Texas is critical of the plan to attract tourists to places where Indians were exiled


The Ysleta Mission, located in South Pueblo Ysleta in El Paso, is recognized as Texas’ oldest continuously functioning parish and is listed as a Historic Site by the Texas Historical Commission.

Texas, which exterminated or displaced most Indians in the state, now wants to charge them.

While lawmakers support legislation that could further restrict how Indigenous history is taught in schools, a state agency appointed by Governor Greg Abbott is trying to make money by attracting tourists to Indigenous historical and cultural sites. The Texas Historical Commission hopes to work with Indigenous nations to expand the state’s multi-million dollar tourism programs, even though almost all of the original tribes and communities were forced out of the state or killed recently. decades and may not benefit economically from tourism.

The violence and colonization that led to the displacement of the natives will probably not be taught in school textbooks either. Abbott and the Republican-controlled legislature have supported bills that prohibit the teaching of critical race theory, an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in U.S. laws and society and prohibits effectively teachers discuss racism and the state’s history of racial violence. . Lawmakers also approved a patriotic education initiative called Project 1836, which was named after the year Texas gained its independence from Mexico and a reproach to the 1619 Project, the New York News series examining the legacy of slavery in the US

In June, dozens of representatives of Texas-linked Indigenous nations gathered virtually for the Texas Historical Commission’s monthly meeting of tribal leaders, where a member of the commission’s heritage tourism program asked them to help diversify the program identifying historically or culturally significant places.

“We try to be more inclusive and tribal history falls into that and we want to include your story in this guide,” Theresa Caldwell, state coordinator of the commission’s Texas Heritage Trails program, said in a recording of the meeting obtained by the Texas Observer.

Most of the Indigenous representatives at the meeting came together from outside Texas. Only three federally recognized tribes, the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas, the traditional Kickapoo tribe of Texas and Ysleta of southern Pueblo, live on the state’s borders, while nearly two dozen nearby states like Oklahoma maintain ties: one legacy of war, land theft and state-sponsored genocide that exterminated entire tribes or drove indigenous communities across state lines.

“I don’t really understand the approach: to volunteer, or the opportunity to share our heritage to make nonprofits within tourism?” said an Indigenous representative at the end of Caldwell’s presentation. “That said, how would non-Texas tribes benefit?”

The Texas Heritage Routes Program represents a $ 7.3 billion industry and offers tourists 10 different regions to explore, including the southeast, home of Alamo, where most English-speaking settlers lost a battle for independence. against the Mexican army and the west, “where explorers and frontiersmen clashed with land and Native Americans,” the program’s website says. Nonprofit independent volunteer boards oversee each region with little state oversight. Chris Florance, a spokesman for the commission, says tribes that do not offer suggestions on the site may not be included in travel guides.

With the passage of antitritical legislation on race theory and the 1836 Project, the stories of heritage trails are unlikely to conflict with a patriotic narrative of the state, says Jeffrey Shepherd, chair of the department of history of the University of Texas at El Paso. . “It is this notion of healing acceptable stories that silences the atrocities and then offers this vague narrative in which the natives end up elsewhere, like Oklahoma or Mexico. It is a hypocritical narrative. It freezes the indigenous peoples of the past. ”

Education about Indigenous peoples in Texas public schools is already limited. The Texas Education Agency, which oversees public elementary and secondary education, requires fourth-graders to describe how the first American Indians in Texas and North America met their basic economic needs, which they explain “the possible origins of American Indian groups in Texas.” a repertoire of American Indian songs, movements, and musical games. Fifth-grade students must identify the challenges, opportunities, and contributions “of people from various groups of American immigrants and Indians, such as the border settlement and the transcontinental railroad building”.

Texas officials have already begun cracking down on narratives that look too closely at state history. In early July, promotional event of the New York News sales success Forget Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth it was scheduled to take place at the state history museum in Austin, the state capital. A few hours before the event, Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick locked him up, and Patrick declared the book a rewriting of Texas history without facts. The book examines the role that slavery played until Texas independence and the Battle of the Alamo. Both Abbott and Patrick are members of the State Preservation Board, which oversees the museum.

“What happens when cultural resource departments, historic preservation offices, historic preservation tribal officers, say,‘ These are the places we want people to know, ’and they are places of violence or places of resistance?” Says Pastor “Whether it’s a place of resistance or a history of resistance, the question is: resistance to what?”

According to the Texas Historical Commission, there is no established process on how tribes will interact with the agency, but Florance says regional volunteer boards will determine partnerships with tribes. “I think these routes would be happy to partner with and support organizations across the state from many different stakeholders,” Florance says. “They have this shared mission of elevating these places and these places.”

With so many indigenous communities displaced from the state, there is almost no way for the tribes participating in the program to receive tourist dollars. Florance says the regional boards will make the final decisions on funding, grants or any revenue sharing.

“It’s helpful to tell stories that haven’t been told before and raise awareness,” says Valerie Grussing, executive director of the National Association of Tribal Historical Preservation Officers. “That translates into things like sports teams changing pets and humanizing people who have long been dehumanized. But to provide economic benefits to everyone except them? I can understand why there would be certain reluctance.”

Shepherd says there is a precedent in Texas for Indigenous people trying to use tourism to defend their rights. In 1936, Tiguas de la Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, one of three federally recognized tribes in the state (but not recognized at the time), participated in the centennial Texas state fair. “It was a very wild show, a carnival show,” he says. “While they were in that centenary, many of the tribal leaders tried to explain,‘ Well, we had a 17,000-acre Spanish land grant since the 1750s and now we don’t have any, and they tried to talk again about this cultural heritage. , tourist space. Of course, the governor rejected his claims. ”

Republican lawmakers continue to draft bills that will limit teaching about racism, and Abbott identified opposition to critical race theory as a priority at the state’s second special session that began Saturday.

The 15-member board of the Texas Historical Commission, which is predominantly white, can help develop materials for Project 1836, pending the formation of a project advisory committee, Florance says.

“There’s a fine, changing line between tourism and exploitation,” Grussing said. “[The tourism program] it should not continue without clear benefits for the people whose stories they are. Otherwise, it becomes a new form of colonialism. “