The tangled battlefield pits the leaders of the Alamo renovation project — the General Land Office (GLO), the City of San Antonio, the Texas Historical Commission (THC), and the nonprofit Alamo Trust — against the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans, who say the renovation leaders have sided with their ancestral enemies, kept them from practicing their faith, and muscled them out of the project.
Authorities barred the Tap Pilam from conducting ceremonies of faith at the Alamo in September 2019. The ritual lasts a week every September, celebrated with a Fiesta de Recuerdos (“Feast of Remembrance”) and ending with the Llanto de los Muertos, or Cry of the Dead. The tribe says they had been allowed to conduct the ritual for more than two decades before being stopped without warning as the ink dried on a recent lease between San Antonio and the GLO and gears in the controversial renovation project began to turn.
Now, they are joined by the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, who once fought the mission Indian forefathers of today’s Tap Pilam tribal members but also aided the Texians in struggles against Mexico and later the Texas Rangers in their fights with the Comanches. On Monday, March 12, the Lipan Apache filed an amicus brief in support of the Tap Pilam tribe in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans have also chafed at watching the city’s archaeological digs from the sidelines.
Alamo Trust ensured that archaeological investigations of the site would “comply with the spirit of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which requires consultation with federally recognized Native American tribes regarding the treatment of any human remains that are discovered.”
Although the City of San Antonio has recognized the tribe for 20 years, the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans lack federal recognition and never got a seat at the committee that the GLO and Alamo Trust formed to oversee the digs. The Tap Pilam claim only one tribe of the five on the committee has a connection to the Alamo site: the Mescalero Apache, who waged war on the mission’s inhabitants and may have put some of the bodies now being exhumed and overseen by Mescalero representatives in their graves.
Furthermore, the city is under no obligation to follow the “spirit” of NAGPRA. Instead, city code holds the City Preservation team to a different law: the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires the participation of next of kin and Indian tribes regardless of federal recognition.
Alamo Trust argued in court that it has not discriminated against the tribe.
“Private ceremonies of any kind inside the Alamo Church are not allowed, without regard to whether the ceremony has a religious purpose,” Alamo Trust wrote in a statement to The Texan.
“Organizations holding events, including ceremonies, on the Alamo grounds are asked to follow policies unrelated to the content of the activity, such as holding their event during the timeframe the Alamo provides for any groups wishing to conduct events on Alamo Complex or Alamo Plaza property.”
Additionally, the City of San Antonio and the GLO took shelter under the doctrine of governmental immunity and fought Tam Pilam on mostly procedural grounds at district court, arguing that the tribe lacked standing to sue and that the court lacked jurisdiction to take up the case.
The district court issued a complex opinion acknowledging the reality of injury that the tribe sustained but dismissing the case.
The tribe appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals where the Lipan Apache joined them. None of the Alamo leadership has filed a responding brief yet.
The drama surrounding the “Semana de Recuerdos” ritual and the archaeological committee is connected to the contentious but recently settled fate of the Alamo cenotaph. Alamo Trust, GLO Commissioner George P. Bush, and the City of San Antonio insisted on moving the monument away from the mission for reasons that ranged from necessary repair to historical revisionism. The Tap Pilam tribe sided against them, arguing in their original court complaint that the cenotaph serves the same purpose as a cemetery headstone and cannot be moved under state law.
Though Bush and Alamo leadership clung to the original plan of moving the cenotaph months after a permit denial made it impossible, they have since changed plans to acknowledge that the “cenotaph ain’t moving.”
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