Hays County indigenous residents push U.T. for return of remains

HAYS COUNTY — Many cities across the nation will commemorate Columbus Day on Monday, Oct. 12, but in Hays County, Indigenous People’s Day will be celebrated.

It will be the second year for the observance, as the Commissioners Court approved the change in 2019.

Though there will not be a repeat of ceremonies held at the Meadows Center for Water in the Environment in San Marcos at the headwaters of the San Marcos River, the day holds even more significance this year for the Indigenous Cultures Institute (ICI) and the Miakan-Garza band of the Coahuiltecan people, who organized last year’s commemoration.

That’s because the band, who has been petitioning the University of Texas at Austin for the return of three sets of human remains unearthed in San Marcos so that they could be reburied on land the San Marcos City Council set aside for that purpose.

After initially refusing to release the remains, which would be reburied near other discovered during the transformation of the old Aquarena Springs amusement park to the educationally-focused Meadows Center, UT President Jay Hartzell informed members of the Miakan-Garza band on Sept. 25 that “the university will promptly seek authority from the National Park Service to allow the remains identified in your letter to be reinterred.”

The three sets of remains, uncovered at an undisclosed Hays County location, are among some 2,400 currently stored in cardboard boxes in a converted greenhouse by UT.

The decision to allow the remains to be reinterred capped a campaign that used social media and petitions to urge UT to reconsider their initial decision.

Earlier on Sept. 25, Hartzell had met with indigenous students who shared their concerns as minority students, including the disrespect of their ancestors’ remains.

“We were stunned and overjoyed,” said Maria Rocha, an elder of the Miakan-Garza band and executive director of the ICI. “Our prayers were answered and the ancestors will be returned to their spiritual journey.”

She explained that traditional tribe members believe that when a person dies, their body is buried and is reintegrated back to Mother Earth and the cycle of life, anthem spirit begins a spiritual journey to the Great Mystery. When the body is unearthed, they believe that both the physical process and spiritual journey are interrupted and the spirit wanders lost and in agony.

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