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The Children of San Antonio Deserve Better

Featured image of “Enlightents” installation at the Alamo by Laura Varela.
Click to download official poster in PDF.

On Monday, October 14th San Antonio celebrated it’s first official recognition of Indigenous People’s day. While the dismissal of Columbus is a great step forward for the City of San Antonio, there are still critical problems with regard to its treatment of its native peoples, also commonly referred to as “Mexican Americans” or “Mexicans.” One such circumstance involves one of San Antonio’s most famous sites – the Alamo – where the City along with the Alamo Trust, and the Texas General Land Office have a taxpayer-funded half-a-billion-dollar project to “renovate” the location in such a way that is desecrating the sacred burial site while attempting to whitewash history.

The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation has been at the forefront of the issue to protect the Alamo burial grounds. They are fighting to respect the past and present history of the peoples of color who are buried there and who played major roles in the birth of what is known as Texas and San Antonio today.

The powers that be attempt to hush and rush the $4.5 million dollars to their preferred contractors seemingly without a moral compass and without the proper protocols to respect the burial ground, include the affected community whose families are buried there, or share the actual history of the site (beyond the white settlers who fought to defend human slavery.) The projected completion date is 2024, but the project is under way using a series of meticulous exclusive strategies that continue to show that the City’s declaration of Indigenous Day is nothing more than superficial talk.

The following video and transcript is of the official press conference by the Tap Pilam Nation on Indigenous People’s Day and includes important details that should matter to every San Antonian who is native to the land, owns property there, or whose children are growing up in the city. The children of San Antonio deserve better.

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Ramon Vasquez [00:00:00] Thank everybody for joining us this morning. As you can hear somebody in the background said, “Happy Indigenous Day.” So I want to wish everybody a happy indigenous day and thank you for joining us this morning. What I’m going to do today and what we’ve talked a little bit about, give you an Alamo update in regards to the lawsuit that the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation has filed.

[00:00:29] We also going to address the statement that came out on Friday about human remains. But before we do that, I wanted to take this time thank Antonio Diaz for being so relentless in his effort to get this day passed in this city. A few years back he was able to get the county passed. Passing it as Indigenous Day for the county. And now his work and others alongside of him were able to get this day passed with the city council. So Antonio Diaz, gracias, thank you very much. When I’m done, I’m going to ask Antonio to come up and say a few words about Indigenous Peoples Day.

[00:01:12] It’s a great day to be here this morning and prior to Friday we were just going to talk about the importance of Indigenous Peoples Day. For some of us who have been working on this issue, on these issues for as long as some of us have, every day for us as. Indigenous Peoples Day.

[00:01:28] Well we have to fight for human remains not just here at the Alamo but at all the other missions in San Antonio. Every day is Indigenous Day. Our children have had to experience re burials now two generations in. So they don’t have a break. They haven’t had a break. So for us every day is Indigenous Peoples Day. And for a movement that’s been going on across the country. You’re seeing more and more indigenous communities asserting their sovereign rights.

[00:02:01] And I think that’s telling. Telling what’s going on because of the state of the nation and what’s going on with our world. We have issues that have to do with environment. We have issues that have to do with tribal sovereignty that are happening across this country across this continent. And I think indigenous people are rising up. No different here in San Antonio. We’re rising up too. And now it’s time for people to recognize this day and our history, alongside of us. We will no longer, our history will no longer be shadowed by Christopher Columbus Day. So thank you again for all that hard work was put into this.

[00:02:44] The lawsuit: on Wednesday of last week, the lawyers met to talk about and schedule the lawsuit. In regards to the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, the Alamo Trust, General Land Office, City of San Antonio, and the Texas Historical Commission. Then Judge Orlando Garcia has decided that the first hearing will be held a week before Thanksgiving, or a week after Thanksgiving. But it will be held within that time period.

[00:03:22] There was twelve lawyers. The defendants have twelve lawyers. We have our two from Von Ormy. So this is definitely a David and Goliath scenario.

[00:03:34] And it’s going to proceed. It’s going to play itself out that way. The Texas Historical Commission has already filed a Motion to Dismiss based on government immunity.

[00:03:48] We anticipate all the other governmental agencies will do the same. And our lawyers will respond accordingly. And we believe that will prevail and we believe that will we’ll still to have we’ll have our hearing.

[00:04:02] In terms of the statement that was released on Friday about finding human remains at the Alamo. As misleading as that statement is, we are here to put on record that the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation filed an open records request with the Texas historical commission three weeks ago. And our documents were supposed to be in our hands. On Thursday evening. They didn’t make it into our hands until Friday afternoon. And it’s our belief that it allowed, that it was strategic. And it allowed for the Alamo Trust and the General Land Office to put out the statement that human remains have been found. Why? Because these documents right here tell us that those human remains that they’re referring to were found two months ago.

