Tag Archive: sovereignty

New Scientist (Issue 2817) features Linda Geddes’ article “Tribal wars: DNA testing divides American Indians”. Geddes reports on the membership disputes among the Chukchansi Tribe in Central California, USA. The Tribe Council will vote this month if new applicants must undergo a DNA test to prove they “really” are related to a member of the community. From the point of view of the tribal council this is an effort to block access to the benefits coming with the membership (e.g. the right to a share of the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino’s profits) and grant access only to those qualified (“blood quantum”). Tribe members, would-be members, and external observers fear this consumption of genetic information may open the door for false disputes around ancestry; contribute to delegitimizing other cultural criteria for establishing membership; and possibly, to undermine tribal sovereignty.

Reference:

GEDDES, Linda
(2009). “Tribal wars. Genetic testing divides Native Americans”. New Scientist 210(2817): 8-10.The article can be accessed through the New Scientist webpage (through a subscription).

On October 9, 2010, I posted a blog entry (re-posted below) in which I respond with a mixed review to the Genographic/Seaconke Wampanoag jointly-authored publication “Genetic Heritage and Native Identity of the Seaconke Wampanoag” (Zhadanov et al 2010). In short, my thoughts were that Genographic’s genetic data could undercut tribal identity and attendant political claims. The Seaconke Wampanoag who were sampled were shown to have almost no “Native American” genetic lineages. It remains to be seen what the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) would do with such data. It could be damaging to a tribe looking for recognition from the U.S. government and its attendant rights and resources. However, I characterized the jointly-authored article as also a step forward for Genographic in that it simultaneously foreground non-genetic tribal histories. Scientific publications usually give short shrift to non-genetic knowledges. I have been very critical of Genographic elsewhere. In the interest of analytical fairness, I wanted to also acknowledge what the project did right. But this month, things have taken a turn for the worse in Genographic’srelations with some of its indigenous subjects. My October 2010 post has been extensively referenced by the Peruvian organization Asociación ANDES in their comprehensive critique of the Genographic Project’s now thwarted plans to sample Q’ero people, descendants of Incas, who live in a rural area of the Cusco Region of Peru.

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