News of contention of indigenous peoples with participating the Genographic project has been sitting in flagged for me to post about in my RSS reader for sometime, and actually Razib and Hsien have both gotten to it before I have. Both of them have written up excellent overviews of the situation. I’ve had to take a step back because I’v been a bit swamped with finals and just a whole lot to fully track down and read all that there is to read about it but what seems to be happening is that a lot of indigenous people are not willing to participate in the data mining, i.e. DNA sampling, part of the project.
There are many reasons for it. Prominently, one can be the long standing history of subjugation of indigenous peoples by others, specifically white people. Furthermore all of the bad history with scientists of the not-so-recent past who collected indigenous heads, stole artifacts and cultural heritage not to leave out living people and put them on display is still fresh in people’s minds. Specifically there are concerns that, “scientists and other nefarious people will use the information gleaned from DNA to discriminate against indigenous people who are already underserved minorities.” The Maori actually wrote,
“We already know where we came from, thanks very much, they said, and what’s in it for indigenous people? What is the point of challenging generations of oral history and spiritual belief? Why should we give you our blood and the genetic codes which make us unique, and how do we know you won’t sell the information to pharmaceutical companies?”
Of course it is within these people’s rights not to participate but what will come of this? Will they win by not sharing? It just seems sort of snide to just say because you guys screwed us over we don’t wanna help out with a larger understanding of humanity. But when I try and put myself in their shoes and say, “Hey you guys abused my people for ages, sure have my DNA too,” it just doesn’t seem to come off the right way, either. It is definately a double edged cultural sword, if you ask me.