[00:05:07] They were found two months ago inside the church which we already know was a cemetery. They were listed as, “inadvertent finds.” And we’re here to say you can’t have an inadvertent find of human remains in a cemetery. You go in there expecting to find human remains. And it is a cemetery.

[00:05:33] We don’t know who those human remains were. We don’t know if they were the Carvajal family. We don’t know whether the Villarreal family. The Maldonado family…Urutia family…the Perez family…the Hernandez family…all who have thousands and thousands of lineal descendants here who have a right to know. We don’t know if they were the remains of one of the five chiefs. That are buried there…that made the settlement. The settlers gave them the opportunity to survive in this in this place. They negotiated the treaties and the peace that took place here in the seventeen hundreds. They’re buried there.

[00:06:18] Juan Rodriguez. We don’t know if it was Juan Rodriguez, the chief of the Hierbipiame indians who led Ramon’s expedition into east Texas, who fostered the peace along the way so the Spanish could have their entradas. He’s buried there. Or we don’t know if it’s one of the children that died of an epidemic that took place here. We’ll never know. Why? Because they’re not being transparent. This was two months ago. And according to the records some of those remains have already been taken out. So we’ll have to wait and see. We just received these records on Friday. We’ll go through the records and we’ll sift everything out. But we had an idea. We had an idea that human remains had already been found. And that’s why we filed the Open Records Act.

[00:07:18] So we also know that the Texas Historical Commission gave them authority to continue to dig even after they were told that the human remains were found. They said that they had to continue to dig to find more, to see if there were associated to a human burial. Well, in that statement it also said that these remains were “disturbed.” And they were just part partial remains. Because they were disturbed from the utility construction that happened earlier on the site.

[00:07:59] Well yeah. Those remains have been disturbed over and over and over again. Of course they were disturbed. You’re not telling us anything that we don’t already know. But to imply that they don’t belong or that they weren’t there put intentionally by a family or given their last rites by a priest is absurd. It’s like saying that our people, that when they died, we took their body and tore them apart in pieces and went around the compound and threw their bodies everywhere. And that’s why they’re, that’s why you find, that’s why you don’t find whole bodies. That’s absurd. And we need it, we need them to be a little bit more – a lot more – transparent. A lot more truthful. And we need them to stop what they’re doing and reassess the entire project. Reassess the timeline. And if that timeline 2024 is truly, as some city leaders have told me, goes to the time 2024, it truly does not mean nothing, then let’s put our money where our mouth is on this day on Indigenous People day. And come out and say 2024 does not mean nothing. There is no hurry. We can slow this project down. We can do it right. Because no matter what happens, the children of San Antonio will inherit whatever comes out of this half a billion dollar project. They will not move the Alamo to Dallas. I’ll stay here with us. Our fourth grade children will continue to come to this site. And we’ll continue, if they have it their way, will continue to hear lies.

[00:09:49] So we need to call us. We need to act. We’re asking for one leader, from the state, one leader from the city. From the county step forward and say, “Let’s slow this project down.”.

[00:10:03] We have too many battlefronts already. We have the Woolworth Building. We have this San Antonio historic preservation conservation society trying to protect this building. We have the NAACP trying to protect the civil rights history. We have the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation. And the other heritage organizations like 1718, the Canary Islanders. the Bejerenos, the individual family members that are in solidarity with us right now trying to protect the cemetery. And trying to protect. And then just other individuals who are questioning now the entire history of how it’s going to be told on this site. If we have all these battlefronts then let’s take action. We asked for that leader to step forward and say, “Let’s slow this down.” Especially if you’re from the city of San Antonio. You have a right as a landowner to slow this project down so that we can do it right so that our children and our great grandchildren will inherit something that they’ll be proud of and not something that you’ll be ashamed of when this day comes. With that I want to say thank you to everybody.

[00:11:13] Thank you to the families that are out here. I mean we have families like the Pacheco family. We have the Maldonado family. The Carvajal family. All the early Spanish family settlers, the first families that came here and joined the American Indian families that lived here.

[00:11:29] We stand in solidarity. We stand in solidarity as well with the Conservation Society, the NAACP, and the other projects that are going on.

[00:11:38] We want to thank, like I said, all the families that then showed up here today. We will open up for some questions but before we do that I want to ask Antonio Diaz to come up here. Antonio you want to come up here real quick and talk to us about about Indigenous Peoples Day. Thank you

Antonio Diaz [00:12:02] As you can see in this document, our mayor proclaimed the second Monday. Which is nationally a holiday recognizes Columbus Day. Well no more no more here in San Antonio. It is now Indigenous Peoples Day.

