Defending Native Sacred Websites From Elon Musk and SpaceX


The Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas is suing to guard the tribe’s ancestral land.

From an commentary deck close to the highest of his South Texas rocket launch tower, Elon Musk, founding father of SpaceX and self-proclaimed proponent of free speech, seems to be northward to South Padre Island, residence to many historic village websites of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas.

In a video printed final Might to the YouTube channel On a regular basis Astronaut, Musk is seen wanting over the tower’s railing and down at a “farm” of giant rocket gasoline storage tanks full of liquid oxygen and methane fuel. These will service weekly launches of SpaceX’s large Tremendous Heavy and Starship orbital launch autos in 2023.

Tribal members dance in regalia on the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas Future Generations Powwow held in October. Picture courtesy Alicia Williams

Musk surveys the land from the gleaming steel launch tower, wanting down on an ecosystem full of endangered species, resembling ocelots and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. To the east, he sees the waves of the Gulf of Mexico crashing on Boca Chica Seashore, the location of the Carrizo Comecrudo creation story. To the northwest just some miles away is Garcia Pasture, an archaeological web site containing the stays of a pre-Columbian village practically a thousand years outdated.

Musk wears a black T-shirt with “Occupy Mars” emblazoned throughout the entrance, as if his company conquest and colonization of house had been some kind of righteous protest. As he stands atop his multibillion-dollar mountain of poisonous equipment, he can’t see the Indigenous folks beneath who’ve come to supply tobacco to their ancestors.

Musk doesn’t see them as a result of, based on the Carrizo Comecrudo, he’s blind to the issues of the Indigenous individuals who fought and died for the land he now occupies.

“I don’t assume they perceive what a sacred web site is, as a result of they haven’t any connection to something that’s sacred to their lives,” says Juan Mancias, chair of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas.

Litter accumulates on Boca Chica seaside the place vacationers come, drawn to the spectacle of launch. Video screenshot through YouTube

Far From Extinct

In April, Mancias and two different tribal members tried to make choices and say prayers at Boca Chica Seashore, the place the Rio Grande flows into the Gulf of Mexico. These two our bodies of water fed the Carrizo Comecrudo for hundreds of years, offering them with fish and wildlife, medicinal crops, constructing supplies, and fibers for clothes.

However on this spring day, the one highway that gives entry to the general public seaside was closed and guarded by a Cameron County sheriff’s deputy.

In a video Mancias posted to Fb, the deputy is seen stopping Mancias’ truck from getting into Freeway 4, explaining that SpaceX is conducting floor testing.

“At this time’s considered one of our holy days,” Mancias says to the deputy. “After all, that is Holy Week for you guys, for you Christians. However for us, it’s a cross-quarter marker, and we need to come out right here and drop a few of our tobacco.”

The deputy commiserates with them, saying he wished he may allow them to via, however he can’t.

“That’s towards the American Indian Non secular Freedom Act,” Mancias tells him.

“Oh, I don’t know, sir,” the deputy says, rapidly altering the topic.

In an interview on the YouTube channel Mouth of the Rio Grande, Mancias sums up the state of affairs succinctly: “They are saying we’re extinct. I say kiss my ass.”

Elon Musk on the commentary deck of the Starbase launch tower in Boca Chica, Texas. Screenshot from the video “Go up SpaceX’s starship-catching robotic launch tower with Elon Musk” on the YouTube channel On a regular basis Astronaut. Video screenshot through YouTube

Entry and Growth

The Carrizo Comecrudo endured slavery by the Spanish, indoctrination by Catholic mission colleges, intrusion by Large Oil, and fragmentation by the Mexican border and by Trump’s border wall. Now, they face the desecration of their sacred lands by liquefied pure fuel crops and the SpaceX launch heart, “Starbase.”

Final Might, the tribe joined the environmental teams Save RGV and the Sierra Membership in a lawsuit towards Cameron County and the Texas Basic Land Workplace, stating that blocking entry to a public seaside violates the Texas Structure. The decide dismissed the case, and it’s at the moment on attraction.

