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Friday, February 27, 2015

RAD: Guest Post: Levi Eagle Feather Sr. (Part 3)

Part Two: RAD
by Levi Eagle Feather Sr.
Part Two: RAD
by Levi Eagle Feather Sr.

Part Three: RAD

By Levy Eagle Feather Sr.

The twentieth century has produced a world of conflicting visions, intense emotions, and unpredictable events, and the opportunities for grasping the substance of life have faded as the pace of activity has increased. Electronic media shuffle us through a myriad of experiences which would have baffled earlier generations and seem to produce in us a strange isolation from the reality of human history. Our heroes fade into mere personality, are consumed and forgotten, and we avidly seek more venues to express our humanity. Reflection is the most difficult of all our activities because we are no longer able to establish relative priorities from the multitude of sensations that engulf us. Times such as these seem to illuminate the classic expressions of eternal truths and great wisdom seems to stand out in the crowd of ordinary maxims... -Vine Deloria Jr. (preface to John Neihardts book "Black Elk Speaks")

Reality can be such a bastard sometimes! Just when you think you got it nailed, something happens and it all slips away. Good fortune, its second cousin, seems to operate along these same lines! You work hard, you’re ready, waiting, arms wide open and everything, then something happens blowing it all away. Does this sound familiar? Some people would say a person who thinks this way is just, “waiting for the axe to fall”. And if you think this way, too much of the time, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  
In medical terms, they say someone who thinks like this or sees life in this way is showing signs of paranoia. Meaning that someone is showing “a tendency….. toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others.”1 In some situations, this kind of thinking can develop into a more serious condition known as schizophrenia. Noah Webster says schizophrenia is “a  psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought (as delusions), perception (as hallucinations), and behavior —called also dementia praecox — compare paranoid schizophrenia2   
In the two previous installments on RAD. I said my piece about certain spiritually abusive things that have happened to us American Indian people since western society brought its socially dysfunctional ways to our land. All of these happenings have been inducing an isolating oriented trauma on our people for several generations now. These things in particular, were the wars, reservations, boarding schools, relocation programs and adoption. Things which have worked in harmony, one after the other or simultaneously together, pretty much shattering and destroying the ways in which the beauty and magnificence of who we are as human beings can be fully realized, understood and enjoyed. I would say at this point RAD was intentioned and paranoid and schizophrenic type thinking and behavior are to be expected. 
The people who started these practices against us, in the past and continue to practice them today, have gotten away with it and continue making money off of doing it. Maybe not directly anymore, but indirectly still and that’s as simple and as good for them, as it can get! It indicates success, at least to them, of their westernized way of doing things.
By agitating and manipulating the destruction of others, confiscation of birthrights and through carefully and systemically applied abuses. These people have been capable, down through history of drastically changing tribal realities. Changing realities from systems which were built on self-reliance and were constructed for self-perpetuation to a single system which is built and designed solely for controlling and perpetuating the continued self-destruction of tribalism for profit. In short using you, your relatives and your friends to educate and labor towards your own self-destruction.      
If you think I'm wrong or misguided in my way of thinking. Look and see who has all the land, all the say and continues smiling all the way to the bank. We’ll call this group the top layer of western society. It is a top down system and we’ll call this layer the instigators or the 1% er’s of western society. The shot callers so to speak. There are other layers to this society. Here in America we know them as the middle, the lower, and the indigent classes. But for now I want to draw your attention to something else.
A simple fact! Obscured quite possibly by our own cultural amnesia of our individual ancestral roots is the fact we knew this was coming. A little less than 150 years ago my people, the Lakota, still understood our purpose. We knew and understood what sacrificing of ourselves was about. Of course, we still lived in Tipi’s on the wide open prairie and still hunted buffalo and much more. But we also lived in a civilized manner as civilized human beings then too. We knew and understood how fragile yet necessary keeping good relationships were to our health and wellbeing. We also knew and understood the threat and danger western thought and living posed to our health and well-being. The inevitability of this threat coming to fruition came through in dreams and visions of some of our great leaders of that time. Black Elk, a healer, was one of those leaders.
Black Elk was born in 1863 and lived until 1950. He was born well before the time of either the Sioux or the American Indian. He was born and lived as a Lakota. He thought, reasoned and behaved according to the Lakota way of being. He lived his life, perceiving reality understanding it and speaking of it in the language from within the worldview of his time. The Lakota worldview.
In the summer of 1872 at the age of nine Black Elk experienced a vision. In 1930, through a translator, Black Elk related his experience to John Neihardt, who in turn wrote about it as, “The Great Vision" in his book 'Black Elk Speaks". Whether this vision came to him through intuition, spiritual insight, or from hearing reports of what was befalling our Dakota relatives to the east, Black Elk's vision was spot on. Experienced well before the reservation, boarding school, relocation, and adoption eras of our people it was a foretelling. A vision foretelling the, as yet, unforeseen problems of becoming westernized. Something that we now experience on the regular, day in and day out. 

