Tribal Map (Eastern U.S.)

Tribal Map (Eastern U.S.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ancient Texas Tribe Struggles For Federal Recognition

From Native American Legal Review and Texas Public Radio:

Ancient Texas Tribe Struggles for Federal Recognition

Texas Public Radio has published an article and podcast detailing the work of Coahuiltecan people near San Antonio to become a federally-recognized Tribe. Coahuiltecans have lived in the region for 10,000 years, but have yet to hear any positive progress on the recognition application they filed with the U.S. thirteen years ago.

Greg Guedel, Foster Pepper Native American Group Chair and Chair of the ABA's Native American Concerns Committee, is interviewed in the podcast and discusses the long and difficult bureaucratic process Tribes face when seeking federal recognition

From TPR:

Local Native American Community Seeks Tribal Recognition

Ramón Vásquez , excutive director of American Indians in Texas (left) and Ray Hernández, Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan tribal council member (right), pose in front of the site of the future Native American Interpretive Center in South Bexar County.

Photo Credit:Hernán Rozemberg (Fronteras: The Changing Americas Desk)
Despite its location in the Southwest, Texas is only home to three federally recognized Indian tribes. A little known Native American community in San Antonio is trying to be the fourth. But after more than a decade of waiting, the group has decided to revive its ancient culture on its own. From Fronteras: The Changing America Desk, Hernán Rozemberg reports.
January 13, 2011 ·San Antonio's best-known relic, The Alamo, and other neighboring Spanish missions, were built by Indian tribes who called this region home for thousands of years. Their legacy remains largely invisible to the public. But linger a while at Mission San José, founded in 1720, and you begin to learn the story of the Coahuiltecans.
"For 10,000 years, the vast region now known as South Texas was inhabited by indigenous people intimately acquainted with their environment," says the narrator of a short documentary video shown at the mission's information center.
Daniel Cantú is the head ranger here for the National Park Service. On a tour, he perks up when asked about the Mission Indians. He says their legacy is often overlooked. For Cantú, the issue is both professional and personal.
"This is bringing me back to my roots. My family came from one of these missions, so I have a personal tie through blood line. So there's a connection there for me, so that's why I like this park, that's why I came to this park, it's to try to reconnect myself to my origins," Cantú said.

Ray Hernandez has it his life's work to encourage others in South Texas to rekindle interest in their native ancestry. He's a co-founder of American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions. The group was formed after a handful of families realized they needed a stronger, unified voice to maintain their Coahuiltecan traditions. Their activism first surfaced in the 1960s when the Catholic Church allowed Indian remains buried at the missions to be exhumed.
"We feel that because we are sovereign, we speak government to government, as a people to another people," Hernandez said.
But according to the federal government, the Coahuiltecans are not sovereign.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs lists 564 approved tribes. Hundreds of others still await official recognition. That wait can easily take decades because applicants must meet strict requirements, such as proving they've been around since 1900.
Greg Goedel is chairman of the American Bar Association's Native American Concerns Committee.
"It takes a significant period of time, and there is certainly no guarantee that a tribe applying for federal recognition will ever receive it, let alone receive it within any particular timeframe," Goedel said.
The American Indians in Texas organization submitted its application 13 years ago. Hernández says the wait for education and health benefits that come with tribal recognition has not been nearly as insulting as having to prove to outsiders the validity of the group's ancestry.
"This government has no right to say who I am," Hernandez said,"That was determined by my grandparents, my parents, my community for which I was raised. That's who I am."

Ramón Vásquez and Ray Hernández walk the grounds of the future Native American Interpretive Center.

Photo Credit: Hernán Rozemberg (Fronteras: The Changing America Desk

The group has not withdrawn its application, but it no longer counts on federal recognition as the only way to establish a presence in the community. Members say they'll continue reaching out to people like Veronica Hernández, a San Antonio filmmaker who would like to explore her own Coahuiltecan roots.
"I'm sorry that I don't know more about this particular background in my life, but I've always loved it," she said,"I love the way I look, you know. I'm proud of it."
Hernández might get her wish to reconnect with her ancestors. Leaders of the American Indians in Texas are trying to build an outdoor interpretive center on an archaeological site south of San Antonio. It's part of a million dollar conservation project.
Ray Hernández and Ramón Vásquez, the group's current executive director, walk the property and reflect on their ancestors who hunted here centuries ago.
"When I pick up this piece right here that obviously was worked on, you got to think that you're touching something that somebody worked on and you start thinking about what times were like back then, you know, their struggles, what were they thinking," Vasquez said.
"But these days, descendants of the Coahuiltecans in San Antonio are looking forward. With plenty of ideas and energy, but few resources and community support, their quest for survival continues.

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