Bekah Hinojosa, senior Gulf Coast consultant for the Sierra Membership, says the county now closes Boca Chica Seashore and the highway to it 5 days per week from early within the morning to late at evening. They’ve additionally closed the seaside on a number of events merely to permit SpaceX and Elon Musk to have press conferences or to make use of the seaside for their very own occasions.

“That’s mistaken,” Hinojosa says. “Individuals have been going there for generations. These are sacred lands of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe. Individuals have to go on the market to fish to feed their households. And Cameron County is permitting a billionaire to shut it for his personal events. That’s ridiculous!”

The go well with is actually a shot throughout the bow to get the eye of SpaceX, which started invading Boca Chica in 2014, shopping for out current householders and transferring in a military of tech staff, threatening to gentrify the close by metropolis of Brownsville, a largely Latino neighborhood.

The spectacle of rockets additionally attracts scores of vacationers to Boca Chica Seashore on days when it’s open to the general public. What was as soon as a pristine seaside the place sea turtles buried their eggs is now a dumping floor strewn with empty bottles, fast-food containers, and different litter. Elements of the seaside are nonetheless black from a wildfire in 2019 set off by a take a look at of SpaceX’s Raptor rocket engine.

However what issues Mancias most is the deliberate enlargement of the launch heart and the potential destruction of historic village websites and the artifacts and human stays they might include.

The launch heart was initially designed to deal with smaller rockets, such because the SpaceX Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy autos. However the firm is switching to the a lot bigger Tremendous Heavy and Starship rockets that may ultimately place hundreds of Starlink web satellites into low-earth orbit. The corporate plans to launch as much as one rocket per week beginning subsequent 12 months, requiring a bigger assist facility and extra launchpads.

The unique folks of the world had been migratory, transferring inland throughout hurricane season, then again out to the gulf throughout fishing season. Over hundreds of years, numerous villages fashioned and dissolved, buried within the marshland soils of the world.

“That was a fishing colony there for us,” Mancias explains. “It was a serious gathering place in the course of the instances when looking was not accessible.”

Previously, corporations doing mining or dredging or different improvement initiatives within the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas had been usually caught stealing artifacts and even human stays they discovered. Some bought them or locked them away in non-public collections, based on Mancias.

In accordance with archived paperwork on the Texas Railroad Fee, in 1871, surveyors found a mound alongside a proposed rail line that contained the bones of greater than 325 males, girls, and youngsters. The railroad firm on the time questioned a really outdated native Native man who described how, as a boy, he had witnessed the bloodbath of his complete village by Spanish troopers accompanied by Catholic clergymen.

The our bodies of his folks and household, together with his father, who had fought the Spanish valiantly in earlier battles, had been thrown right into a pit and burned. The mound of buried bones the railroad surveyors discovered was all that was left of the outdated man’s village.

The outdated man who recounted the story was Manuel Cavazos, the only real survivor of what grew to become often called the Satan’s River Bloodbath. And he was the great-great-great-grandfather of Juan Mancias, the chair of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas immediately.

Nobody is aware of how a lot of the tribe’s historical past has been misplaced on this manner. It’s greater than possible historic villages had been bulldozed and any artifacts or stays uncovered had been misplaced within the fog of building when the launch heart was first inbuilt 2016.

“We do not know what [Musk] did with the artifacts … if they simply threw them over to the aspect, or bought them to collectors,” Mancias says.

SpaceX didn’t reply to an electronic mail request for remark. 

“Interview With Juan Benito Mancias” on the YouTube channel Mouth of the Rio Grande.

Border Partitions and Fuel Vegetation

SpaceX isn’t the one menace to the normal tribal lands of the Carrizo Comecrudo. In 2017, the tribe fought towards former President Trump’s border wall. Building of the wall, which continues to at the present time, threatened the Eli Jackson Cemetery, the place most of the tribe’s ancestors are buried. Thanks largely to the tribe’s efforts, the trail of the wall was altered to bypass the cemetery. Nonetheless, the cemetery is now closed to guests resulting from its proximity to the wall.

Extra not too long ago, the tribe has been combating the development of two liquefied pure fuel (LNG) crops, each of which infringe on Garcia Pasture, an space held sacred by the tribe. The location comprises the remnants of a pre-Columbian village round a thousand years outdated. Earlier this 12 months, the World Monuments Fund added Garcia Pasture to the 2022 World Monuments Watch, and it’s included within the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations.