The following is an excerpt from this "The Great Vision:" 
And as we went the voice behind me said: "Behold a good nation walking in a sacred manner in a good land!"
Then I looked up and saw that there were four ascents ahead, and these were generations I should know. Now we were on the first ascent and all the land was green. And as the long line climbed, all the old men and women raised their hands, palms forward, to the far sky yonder and began to croon a song together, and the sky ahead was filled with clouds of baby faces.
When we came to the end of the first ascent we camped in the sacred circle as before, and in the center stood the holy tree, and still about us was all green.
Then we started on the second ascent, marching as before, and still the land was green, but it was getting steeper. And as I looked ahead, the people changed into elks and bison and all four footed beings and even into fowls, all walking in a sacred manner on the good red road together. And I myself was a spotted eagle soaring over them. But just before we stopped to camp at the end of that ascent, all the marching animals grew restless and afraid that they were not what they had been, and began sending forth voices of trouble, calling to their chiefs. And when they camped at the end of that ascent, I looked down and saw that leaves were falling from the holy tree.
And the Voice said: "Behold your nation, and remember what your Six Grandfathers gave you, for thenceforth your people walk in difficulties."
Then the people broke camp again, and saw the black road before them towards where the sun goes down, and black clouds coming yonder; and they did not want to go but could not stay. And as they walked the third ascent, all the animals and fowls that were the people ran here and there, for each one seemed to have his own little vision that he followed and his own rules; and all over the universe I could hear the winds at war like wild beasts fighting.6
And when we reached the summit of the third ascent and camped, the nation's hoop was broken like a ring of smoke that spreads and scatters and the holy tree seemed dying and all its birds were gone. And when I looked ahead I saw that the fourth ascent would be terrible.
Then when the people were getting ready to begin the fourth ascent, the Voice spoke like someone weeping, and it said: "Look there upon your nation." And when I looked down, the people were all changed back to human, and they were thin, their faces sharp, for they were starving. Their ponies were only hide and bones and the holy tree was gone.

6 At this point Black Elk remarked: "I think we are near that place now, and I am afraid something very bad is going to happen all over the world." He cannot read and knows nothing of world affairs.

Adoption causes RAD and RAD is a more normal reaction to adoption than not. Adoption in western society, especially the transracial adoption of American Indian children was and is an unnecessary and unnatural situation. Historically, the process of taking American Indian children away from families who birth them, love them, view them and understood them as their future causes immense suffering and loss that reverberates and is felt throughout each one of our nations. It broke our sacred hoop keeping the beauty of life just out of arms reach or so it seems.
The destruction didn’t happen overnight of course. Each and every one of these abuses aimed at destroying us was applied incrementally, generation after generation. Each and every one of them has done a pretty good job at what it was intended, and it isn’t over yet. It happened, some of it is still happening, and there isn't a whole lot we can do to stop it at this point. At least, I don't know of anything I can do that will.
This is not the reason I started writing this article, however. To talk endlessly about the things I cannot do or cannot change. The past is the past and there isn’t much we can do about that. Blaming won’t help, blaming ourselves and each other definitely won’t, but by being responsible and holding ourselves and each other accountable for recourse and recovery can.
As depressing as these three articles have all sounded, it was! I now prefer to spend the majority of my time working against the effects it has had on the hearts and minds of our people. So this will be the last I will have to say about all of that.
I’ve been working against the negative effects our past has had on us for the past 35 years or so. Both personally in my own life and the lives of my family members. As well as, professionally and as a volunteer within the American Indian community. Whenever the opportunity arose wherever it was I might have happened to be living at the time. Most recently I was able to offer my programming abroad, as a side job, amongst the folk in Germany, whenever the opportunity would arise.
I started out slowly of course way back then with baby steps. Thirty-five years have gone by and I seem to be walking much better now. On good days I think I might even be able to walk and chew gum. We shall see.
In the next series of blog articles I will be breaking away from the past. 
This series I’ll call Recourse and Repatriation, I will touch a little more on Black Elk’s vision and segue into a more personal accounting of my own experience of recourse and recovery from RAD. As well as offer my personal understanding of cultural repatriation and spiritual re-acculturation Lakota style.    
I am an American Indian, rightly enough. A card carrying one for all it might mean and for whatever purposes to which it matters. And I was adopted at one time. So be it. None of this has ever changed the facts of what really matters. I am a human being and I belong and so do my people. We belong to Mother Earth right here on this the North American continent. Until next time I wish you all enough. Hau Mitakuye Oyasin!

