The issue of the proper handling of Native American remains, ironically the very same issue that scuttled an attempt to redesign Alamo Plaza in 1994, is threatening the new $450 million renovation effort which is now underway.
Ramon Vasquez, who heads the group 'American Indians in Texas' says the plan designed by the Alamo Endowment and the General Land Office does not call for DNA testing of remains, and calls for them to be reburied in 'any place deemed appropriate by the state,' excluding the ability of the descendants of the people to have any say in their reburial, or to make sure they are reburied with time appropriate Native ceremonies.
"We believe that under the laws of Texas, next to kin have the right to determine what is the outcome of any of the ancestoral remains," Vasquez said. His group is threatening to file a federal lawsuit if necessary to get the entire area around Alamo Plaza declated an 'abandoned cemetery' under Texas law, which would subject the area to protections which could bring the Alamo renovation to a screeching halt.
Vasquez says that is not his goal, but he does want some process implemented which would protect the Native American remains and allow their descendants to have a say in their reburial.
"When they moved the remains of Ben Milam to the current Milam Park, they worked with the family," he said. "Why are you taking that right away from us today?"
Before it was a battlefield, the Alamo was a Spanish Mission church, the Mission San Antonio de Valero, with a goal of converting the native peoples to Christianity. Those who did convert were buried, as was the custom of the time, on the grounds of the church. It is estimated there could be as many as one thousand burials just within the footprint of the effort to expand Alamo Plaza.
And without DNA testing, Vasquez says there is no way to determine whether the bones which will inevitably be found are those of Native Americans, Spanish settlers, Texian pioneers, or those who fell in the battle itself.
The project is already well along, with the state purchasing several buildings across Alamo Street from Alamo Plaza, and architectural and design firms hired to come up with the design for the renovated site. There are plans to construct a museum, and to lower and expand Alamo Plaza to make it more in line with the footprint of the Mission during the 1835 battle.
But Vasquez says this issue has to be decided before much more of that can continue.
"We need to stop the digging," he said. "Every day that goes forward puts at risk the possibility that human remains will be found."
Vasquez says after this issue loomed so large in the previous revitallization attempt 25 years ago, its amazing that the peopel responsible for the current two year old effort didn't plan ahead, and make sure it was completed to everybody's satisfaction before today's project began.