edwardhenry

December 12, 2006

DNA & Identity

Filed under: science — ted @ 11:11 am

Jamie directed me to this fascinating article from Sunday’s Times: DNA Gatherers Hit Snag: Tribes Don’t Trust Them. It concerns the efforts of the National Geographic Society, which is attempting to gather DNA from hundreds of the earth’s indigenous tribes with the hope of tracing their genetic history and the paths of migration that led them to their current home. Unfortunately, the scientists are running into trouble, mainly with tribes who do not want to have their historical identity exposed, fearing that it will spoil their claims to legitimacy and special standing.

Comparing the DNA of large numbers of American Indians might reveal whether their ancestors were from a single founding population, and when they reached the Americas. And knowing the routes and timing of migrations within the Americas would provide a foundation for studying how people came to be so different so quickly.

But almost every federally recognized tribe in North America has declined or ignored Dr. Schurr’s invitation to take part. “What the scientists are trying to prove is that we’re the same as the Pilgrims except we came over several thousand years before,” said Maurice Foxx, chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs and a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag. “Why should we give them that openly?”

Some American Indians trace their suspicions to the experience of the Havasupai Tribe, whose members gave DNA for a diabetes study that University of Arizona researchers later used to link the tribe’s ancestors to Asia. To tribe members raised to believe the Grand Canyon is humanity’s birthplace, the suggestion that their own DNA says otherwise was deeply disturbing.

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