Local NewsTap Pilam, Alamo Trust Resolve Litigation Over Tribal Remains, Use of Alamo Church

Alamo Trust agrees to extend visiting hours on the second Saturday of September, the month when Tap Pilam holds its remembrance ceremony.
June 23, 2022
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Alamo leadership and a San Antonio tribe have settled their legal dispute over human remains buried at the site and the use of the Alamo church.

After both parties motioned to dismiss the case yesterday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted their request today.

Litigation began after Alamo Trust barred the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans from holding an annual ceremony in 2019 that the tribe had performed in the church for two decades. Previously, the tribe enjoyed exclusive privileges to use the church, but after litigation with the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, Alamo leadership adopted a policy that forbids private ceremonies of any kind in the church.

The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans are a small San Antonio tribe that trace their ancestry to Mission Indians who lived in the Alamo and other Spanish missions. The tribe estimates that 80 percent of the burials at the Alamo are Coahuiltecan, while Alamo Trust says only 47 percent of the bodies belong to the tribe.

Tap Pilam sued in September 2019, claiming Alamo Trust and the General Land Office (GLO) denied their right to free exercise of religion.

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Additionally, the tribe claimed Alamo leadership denied them equal protection of the law by excluding them from a committee to oversee the handling of human remains. Taking guidance from nonbinding federal law, Alamo Trust included five federally recognized tribes on the committee — including the Mescalero Apache, a tribe the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans claim was responsible for killing many of the bodies exhumed during the Alamo project.

Alamo Trust maintained that its rule against private ceremonies in the church applies evenly to all groups.

So far, the courts have agreed. A federal judge for the Western District of Texas granted GLO’s and Alamo Trust’s motions to dismiss the case in 2020. A state court judge in Travis County dismissed a similar lawsuit in May 2021.

Both cases were appealed, but the settlement agreement ends all litigation between the parties with prejudice, meaning the suits cannot be refiled again.

According to the document, Alamo Trust agrees to extend the visiting hours for the general public on the second Saturday of September, the month when Tap Pilam holds its annual remembrance ceremony. Alamo Trust will also invite the tribe to attend all Alamo Mission Archaeology Advisory Committee meetings.

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.

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