Part One: Reactive Attachment Disorder

Part One: Reactive Attachment Disorder

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

BIA Indian Child Welfare Act Guidelines #ICWA

New Guidelines!

From the website here. Press release here.

The new Guidelines, not updated since 1979, look really good. For example, there are fifteen examples of active efforts, which are explicitly separated out from ASFA findings. There is some clear language around determining putative fathers. They clarified 1922’s emergency removal provisions. They took out the “advanced stage of the proceedings” exception for transfer to tribal court. And quoting now,
There is no exception to the application of ICWA based on the so-called “existing Indian family doctrine.”
Thank you to everyone for all of the work on this. This is huge.


Measuring Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act: An Assessment Toolkit

The NCJFCJ is committed to helping state courts achieve full ICWA compliance. A new resource is now available to the courts (or Court Improvement Programs) to help achieve this goal. Measuring Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act: An Assessment Toolkit, provides concrete tools and recommendations for the state courts to assess their current compliance with ICWA. The Toolkit identifies strengths and weaknesses of different data collection approaches, provides sample tools or questions for the sites, and identifies resources and examples of putting this into practice. If you have any questions or would like additional information about measuring ICWA compliance in your jurisdiction, you can e-mail the research team at

 Measuring Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act: An Assessment Toolkit - February 28, 2014

We can thank a little girl named Veronica Brown for these changes... she is in our prayers...Trace

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reinventing a better world for all children

By Trace Hentz (adoptee-author)

Years ago doing research for my memoir, I spoke with a friend in Austria who told me about SOS VILLAGES. I had never heard of this or such a concept. It's so good it has spread to the US. READ HERE

We know that in Indian Country, taking children and placing them in adoptive homes was to assimilate them, erase them from tribal rolls, an act of genocide motivated by greed and for the taking of more land. We can't change the past in North America. It has already taken place. We are the survivors, the adoptees, left to cure ourselves but also to see to it that this doesn't happen to more children.

In 2015, I will say this: the adoption industry is like a very large building that employs thousands (if not millions) of people -- real people who collect a paycheck. They are lawyers, judges and social workers.  History shows us that children needed more than an orphange and thus began the system we have today - tiers of bureaucracy, unregulated agencies rife with corruption and kickbacks, the trafficking of children internationally to meet the supply and demand here in the US and even the black-marketing of babies. Read about one evil baby trafficker here.

We have to invent something better here in the US. We can't change what exists. We have to replace it and make the old adoption system obsolete!

If ONE TRIBE could make this happen and do this SOS VILLAGE concept in 2015, the word would spread and children would be saved. Children would not lose their tribe, culture or language. Isn't that the purpose and the reason for adoption - saving children's lives?

If someone wants my help to create this new reality in Indian Country, email me.


Adoption is, in and of itself, a violence based in inequality. It is candy-coated, marketed, and packaged to seemingly concern families and children, but it is an economically and politically incentivized crime. It stems culturally and historically from the “peculiar institution” of Anglo-Saxon indentured servitude and not family creation. It is not universal and is not considered valid by most communal cultures. It is a treating of symptoms and not of disease. It is a negation of families and an annihilation of communities not imbued with any notion of humanity due to the adoptive culture’s inscribed bias concerning race, class, and human relevancy.

