Burial Ground Under the Alamo Stirs a Texas Feud
SAN ANTONIO – Raymond Hernandez was a boy when his grandfather took him for a walk in Alamo, pointing to the grounds surrounding the Spanish Mission, founded in the 18th century.
Using the Spanish word for cemetery, Mr Hernandez, 73, said: “He would tell me over and over again, ‘They built it all on top of our Campo Santo. “All the tourists who come to Alamo are standing on the bones of their ancestors,” he added, a father from San Antonio’s Tap Pilum Cohulteken Nation.
On a busy day, thousands of visitors explore Alamo, the site of the crucial battle of the Texas Revolution of 1836 where American settlers fought to secede from Mexico and become a republic that became part of the United States.
But long before Alamo captured the non-aligned, Spanish missionaries used the space known as Mission San Antonio de Valero to spread Christianity among Native Americans. People from different tribes built alams with their own hands, and the missionaries buried many converts, as well as colonists from Mexico and Spain, around or under the mission.
Now, a new battle is raging over Alamo, as descendants of some of the founding families of Native Americans and San Antonio seek protection for human remains, while Texas authorities are moving ahead with a controversial योजना 400 million renovation plan for the site.
The controversy comes at a time when political leaders in Texas are trying to paint a long-term picture of the state’s history, limiting how teachers discuss the role of slavery in the Texas revolution, and targeting hundreds of books for possible removal from schools. As critics accuse the leaders of political extremism, the burial dispute has raised questions about whether the narrow focus on the 1836 battle at Alamo comes at the expense of the site’s Native American history.
Tāp Pilam (pronounced TAPE PEE-lam) Nation leader Ramón Vásquez has criticized state officials for opposing calls to designate Alamo and its environs as historically important cemeteries.
He compared the controversy to the discussion of protecting important burial sites in the United States, such as the 2018 burial of the remains of 95 African Americans in Sugar Land, Texas.
“We are not opposed to the storytelling of 1836,” said Mr Vasquez, whose people sued in 2019 for comment on how the remains found at Alamo were treated. “We are telling the whole story of the site. We have a rare opportunity to improve the curriculum. “
In court documents filed this year, attorneys for the Texas General Land Office, the site’s custodian and the Alamo Trust, a nonprofit organization that oversees the development plan, said the patriarchal claimant’s claims do not “constitutionally protect” them. There is a right to have hands on how to treat human remains found in Alamo.
If Tap Pilm is to be given such a role, advocates argue, the decision could set a precedent for other people who can trace their lineage to a person who lived or died in Alamo.
Courts have ruled in favor of Alamo’s official stewards, who have been appealed by Tap Pilum to put pressure on authorities in public protests and private arbitration proceedings.
His strategy is close to a conclusion, yet a resolution remains elusive.
Two people involved in the mediation process, who requested anonymity because they did not have the right to speak publicly about the discussion, said this week that Texas state officials were preparing to agree to several of Tap Pilum’s demands. These include re-entering the Alamo Chapel for religious ceremonies, improving the training of Alamo staff, and discussing their role in discussing how to treat human remains found at Alamo.
The parties have also reached a temporary settlement, according to a court document filed this week, although the settlement must be approved by the San Antonio City Council and other parties. But in a statement on Tuesday, the land office said it would continue to fight Tap Pilam in court.
“We are currently planning to move away from the proposed agreement,” said Stephen Chang, a spokesman for the land office. “The proposed mediation – which has not been finalized – was intended to put an end to these frivolous lawsuits.”
As this legal battle continues, the 400 million renovation plan, which includes building a 100,000-square-foot museum and visitor center, is moving forward under the guise of criticism.
Others have argued that Alamo should focus his attention on the Battle of 1836, which saw him become a nationalist among the likes of former Tennessee MP Davy Crockett, who died in the conflict. Brandon Burkhardt, president of This Is Texas Freedom Force, whose members appear to be openly armed around the Alamo to protest changes to the site, said he opposes efforts to put Native Americans at the center of the Alamo story.
“They don’t want to shed light on the Alamo rescuers who fought for 13 days and died there,” said Mr Burkhardt, a former Ferrari recovery officer. “Well, I got the news for them: because of that war people have come from all over the world, not because of the Native Americans who were there before them.”
