ownership of the land, only a concept of responsibility,” said Carlos Aceves, an elder of the Coahuiltecan community. “In order to exercise that responsibility, we need to allow our generations to become a part of the land.”

María Rocha, executive director of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, said the tribe believes remains should be reburied as close as possible to their original burial homeland to preserve their spiritual wholeness, according to previous reporting by The Daily Texan. The Miakan-Garza Band founded the institute in 2006 to preserve Native American cultures in Texas and northeastern Mexico, according to its website. 

The Texas Archeological Research Laboratory denied the request because it could not find evidence of a shared group identity between the tribe and the remains, according to previous reporting by the Texan. 

Mario Garza, cultural preservation officer for the Miakan-Garza Band, said the repatriation movement will take many years to complete. Garza said he encourages anyone to write a letter to UT Interim President Jay Hartzell to request the return of the remains. 

Emily Aguilar, an organizer for the event, said multiple student groups at UT have organized letter-writing campaigns, and the institute created graphics that give people context for the issue, as well as a letter writing template they can use.

 

At the teach-in, the speakers played a video of the reburial ceremony of remains from Texas State University and presented a ceremony allowing audience members to bring offerings. 

Business honors senior Cheyenne Grubbs represented the Native American and Indigenous Collective and Texas Orange Jackets at the virtual event. She said both groups join the Miakan-Garza Band in demanding the University return the three remains. 

“Despite claiming to actively participate and becoming more inclusive, (the) University administration has failed to meet the demands of Indigenous people, both affiliated and non-affiliated with UT,” Grubbs said during the event.

Theatre studies senior Juan Levya said the Latinx Theatre Initiative stands in solidarity with the Indigenous Cultures Institute. 

“The oral history time and time again places the Coahuiltecan people in central and south Texas,” Levya said during the event. “The creation story places them specifically in San Marcos. This, combined with their legitimate documentation, makes it abundantly clear that these remains belong to the Miakan-Garza Band, yet these bodies were still ripped from the ground in Hays County.”

Oral tradition and geographical evidence are used to prove cultural affiliation, according to the National Park Service website.

“We still have a long way to go,” Garza said during the event. “Right now, we’re only fighting for three remains, but UT has over 2,400, and there’s over 3,500 that were removed from Texas. Nationwide, there’s seven million.”