Nonetheless, the Rio Grande LNG terminal started building final month to create a pure fuel export facility on the Port of Brownsville that’s inside the boundaries of Garcia Pasture. The power will take fracked fuel from the Rio Bravo Pipeline and convert it right into a condensed liquid cooled to minus 259 levels Fahrenheit, which might then be loaded onto tanker ships for transport to international international locations.

Cindy Cochran, a researcher for the tribe and common assistant to Chairman Mancias, says she was shocked by photos of how the large web site was going to be cleared earlier than building begins.

“They only bulldoze all the pieces,” Cochran says. “They don’t care. It doesn’t matter what’s there. They don’t take into consideration how they’ll restore, they don’t take into consideration environmental impacts, nothing. They only get in there and bulldoze.”

On Nov. 3, Mancias and his tribe served a cease-and-desist order on the Port of Brownsville and on NextDecade, the mother or father firm of Rio Grande LNG, to cease building to stop harm to the traditional village web site. Neither group has but responded to the letter.

Juan Mancias, Chair of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, expresses his displeasure with Elon Musk and SpaceX. Picture courtesy Cindy Cochran

Combating for Recognition

The Carrizo Comecrudo have a historical past and an identification that goes again so far as anybody can bear in mind, combating and dying for his or her land and sanctifying it with prayers and ceremonies. But they’ve virtually no authorized rights to guard it.

The Carrizo Comecrudo have been combating for federal recognition since 1998, however the course of takes years; requires groups of attorneys, genealogists, and different specialists; and may price as a lot as one million {dollars}. There are greater than 200 tribes within the U.S. that lack federal recognition, lots of them caught on this unimaginably complicated course of. However the authorized safety afforded to most Native tribes, such because the Native American Graves Safety and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the American Indian Non secular Freedom Act, solely apply to federally acknowledged tribes.

Nonetheless, with a membership of round 1,200, the Carrizo Comecrudo operate as a tribal nation like another. Along with sustaining and supporting the tribe’s tradition and traditions, they repeatedly come collectively as a neighborhood, together with different Indigenous and environmental teams, to guard Place of birth and rights.

“We work with lots of people, as a result of we’re human beings and we would like everyone to be welcomed on our land,” says Christa Mancias-Zapata, tribal secretary and daughter of Juan Mancias, “particularly these which are combating extractive industries serving to us to guard our sacred websites and the land itself.”

Sadly, not being federally acknowledged means Elon Musk and SpaceX haven’t any authorized requirement to seek the advice of with the tribe concerning the deliberate enlargement of the launch heart. And there’s undoubtedly no requirement to realize the tribe’s consent.

Musk has purchased the favor of native governments with beneficiant donations and obtained tax breaks and different concessions in return for jobs and an infusion of his well-known wealth into the neighborhood. So whereas Musk could not acknowledge the Carrizo Comecrudo, they undoubtedly acknowledge him.

The rich capitalist makes use of his riches to take advantage of a brand new world throughout the photo voltaic system whereas standing on the backs of Indigenous folks right here on Earth. He’s a colonizer, identical to the Spanish who slaughtered the village of Juan Mancias’ great-great-great-grandfather Manuel Cavazos in 1801. And Juan Mancias carries that very same combating spirit. Combating Musk’s SpaceX empire thus turns into a robust act of decolonization for the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe.

Musk’s purpose is to desert the Earth, whereas Mancias and his tribe combat to heal it.

CORRECTION: This text was up to date at 12:47 p.m. on Dec. 22, 2022, to appropriate an error within the subheading that mis-identified the defendants within the lawsuit filed by the Carrizo Commecrudo Tribe. The defendants are Cameron County and the Texas Basic Land Workplace. Learn our corrections coverage.


Frank Hopper
, Tlingit, is a contract Native journalist born in Juneau, Alaska, now dwelling in Tacoma, Washington. His work seems in Final Actual Indians, The Stranger, and Indian Nation At this time. His self-titled YouTube channel options movies about Native points. He could be reached at [email protected] His YouTube hyperlink is


You might also like

Related Posts

Next Post

Don't miss it