George P. Bush, the Texas land commissioner, appears intent on addressing such concerns. “The plan to restore and preserve the Alamo focuses on the battle of 1836 and the defenders who laid down their lives for their freedom,” Mr. Bush said in a statement.
Recent tensions have highlighted important milestones in the state’s local history. Texas was home to hundreds of tribes, such as Anadarco and Carnacava, when Spanish missionaries arrived in San Antonio in the 1700s.
Alamo’s burial records contain the names of hundreds of people from many different tribes. In 1745, for example, the priests held a funeral for a Siphem Indian boy named Konepunda. In 1748, Valentino Alfonso, an adult Mesquite Indian, and in 1755, Magdalena, an adult Yapandi Indian, were buried.
After Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836, Mirabayu Lamar, who became president of the Independent Republic in 1838, reversed the appeasement policy of his predecessor, Sam Houston, towards the Native Americans.
Mr Lamar has instead explicitly called it a “destructive war” against the tribes in Texas. As a result of the shock of this ethnic cleansing, some natives were completely annihilated; Others were eventually forced to relocate to Indian territory, now Oklahoma.
“The genocide was a state-sanctioned program during the Republic of Texas,” said Raul Ramos, a historian at the University of Houston who has written extensively on Alamo. Texas now has only three federally recognized tribes, the Alabama-Kawshatta, the Tigua and the Kikapu.
The Alamo issue also raises new questions about who qualifies as indigenous. Like other groups that came together, such as the Genizaros in New Mexico and Colorado, some of whom learned to be natives of the enslaved Indians, Tap Pillam decided not to seek federal recognition, depending on the tribal members. There is no central government to determine if they are Native Americans.
Tap Pilam, whose religious practices blend with the Catholic tradition of the Piotr rites, has more than 1,000 registered tribal members. Their leaders have recently formed a for-profit corporation to train Native American entrepreneurs in areas such as carpentry and construction. Tap Pilum estimates that there are more than 100,000 people in San Antonio alone who are descendants of Indians living in Alamo and other Spanish missions in Texas.
However, his lawsuit against the cemetery has been filed against the fever pill due to lack of federal approval. He filed a lawsuit in 2019 after being banned from using the Alamo Chapel for private annual service, during which he apologized to his ancestors.
That same year, the Texas Historical Commission rejected a request to officially designate about 10 acres of land around Alamo as a cemetery, which would have established stricter handling standards for any human remains, instead opting to narrowly designate it as a mission-era church. Cemetery
Archaeologists excavating at Alamo in 2019 found the remains of three bodies. But instead of consulting Tap Pilm on how to proceed, the Alamo Trust relies on five federally recognized tribes, none of which are in Texas. (Lipan Apache, a state-recognized tribe in Texas, has signed on as an ally of Tap Pilum in the dispute.)
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, commonly known as NAGPRA and enacted in 1990, was intended to provide more careful control over the removal of Native American human remains. But Tap Pilam, who used the mission’s birth and death records to show the genealogy of Indians in Alamo in the early 18th century, has expressed outrage at being sidelined by Alamo’s stewards.
As the conflict escalates, more and more people are looking at Alamo’s burial records and looking for ancestral connections. Tap Pilam estimates that about 80 percent of those buried around the mission were Native Americans.
People of various backgrounds, such as Juan Blanco, a free black soldier on the frontier, before the Apache Indians were killed in 1721. In 1833, Antonio Elozua was a Cuban-born commander of the Mexican army in Texas.
Lisa Santos, president of the 1718 Founding Families and Descendants, a group of descendants of the founders of San Antonio, said she was shocked to see that her ancestors were also buried in Alamo Cemetery.
Her ancestors, Bicente Guerra, who died in 1725, and his widow, Maria Sepeda, who died less than a year later, are believed to have been buried near the federal building in front of the Alamo.
“I don’t know how to go against the government when they are constantly denying that there is a place of burial where our ancestors lived,” said Ms. Santos. “Sometimes I just stare at the sky and I think, what’s stopping them from telling the truth?”
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