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UT Reverses Decision Denying Indigenous Group's Request For Centuries-Old Remains

pickle_demonstration.jpg
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Katya Guzman, Mario Ramirez and Carolina Azteca Sirias prepare for ceremonial dances and prayers earlier this month during a demonstration at UT's J.J. Pickle Research campus, which holds the centuries-old remains of three Native Americans.

UT Austin is reversing its decision to deny a local indigenous group’s request for three sets of Native American remains housed in the school’s archeological research laboratory.

For the past four years, members of the indigenous Miakan-Garza Band in San Marcos have been asking UT to return the remains to them for repatriation. UT denied the tribe's request in June, largely because researchers classified them as “culturally unidentifiable,” so they couldn’t legally be handed over to the Miakan-Garza.

But last week, President Jay Hartzell wrote to the Miakan-Garza Band promising that the university would jumpstart the legal process required to return the remains through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

“The University of Texas at Austin respects the indigenous people who live and have lived in Texas and recognizes the spiritual and cultural significance of internment of their ancestors,” Hartzell wrote in his letter. “We are committed to honoring your cultural and religious perspectives, while continuing to follow the established legal procedures outlined in federal law.”

The Miakan-Garza have been doing repatriation work for decades. In 2016, they received culturally unidentifiable remains from Texas State University through the same repatriation act despite not having recognition as a federal tribe.

Maria Rocha is the executive director of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, which was founded by members of the Miakan-Garza Band in San Marcos. She credits the overwhelming amount of student support as the main reason for the school’s latest decision.

Last week, Rocha said a group of indigenous students met with Hartzell to discuss returning the remains, as well as their general experiences at UT. She said the students shared powerful stories of discrimination and lack of support.

“These are hidden stories that nobody knows about,” Rocha said. “I feel like this letter from the president was the letter of someone who had opened his eyes and, in a way, opened his heart too.”

Got a tip? Email Riane Roldan at rroldan@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @RianeRoldan

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