On May 4 “Asociación ANDES”, a Peruvian based organization that seeks to advance conservation and development through the implementation of bio-cultural territories, released a Communique saying that the Q’eros people in Cuzco, Peru reject a plan to collect DNA samples by researchers associated with the Genographic Project. Below the full transcript of the document:

 

“A century ago, the Yale University scientists who rediscovered Machu Picchu helped themselves to Inca cultural patrimony, hauling away thousands of artifacts to the United States. Today, it is widely recognized that this was an injustice to Peru and especially its indigenous peoples. Yale is returning the artifacts it took, but only after considerable pressure was brought to bear on the University.

Even as Yale reluctantly gives up its Inca plunder almost a hundred years after it was taken, the Washington, DC-based National Geographic Society is planning to capture new collections of Inca patrimony, this time in the form of human DNA. Unlike historical artifacts, however, the DNA can be copied, and once it is processed and its sequences stored, there is no practical way for it ever to be returned.

The Q’eros are a traditional and shamanic indigenous people who live in a remote area of Peru’s Cusco Region. The Q’eros are self-identified as the “Last Inca” and because of their strong culture, they are widely renowned as such.

This Saturday, May 7th, the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project plans to collect their DNA.The Q’eros have been promised a computer presentation with “pretty pictures” and “fun”, and the Project has encouraged the Q’eros to bring their children and elders to the DNA collection, which will be held at a community school. The Project’s plan is to put Q’eros DNA in long-term storage for a future of ill-defined genetic studies whose results could threaten the Q’eros identity and lands.

The Q’eros were informed of their planned DNA donation in a one page letter sent a few weeks ago, but have decided not to participate. Says Benito Machacca Apaza, President of the Hatun Q’eros community, ‘The Q’ero Nation knows that its history, its past, present, and future, is our Inca culture, and we don’t need research called genetics to know who we are. We are Incas, always have been and always will be.’

The Q’eros have declared the Genographic Project researchers unwelcome on their territory, and have written the government of Peru’s Cusco Region, calling on it to uphold the Region’s anti-biopiracy law. Part of the regional government’s response will likely be to demand substantial documentation from the Genographic Project about its protocols, past activities, plans, and legal permits.

Because it is privately funded –computer giant IBM is the major corporate sponsor– little of this information is available to the public. However, it is particularly important for the Cusco Region because in addition to the planned Q’eros collection, information on the Genographic Project’s website and elsewhere suggests that it may have already collected human DNA in Cusco, in apparent violation of regional law.

Asociación ANDES has today released a report providing detail on the Genographic Project’s plan and the issues it raises for the Q’eros and other indigenous peoples. The paper explains how genetics results could be contorted to harm Q’eros self-identity and rights to ancestral lands, which are facing increasing pressure from extractive industries, particularly mining.

The report also explores serious issues raised by the Genographic Project’s cursory approach to the Q’eros. The one page letter utterly contradicts the detailed informed consent and consultation procedures that the Project claims that it conducts before collecting any DNA. The Project contacted the Q’eros through an American tourist guide in the city of Cusco, with details of the time and place of DNA collection determined beforehand and dubious participation inducements such as “pretty pictures” and a request to bring children.

What the Genographic Project says about its consultation procedures is completely different than the reality of its approach to the Q’eros.” says Alejandro Argumedo, Research Director for Asociación ANDES, “If the Genographic Project can so easily disregard its own protocols, then its promises to other indigenous peoples have been called into question. It frankly suggests that the Project’s in-house ethical code, which was developed without input from indigenous peoples, is nothing more than an ruse to deflect critics while other things happen on the ground.

Asociación ANDES will closely follow the activities of the Genographic Project in Cusco Region. It believes that the irregularities encountered in the Project’s attempt to collect Q’eros DNA, including apparent ethical and legal violations, point to larger problems with the Genographic Project. In order to protect the rights of indigenous peoples that have been asked to participate an in-depth international assessment should urgently be conducted. This assessment should consider both the Genographic Project’s activities to date as well as the future disposition of the samples it has collected and the data derived from them.”

 

For more information, copy of the Communique, and updates visit ANDES website:

http://www.andes.org.pe

« »