In a growing dispute over a collection of "archaic" human remains
exhumed from the Del Rio area, archeologists are all over the map. The
Witte Museum, which began its collection in 1928, is adamant: The bones
will stay put.
However, an equally impassioned assortment of Native American tribal
members, activists, and local students are taking their case public
tomorrow in the first of what they promise will be a sustained drive to
have the collection returned and reburied with a properly respectful
Federal law requires those remains that can be definitively linked to
modern-day – federally-recognized, modern-day, the hitch
– tribes must be returned to the tribal representatives.
Problem is, very few recognized tribes exist in Texas. That's not to
say, there weren't (and aren't) lots of indigenous descendents here. In
fact, only about five percent of the 215,000 Texans that identify
themselves as Native American are federally-recognized tribal members,
according to Milo Colton, St. Mary's University pre-law advisor active
in Indian issues.
Activists and anthropologists alike agree the recognition process is
"It doesn't matter whether you're Cherokee, Carizzo, you're Lipan,
Mescalero, Seminole," said David Ortiz, board president for the
American Indian Movement, Texas Chapter. "If you are a descendent of
the indigenous people of this land, when you see those bones, you might
not be a direct descendent, but it just does something to you. It
Tomorrow, the bone battle that's been brewing behind the scenes spills
into the streets with a morning protest outside the Witte.
Here's the press release:
ON SATURDAY, MAY 31,
2008-SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, BEGINNING AT 9:30AM -
AMERICAN INDIANS WILL HOLD A RALLY IN FRONT OF THE WITTE MUSEUM
DEMANDING THAT THE MUSEUM, WHICH CURRENTLY HOLDS INDIAN REMAINS IN ITS
COLLECTIONS, RETURN THE REMAINS TO THE INDIAN PEOPLE FOR REBURIAL. ALL
INDIANS AND NON-INDIANS OFFENDED BY THE WITTE SACRILEGE ARE INVITED TO
THE WITTE MUSEUM IS
LOCATED AT: 3801 BROADWAY, SAN ANTONIO , TEXAS .
AMERICAN INDIAN STUDENTS
ASK WITTE MUSEUM TO RETURN BONES OF THEIR
PEOPLE FOR REBURIAL
On April 22, 2008, three American Indian students at St. Mary's
University sent a letter asking the Witte Museum to return American
Indian human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of
cultural patrimony to the American Indian community of Texas for
reburial. Indian students Dallas Colton, Marie Crabb and
Angelica Villarreal want the bones and artifacts reburied at the
original grave sites.
The Indian remains were taken by non-Indians from sacred burial grounds
at Fate Bell Rock Shelter in Seminole Canyon State Park about 45 miles
west of Del Rio and White Shaman Site Rock Art Foundation Preserve,
located about one mile west of Seminole Canyon State Park on Highway 90.
In their letter to the museum, the students stated that "we have made
several trips in recent years to the Fate Bell Rock Shelter in Seminole
Canyon and the White Shaman Site to study the ancient rock art of Texas
"We were saddened and hurt to discover that the bodies of eight
American Indians at the Fate Bell Rock Shelter and two American Indians
at the White Shaman Site Rock Art Foundation Preserve were dug up,
along with funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural
patrimony and removed to the Witte Museum ."
They also said that they "believe a great sacrilege and injustice has
been committed against our" Indian people when they "were removed from
their burial grounds and the embrace of Mother Earth."
On May 1st, Marise McDermott, CEO and President of the of the Witte
Museum, stated that the law (Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act) does not apply to the museum when it comes to digging
up American Indian graves.
McDermott also indicated that the bones in the museum's
collection belong to "an archaic hunter/gatherer" people not related to
Attorneys for the Civil Rights Legal Defense and Educational
Fund, Inc. (CRLDEF) have also sent a letter on behalf of the students,
demanding that the bones of the Indians currently in possession of the
Witte Museum be returned for reburial.