The Circle of Courage

“The Circle of Courage is a model of positive youth development first described in the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, co-authored by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern. The model integrates Native American philosophies of child-rearing, the heritage of early pioneers in education and youth work, and contemporary resilience research.

The Circle of Courage is based in four universal growth needs of all children: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.
These traditional values are validated by contemporary child research and are consistent with the findings of Stanley Coopersmith who identified four foundations for self-worth: significance, competence, power, and virtue.

These are summarized below:

In Native American and First Nations cultures, significance was nurtured in communities of belonging. Lakota anthropologist Ella Deloria described the core value of belonging in these simple words: “Be related, somehow, to everyone you know.” Treating others as kin forges powerful social bonds that draw all into relationships of respect. Theologian Marty observed that throughout history the tribe, not the nuclear family, always ensured the
survival of the culture. Even if parents died or were not responsible, the tribe was always there to nourish the next generation.

Competence in traditional cultures is ensured by guaranteed opportunity for mastery. Children were taught to carefully observe and listen to those with more experience. A person with greater ability was seen as a model for learning, not as a rival. Each person strives for mastery for personal growth, but not to be superior to someone else. Humans have an innate drive to become competent and solve problems. With success in surmounting challenges, the desire to achieve is strengthened.

Power in Western culture was based on dominance, but in tribal traditions it meant respecting the right for independence. In contrast to obedience models of discipline, Native teaching was designed to build respect and teach inner discipline. From earliest childhood, children were encouraged to make decisions, solve problems, and show personal responsibility. Adults modeled, nurtured, taught values, and gave feedback, but children were given abundant opportunities to make choices without coercion.

Finally, virtue was reflected in the pre-eminent value of generosity. The central goal in Native American child-rearing is to teach the importance of being generous and unselfish. 
In the words of a Lakota Elder, “You should be able to give away your most cherished possession without your heart beating faster.” 
In helping others, youth create their own proof of worthiness: they make a positive contribution to another human life.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lost Daughters: Returning To Ethiopia, Searching For Our First Families And Seeking Justice

CLICK: Lost Daughters: Returning To Ethiopia, Searching For Our First Families And Seeking Justice

This is an important post: It makes the point that we are not the ones in power: it's the billion dolllar adoption industry who makes the rules and the money... And that TOWER OF POWER is like a large skyscraper built on myths and multiple stories of lies... Trace

I’m appalled to hear the same stories over and over again. I’m even more
appalled that people (adoption agency workers, orphanage staff or other
individuals) are getting away with having actively participated or been
complicit in fraudulent adoptions. This should not be happen. There
needs to be justice for us and our first families because we are the
ones paying the emotional and psychological costs of their corrupt and
unethical practices. Many of us feel powerless and are overwhelmed by
our situations. Those who have reunited with their families are happy to
have finally found them and are trying to figure out ways to return to
see them. But what about adoptees who are unable to find their families
due to a lack of information, time and of course money?

I blog at Lost Daughters too.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Between Two Worlds: Wayne William Snellgrove

Wayne Snellgrove (center) lives in Miami (File Photo)
‘We were lost between 2 worlds,’ survivor of Canada aboriginal kids’ adoption tells RT

Download video (13.59 MB) Please watch!
Earlier story about Wayne on this blog HERE

US national swimming champion Wayne William Snellgrove, one of the victims of Canada’s so-called “Scoop” program, an adoption scheme though which Aboriginal Canadian children were placed with white families, has told RT it stripped survivors of their identities.
“They’re lost between two worlds, they’re not part of the native culture and they don’t assimilate well with the white culture. They’ve lost their identity and it’s a really sad thing,” Snellgrove told RT about the thousands of kids who were taken from their homes from the 1960s to the 1980s, of which he was one.

Snellgrove himself was taken from his Saskatchewan mother at birth in the 1970s, and spent the first few years of his life in the care of the Canadian government. He was eventually adopted by a white family in the United States, and did not meet his birth mother until he was 32.
“I realized I had been in mourning my entire life and didn’t even know it,” he told RT of the adoption.