[00:12:22] That marked progress as far as people identity and human rights are concerned because we’ve been the lesser beings on our own land for far too long.

[00:12:32] And then continuing to dig up the remains of our ancestors is in inhumanity and injustice that must stop.

[00:12:43] We are demanding equal human rights, like anyone else. We’re not asking for anything more.

[00:12:49] But we’re not taking anything less. It’s time to stop thes inhumanities already. These injustices this must end. They’re digging up and continue digging up. When they made the street, they dug them up. When they made these renovations, they dug them up. They’re doing these renovations and they’re digging them up again. We say enough is enough.

[00:13:10] I talked to Jerry personally 2014 about this issue and my main statement to him was, “When will you end the Texas Indian wars?” When? There still ongoing as long as you do these atrocities against our people. There are still ongoing. We have another cemetery that’s older, by Santa Rosa. That’s also going to become a garden. But first they dug them up. They disturbed them again. Every time they want to do some renovation in their city, they dig up the remains of our ancestors. We were protesting where there’s a statue of Columbus that was one of the original sites for this mission, right there where we protest, where they have a statue of Columbus was the original site for this mission to be, but it was knocked down by a storm. I know that. We know our history. That’s why we do what we do. And we stand up for ourselves. For our ancestors. When we talk today, they talk. When we walk today, they walk. They’re still here. To us.

[00:14:13] I am Antonio Diaz, I am Palate and I have ancestors buried there. And I won’t stop this fight. And I take this man and AIT for their efforts, for everything they’re doing because without them we would go voiceless again. Ramon. Thank you, brother. Thank you.

Ramon Vasquez [00:14:36] We’ll take some questions if anybody has any questions.

Reporter [00:14:41] (Unintelligible.)

Ramon Vasquez [00:14:42] We’re gonna have that conversation today. Of course, you know the thing with the TRO. We opted not to go with the TRO early on in this, when we filed the lawsuit. We opted not to, because the intention – the Temporary Restraining Order – we opted against it because the intent was not to stop anything but to be inclusive of the people and the descendants that are buried there, the families that are buried there. But now that we have, now that we know that human remains have been found as of two months ago and they’re continuously being found as of right now inside that chapel, then we have to rethink that. We need to stop it altogether. We’re hoping that somebody comes out, that a leader stops, comes out and says you know what, “Let’s read this. Let’s assert our authority and assert it in a lease management agreement with the City. And assert your authority there and not against us. We know what your authority is with us already. So that’s what we’re hoping. If not, the TRO, well I think it’s only a 10 day stay anyway and so we have we have to weigh all that because that’s additional resources. So we’ll take a collection back to get up pretty soon.

Reporter [00:16:00] (Unintelligible.)

Ramon Vasquez [00:16:04] So the remains were supposed to be left in place, according to the human remains protocol. They also said they couldn’t be left in place that they would have a court order to remove them. And so if I’m reading the documents right some of the remains were already moved. They have a court order. They were told by the Texas Historical Commission that if you leave them in situ, if you leave them in place, you have to have a cemetery management plan. Attached to the Alamo plan itself. To this day, we don’t know, there is no such thing as a cemetery management plan. They’ve avoided that. Because to do that means the acknowledgment that it’s a cemetery.

Reporter [00:16:57] Do you know where the remains go?

Ramon Vasquez [00:17:00] We don’t. We don’t right now. They talk about having tribal monitors, viewing or making decisions over the remains. But we have to remember that the tribal monitors that are there were brought here through the weaponization of a federal law that does not apply to this site.

[00:17:28] To think that all Indian people had the same burial practices is ridiculous and absurd. And to have people making decisions on site on whether a Catholic,

[00:17:43] American Indian, or a Catholic Spanish settler…or whether this item was a funerary object or not, is absurd. Because when you’re on a typical day as a monitor you’re talking about historical burials that maybe that are not associated with cemeteries or known cemeteries and those are at birth. Those are discoveries that are made. This is a known Catholic cemetery. You’re going to find Catholics buried there who were given last rites and had funerary objects.

