Re: Declaration of Indigenous Peoples on Genome Project

John W Norder (jwn@UMICH.EDU)
Wed, 1 Mar 1995 00:29:55 -0500

This statement is not a 'heap of crap'. This statement represents a
legitimate and pressing concern among the Native American community and,
given the list of organizations who support the declaration, one of the
larger indigenous peoples community as well.

There are several issues about the Human Genome project this document
attempts to bring to light and really deserves serious consideration. The
project has been very controversial for the Native community ever since
it was first proposed a few years ago.

Several have viewed this as another misguided, patronistic attempt to
save the Indian, gather up pure specimens that have been unpolluted by
genetic mingling with non-Indians. Others, as given by the statements
made in the declaration, have viewed this project as a violation of
Native beliefs and principles, and, therefore, as a form of sacrilege and
a diminishment of the soul. More to the point, they view this as another
way of commodifying Native peoples, if not all people in general, in ways
that conflict with the Truths that they live by. The project also is
viewed as a type of threat. For those of you not in the know, the lot of
Native peoples in this country and others is far from happy. The U.S.
has tried to pass legislation, which would require identication of
ethnicity and some sort of 'proof' of ethnicity', which has been
ill-defined. In the schools, they still require, for 'statistical'
purposes, Native students present their 'papers' or 'id cards' every few
years to show that you are who you say you are. The BIA does not even
look at you if you cannot prove you are at least a quarter NA from one
tribal group (You cannot be a blend of tribes eqalling a quarter and pass
through their holy gates and be recognized). The Human Genome project is
perceived as another manner of creating divisions for the government and
other agencies to use in their continuing 'classification' of Native
Peoples by methods other than self-identification.

Of concern here might be the fact that what is at issue are concepts of
truth. This declaration presents a critique of the western paradigm once
again. It presents a different idea of truth and identity, which is
secure in its own self-interpretation. The people asking the questions
are those who developed the Human Genome Project, not the Native peoples
whose genes they intend to collect. What can this project tell Native
peoples that they do not already know about themselves from their own
viewpoint? As a Native American myself I am not persuaded by the
validity of the project and its aims. I agree with some of the
criticisms that I have presented here. The project and its proponents
seem to me to be typically naive in their justifications. They did not
consult with their subjects of study prior to proposing their study, nor
did they think of the potential negative ramifications for their study,
such as the potential for abuse by governments and other agencies. This
last may be a paranoid fantasy, but I have heard no assurances or
discussions by the proponents as to who will have access to these results
and to this genetic material once it has been collected and interpreted.
The project ws conceived in good intentions, but the reality is that
there are those who beleive they do not need the benefit of these good

Sorry for the long-winded, poorly argued statement, however, I believe
this declaration and the issues it presents deserve better than the
snide, insulting statements being made about it.

Mitakuye Oyasin,

John Norder
University of Michigan
Department of Anthropology

On Wed, 1 Mar 1995, Ania Lian wrote:

> what a heep of crap this was
> ania