Burial site, artifacts discussed during public forum
Disposition of remains still in question
A public forum was hosted by the Jim Wells County Historical Commission to update progress on the archeological survey being conducted at the future site of the City of Alice multi-use complex on Highway 281.
|Local members of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas were in attendance a public forum held Thursday, June 20. The Lipan Apaches have laid claim to the human remains for purposes of repatriation, but must work with the federally recognized tribes before any ceremonies can be conducted. |
The forum, held Thursday, June 20, in the Alice City Council Chambers, featured presentations from Dave Sullivan with Naismith Engineering and archaeologist Rich Weinstein with Coastal Environments Inc.
Alice City Manager Ray De Los Santos, Jr. was also in attendance to answer questions about the archeological survey and discuss the coordination between the City of Alice, the JWC Historical Commission and the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas.
"One of the things that we hope that each of the groups and individuals associated with this process as we move through it will find is that we have what we believe is a very clear, and what we know is a very genuine, intent to treat all of the findings, the site, the remains, in the most respectful way possible," De Los Santos said.
Because the project utilizes Economic Development Administration (EDA) funds, an environmental narrative report must be prepared in coordination with various states and federal agencies, including the Texas Historical Commission (THC).
In Feb. 2013, the THC indicated that an archeological survey should be performed as a final step in the clearance process, with initial results indicating past Native American occupation in one of the identified sites within the main project area.
"As a result of this, we changed our design plans to avoid this area," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the affected project area was initially planned to serve as a parking area.
On April 3, a prehistoric burial was located about 1.2 meters below the ground surface, containing human bone fragments. Sullivan said by law, the federally recognized tribes were contacted about the discovery.
The local Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas was also contacted, which Sullivan said responded with a letter to the City of Alice laying claim to the remains discovered during the survey for purposes of repatriation.
According to the letter, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the tribe lays claim to the remains for repatriation by being "culturally affliliated" to the land as lineal descendants of the T'che T'cha, or Sun Otter Band, who were traditional inhabitants of the land in and around Jim Wells County.
"We didn't want to miss anybody, so we sent letters out to everybody," he said.
In his presentation, Weinstein detailed the survey findings of 50 shovel tests and 39 backhoe trenches across the property.
"I think they pretty well confirmed what we could see," he said.
In the site containing the burial, artifacts dating from the early Archaic era, between 6700 to 4500 B.C., to the late Prehistoric to Historic era, between A.D. 800 to 1600, were also discovered.
De Los Santos said he wanted the associated groups to begin thinking about how to memorialize and commemorate the findings at the site.
"We certainly want to make this part of the history that we embrace and not ignore, and we want for you to help us do that as we go through this," he said.
A second archeological site, planned to serve as a location for an east-west access road, was identified and also excavated to determine National Register significance. A preliminary report describing the testing results is being prepared for submittal to the THC.
Three additional archeological sites were also identified during the survey of proposed wastewater lines. Assessment of the sites are ongoing, with a preliminary report being prepared for submittal to the THC.
De Los Santos said the city has opened bids for the wasterwater lines project, but can not begin construction until they receive clearance from the THC.
"Same thing with the water line that touches site three and site five," he said.
The forum ended with discussion about separate ceremonies for the desecration of the burial site as well as the reburial of the remains.
"These things have to be handled very delicately," Larry Running Turtle Salazar with the South Texas Alliance of Indigenous People said. "These are disturbed sites."
Weinstein said it had been nearly 60 days since he first contacted the federally recognized tribes, but only three have responded.
"We're ready to move on that as soon as we get some direction on which tribe will take lead," De Los Santos said.
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