A San Antonio group that claims to be descended from indigenous people buried at the Alamo have renewed its legal fight against the State over human remains found at the site. 

On Wednesday, Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation leaders announced the group had re-filed its lawsuit in federal court against leaders of the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which owns the former Spanish colonial mission, and Alamo Trust Inc., the site’s nonprofit steward. 

The filing came after U.S. District Chief Judge Orlando Garcia dismissed Tap Pilam’s claims originally filed in September against the GLO, Alamo Trust, and other government entities. However, Garcia’s December ruling left an opening for Tap Pilam to restate most of its claims in a way that passed legal muster.

“What type of a man goes and starts a fight and leaves it for their children to finish?” said Ramon Vasquez, director of the American Indians in Texas at the San Antonio Missions and a leader of Tap Pilam. “It’s not going to be us.”

The latest filing targets Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Alamo Trust Director Douglass McDonald, along with the agencies they represent. Also named in the suit are the Texas Historical Commission and the City of San Antonio.

At issue is the treatment of human bones found at the Alamo during archaeological excavations underway as part of the Alamo’s $450 million redevelopment. 

In December, details emerged that archaeologists in November found intact skeletal remains of a three people: an infant, a teenager or young adult, and a large adult.

Tap Pilam members believe the remains could have belonged to Native Americans who lived at the Alamo when it was a Spanish colonial mission, long before it became the site of the iconic 1836 battle between Texas revolutionaries and Mexican forces. 

One of Tap Pilam’s chief concerns is being left out of an archaeology committee overseeing the treatment of human remains found during digs. The committee includes only members of federally recognized tribes; Tap Pilam has no official federal recognition. 

The group also says its free speech rights were violated in September when officials barred them from participating in a remembrance ceremony at the Alamo Church.

Vasquez said the group’s genealogical research shows members have “birthright” to be included in decisions about the treatment of the remains and attacked Alamo Trust and the GLO for excluding the group. 

“Underlying racism and ignorance is driving decision-making within the Alamo Trust leadership,” Vasquez said. 

In an email, McDonald said Vasquez’s characterization is “categorically false.”

“It is another attempt by this group to distract from the lack of any merits to their legal claims,” McDonald said.

Vasquez said the group also is planning to file a similar lawsuit in state court. Another lawsuit by the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association against the GLO and Alamo Trust is pending in state district court in Travis County. It seeks to halt relocation of the Alamo Cenotaph and force state officials to perform DNA tests on any human remains found at the Alamo. 

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.