[00:18:19] And so to me that’s kind of insensitive. But let me tell you also. It’s very meticulous to think that Douglas McDonald, as high price is that man is and as experienced as that man is with world experience in museums would know that that is insensitive. And I find it hard to believe that that was not intentional. And the weaponizing of that law is intentional. Bringing in other tribal communities was intentional by Douglas MacDonald. And I just, I can’t believe that with all the experience that his company and he has, that he wouldn’t know better. And with Rick West. From the Gene Autry Museum in L.A. that he wouldn’t know better. Because I believe that all the work that he’s done in these communities. This is a perfect example of why we have why you have to have protections for unmarked graves. Which he is very much aware of and also for state records and recognized tribes and the fight of other tribal communities that are going to be recognized.

Reporter [00:19:34] What did you ask for in your open records request…(unintelligible.).

Ramon Vasquez [00:19:39] I asked for any document, e-mail, audio, or visual or video that had anything to do with human remains with the discovery of human remains. Or any correspondence between the Alamo at the Alamo Mission archaeology Advisory Committee and the Alamo Trust and the General Land Office. And so in terms of documents. I would say right now. Probably over. 200 document pieces that I have to go through. So we’ll have the General Land Office’s next. And then we’ll have the City of San Antonio, in that order. Again we’re hoping that the City of San Antonio is our friend still. We live here. And we want to put them last. And give them the opportunity to do the right thing. We’re asking for that San Antonio leadership to stand up and do the right thing. Before we have to go in there and ask for an open records request on all these documents. Because we are sure. That we will find this.

[00:20:56] I will ask you this: when did the city know that they found human remains? Somebody needs to ask that question. Tri chair committee. Or the Alamo Citizen’s Advisory Committee. When did they find out that human remains were found?

[00:21:23] They don’t have to do an Open Records Request because we can give it to them.

Reporter [00:21:25] (Unintelligible.)

Ramon Vasquez [00:21:38] See here’s the thing, Scott. We already went through this at Santa Rosa hospital.

[00:21:43] At Santa Rosa hospital when they dug up the remains, we already know that a lot of those remains were disturbed because of sewer pipes. There are drawings of sewer pipes literally going on top of skeletal remains at Santa Rosa hospital. We don’t and. We didn’t expect anything less here. We know that that was the practice of the time. All we’re saying is, why continue to disturb a known cemetery. The problem is, if they’re going to treat a cemetery this way the way they’re doing it right now. What confidence do we know, do we have that they’re going to do anything else the right way?

[00:22:22] The lowering of the grade 18 inches. Sure, they’re going to lower the grade 18 to 24 inches. Why? Because they know that the bodies are five feet down. It’s a Catholic cemetery. The bodies. If you read the end if you read the report that was written in 1994 by UTSA, it clearly says “The Alamo Plaza and Campo Santo.” It gives you a clear recommendation on how to find every single body on the site. So it’s not like we didn’t know. They already know. Why do you think they picked 24 inches? Because if they go any further, the risk of finding human remains. It’s going to increase. And if the risk of finding human remains means that project delayed. And that’s what we have to just we need to put that forward, let everybody know. 2024, is it real or is it not? The state will tell you it’s real. The City would tell you it’s not. So we have to believe somebody. At this point, who do we have to believe?

Reporter [00:23:34] How is the authority of the state of Texas connected he the administration at the Alamo. Why are they together?

[00:23:41] Well you know, I don’t know. But you look at their 990s…they’re all together. You know the Alamo Trust, the Alamo Endowment. You know. I don’t know how that works. And I really don’t know the connections. I know there were some issues with George P. Bush be on the board you know. But you know I. Look at the 990s. You know. I mean. I have. And it scared me all day. Oh my God. You know. This is a little crazy to me. But. You know. The important thing. If you look at the federal laws that they talk they’re going to abide by, the one federal law that they left out it’s Section 106. It’s interesting why they would leave out the only law that protects a national historical landmark. We kind of we have to remember that the Alamo is a national historic landmark. Which means that it is governed. By the Advisory Committee on historic preservation, which is a federal office. And for the Alamo in General Land Office telling us that Section 106 does not apply, they yet to prove why it doesn’t. They throw in NAGPRA. “Oh, It’s a federal law.” NAGPRA. They say they throw in a couple of other laws.

[00:25:10] But not Section 106. Why? Because the Pachecos would have the ability to have to be an interested party and be consulted with on this project. The Maldonados, the Diaz’s would have, they would have a right to sit in consultation. As an interested party. And all the ethnic groups associated with this site would have an opportunity to sit as an as a consulting party. And let me tell you right now what I just said. If it doesn’t scare you I can tell you it scares them. Because that’s more delay.

[00:25:53] That’s about it then, thank you very much. Again thank you for joining us. Happy Indigenous People’s Day from here on. And call your City Council and ask them When did they find out. About the human remains. And if they tell us they found out in August, so much for our friends. We have nobody left but ourselves.

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