Texas, which exterminated or displaced most of the Indigenous people in the state, now wants to cash in on 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-billion-dollar tourism programs – even though almost all original nations were forced out of the state or destroyed decades ago and may not benefit financially from tourism.
The violence and colonization that resulted in Native American displacement probably won’t be taught in school textbooks, either. Abbott and the Republican-controlled legislature have backed bills that prohibit the teaching of critical race theory, an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in US laws and society, and effectively bans teachers from discussing racism and the state’s history of racial violence. Lawmakers also approved a patriotic education initiative called the 1836 Project, named for the year Texas won its independence from Mexico and a rebuke to the 1619 Project, the New York Times series that examined the legacy of slavery in the US.
In June, dozens of representatives of Indigenous nations with ties to Texas gathered virtually for the Texas Historical Commission’s monthly tribal leaders meeting, where a member of the commission’s heritage tourism program asked them to help diversify the program by identifying historically or culturally significant locations.
“We’re trying to be more inclusive and tribal history falls under that, and we want to include your history in this guide,” said Theresa Caldwell, state coordinator for the commission’s Texas heritage trails program, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by the Texas Observer.
A majority of the Indigenous representatives at the meeting joined from outside Texas. Only three federally recognized tribes, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas and Ysleta del sur Pueblo, live within the state’s borders, while nearly two dozen in nearby states such as Oklahoma maintain ties – a legacy of decades of warfare, land theft and state-sponsored genocide that exterminated whole tribes or drove Indigenous communities across state lines.
“I don’t really understand the approach: for us to volunteer, or an opportunity to share our heritage for nonprofit gain within tourism?” an Indigenous representative said at the end of Caldwell’s presentation. “That being said, how would tribes benefit who are not in Texas?”