James Anaya, the United Nations special reporter on indigenous peoples states that the protection of sacred sites is an urgent human rights issue.
The US Government signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) on 16th December 2010. Article 12.1 of the Declaration states:
“Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; ….”
When President Obama announced the signing of the declaration he said, “The aspirations [the Declaration] affirms — including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples — are ones we must always seek to fulfill…But I want to be clear: What matters far more than words — what matters far more than any resolution or declaration -– are actions to match those words.”
Indigenous Cultures Institute is dedicated to maintaining the people's covenant with sacred sites. This work supports projects such as research on the White Shaman Panel, ceremonies of the Coahuiltecan Paxē Pilam Church of Tejas, and efforts in defense of sacred sites such as Wirikuta in Mexico, the Blue Hole in San Antonio, and the Spring Lake area in San Marcos, Texas.
The Institute assists in reburying unearthed ancestors that have been removed from sacred burial grounds. There are several repatriation projects that have been successfully undertaken.
White Shaman Panel
The White Shaman Panel, named for a major figure drawn in white on the rock art, is located at the mouth of the Pecos River and is dated as being 4,000 years old. Coahuiltecan elders and community members are examining the figures on this panel and working with archeologists who are studying this rock art. Elders believe that this panel has elements of the creation story of the Coahuiltecan people, and documents the pilgrimage of people who visited the ancient and sacred peyote gardens in South Texas and northern Mexico. Indigenous Cultures Institute developed a lecture series on this spiritual narrative and toured this presentation during 2013.
Coahuiltecan Paxē Pilam Church of Tejas
The Coahuiltecan Paxē Pilam Church of Tejas is dedicated to restoring the original ceremonies that are the basis of the current Native American Church. This effort began in 2012 with four ceremonies tracing the route of four water sites that were visited during ancient pilgrimages to the sacred peyote gardens in South Texas. Indigenous Cultures Institute supports these Coahuiltecan ceremonies at the sacred water sites at tza wan pupako (Barton Springs in Austin), ajehuac sohuetiau (Spring Lake in San Marcos), saxōp wan pupako (Comal Springs in New Braunfels), and yana wana (the Blue Hole headwaters of the San Antonio River).
In December 2011 Texas State University unearthed the remains of a 25 year old man buried over 1,200 years ago. The remains had been buried near what is now the Meadows Center ticket booth, close to the shores of the Sacred Springs in Spring Lake, San Marcos, Texas. The body had been deliberately and lovingly buried in the fetal position, with the head facing east, and a ring of rocks circling the grave.
Texas State University and the Miakan-Garza Band went through the process established by the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in order to transfer the remains to the tribe for reburial. On March 24, 2016 Texas State University gave the remains to the Miakan-Garza for reburial. The following week on April 2 - 3, the tribe conducted an all-night Coahuiltecan repatriation ceremony (photo above), but were unable to bury the remains immediately. The tribe is awaiting the completion of City of San Marcos processes to create a repatriation burial grounds where the remains will be reinterred.
Headwaters at Incarnate Word is protecting one of the last undeveloped forests in San Antonio, 53 acres adjoining the University of the Incarnate Word. Olmos Creek flows through the Headwaters Sanctuary. Within this urban wild space is San Antonio Spring, also known as the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole and Olmos Creek create the San Antonio River; they are the headwaters for which the Coalition and the Headwaters Sanctuary are named. The Institute supports efforts to protect the Blue Hole and its sacred area.
Blessing at Sacred Springs in San Marcos, Texas
Wixiritari (Huichol) participates in blessing at
White Shaman Panel at Shumla
Tipi at first Sacred Springs Coahuiltecan ceremony, 2010
It's my view that a very large number of people would benefit from a better understanding of how Native Americans persist into today's society and in our communities. The scientific community would benefit from a more informed understanding of local Indigenous tribes and organizations, as oral traditions which remain to be recorded can potentially enrich our interpretations of important places and processes on the cultural landscape (including historic and archaeological sites). This is particularly true across Central and South Texas, where many people of Coahuiltecan descent continue to reside but struggle for social recognition.
-- Excerpts from a letter by Dr. Jon C. Lohse, Director, Center for Archaeological Studies Associate Research Professor Texas State University