Year in Review: Battle of the bones

The history embedded in the hundreds of teeth, mandibles, ribs, and assorted other slivers of bone is not lost on Juan Mancias, tribal chair of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas. As a child growing up in San Antonio, the history of his people was full of obvious reminders. The celebrated Spanish missions lining the San Antonio River inspired his grandfather to take Mancias across the state to come to maturity in the Panhandle — away from the Christian shadows of genocide. But after returning to the area he couldn’t but get involved in what has become a running battle to have a small collection of infant bones held by the Witte Museum — some still wrapped in rabbit fur as his descendents did thousands of years ago — returned for reburial.

After the protests sparked in June with marching, drumming, and sign waving, the Witte held several roundtable meetings with representatives of a variety of Native American groups who expressed concern for the remains. Then the dialogue seemed to come to a halt.

The Witte did not return calls for comment, and Mancias says he hasn’t heard from Witte President Marise McDermott in months.

“They haven’t invited me to anything else. I’m still kind of wondering what the hell is going on,” he said.

Because Mancias’ tribe is still not recognized by the federal government (a situation shared with most of those truly indigenous to the state), the museum isn’t bound by the premier legal framework — the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) — guiding the return of Indian remains. Mancias sees potential changes ahead that may force the Witte’s hand.

Progressive hopes for the Obama Administration aren’t bound to health care, renewable energy, or Iraq. Changes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the NAGPRA Review Committee board could provide better traction for the Carrizo’s bone claims. The right shift could be a definite game-changer.