National Geographic Migration Study Rouses Indigenous Concern

The National Geographic Society’s
Genographic
Project
has a grand goal paired with a simple plan: Over the
next five years, researchers will collect over 100,000 DNA samples
from indigenous people around the world and use the genetic data to
map human migratory history. Answers to age-old questions of origin
seem to be within the reach of a painless cheek swab.

But to individuals concerned with biocolonialism — the
appropriation of genetic resources that belong to indigenous people
— the IBM- and Waitt Family Foundation-sponsored project is a
source of ethical concerns,

Mariana Budjeryn reports in Weekly Indigenous News
.
Leading the complex critique is the
Indigenous Peoples Council on
Biocolonialism
(IPCB).

IPCB Executive Director Debra Harry says the project is a form
of biocolonialism and will return no benefits to indigenous
communities that it couldn’t provide without collecting DNA.

What the IPCB argues the project does provide are risks. Results
could contradict indigenous peoples’ narratives of origin, leading
to psychological or political harm. Another fear is that genetic
data could be used in unauthorized research; such a betrayal
occurred in a different project, Budjeryn explains. Furthermore,
the IPCB worries that the private funding could help the project
evade public accountability.

Genographic Project planners say their intentions are just.
Results will be released into the public domain, and scientific
director Spencer Wells calls the work an ‘anthropological study
that simply uses genetic tools.’

Harry and the IPCB remain unconvinced, even after a recent
meeting with the Genographic Project team to address the council’s
concerns. The IPCB hopes launching a public campaign will help
indigenous communities make informed decisions about participating
in the project, which launched in April.
Julie Hanus

Go there >>

National Geographic Migration Study Rouses Indigenous
Concern

Go there too >>
The
Genographic Project

Go there too >>
Indigenous Peoples Council on
Biocolonialism

Related Links:

Related Links from the Utne
Archive:

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne
magazine

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.