Snellgrove also recounted some the fraught historical context for the misguided and damaging adoption policy.
“They [white European settlers] have a very dark history of the way they treated the Aboriginal population. They tortured, they killed them, they murdered them, they raped them. All these stories are part of my story they’re part of my culture.”

The swimming champ recalled feeling out of place and lost with his American family. Though Snellgrove says he was placed into a loving home and that his adoptive parents tried their best to raise him, he was still plagued by depression and could not assimilate into white culture.
“They gave me every opportunity, but the thing is I’m not white. I did not assimilate well into white culture… There were still feelings of loss and abandonment as to why I was with the family I was with,” he said.

Though Snellgrove got the chance to meet his mother after hiring a private investigator and searching for her for seven years, he says that others are not so lucky.
“There were hundreds of kids taken from my reserve, hundreds of kids taken across Canada – thousands of kids. And from my reserve I was the third one to make it back – the third one ever to touch my ancestral lands again,” he told RT.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 11, 2013. (Reuters / Chris Wattie)
ARCHIVE PHOTO: First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 11, 2013. (Reuters / Chris Wattie)

Many of these children are now seeking reparations from the Canadian government. More than 1,800 people have signed onto a class action suit lawsuit. The plaintiffs are being represented by the Merchant Law Group, which served the federal government with the suit in late January.
Tony Merchant, the head legal counsel at Merchant, claims that children suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse as a result of the program. He criticized it as a misguided paternalistic attempt at assimilating Aboriginal Canadian children.

"It was part of the paternalistic approach, that if we could get children out of the hands of Aboriginal people, we could give them a better life in the future by taking away their culture and turning red children into white adults," he was quoted as saying by CBC.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Aboriginal adoptees sue Ottawa for loss of culture, emotional trauma

Aboriginal adoptees sue Ottawa for loss of culture, emotional trauma

Photo: The StarPhoenix, file photo

Almost 1,200 adoptees in Saskatchewan have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking compensation for their loss of culture and emotional trauma. Starting in the 1960s, thousands of aboriginal children were taken from their homes by Canadian child welfare services and placed with non-aboriginal families.

Aboriginals who were adopted into white families during the so-called '60s Scoop are suing the federal government for their loss of culture and emotional trauma.
Almost 1,200 adoptees have filed a class-action lawsuit in Saskatchewan seeking compensation from Ottawa for "cultural genocide."

From the 1960s to the 1980s, thousands of aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child-welfare services and placed with non-aboriginal families, some in the United States. Many consider the adoptions as an extension of residential schools, which aimed to "take the Indian out of the child."
David Chartrand, who joined the lawsuit, was taken from his Manitoba family at the age of five and moved to Minnesota.

"They wanted maids, butlers. They wanted slavery and to do it legally. We just fit that criteria," said the 52-year-old Metis man. "I was made to clean the house, be their slave, be the punching bag."
Chartrand said Canada had a duty to protect him and others like him. Although he returned to his home community of Camperville, Man., in his 20s, he lost everything, he said.

"I lost my life, my childhood." he said. "We want to put it behind us so we can move on."

The lawsuit, which was filed last month, is seeking unspecified damages for everything from loss of identity to sexual and physical abuse. Regina lawyer Tony Merchant said many of the children who were adopted weren't in unsafe homes but were taken simply as another way to assimilate aboriginal people.

"It was a part of taking red babies and trying to make them into white adults."

Having been raised by a white family with no cultural support, many survivors have struggled to reclaim their roots, Merchant said.

"They've just been lost from their culture."

People who were part of the '60s Scoop have been calling for a formal apology from Ottawa. They also want compensation for their experience, which many argue was just as traumatic as that suffered by residential school survivors. But while those who were sent to residential schools have had a formal apology and have been able to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, '60s Scoop adoptees haven't been formally recognized.

Other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of adoptees. A class-action lawsuit by some survivors in Ontario in 2009 is still making its way through the courts.

Chartrand worries any resolution to this lawsuit will come too late for many adoptees who are aging and suffering from increasing ill health. For those adoptees who ended up in prison or committed suicide, Chartrand said, any resolution comes too late.

"As an Indian, you have a spirit. That spirit has to come back home.
"It's not about the money. It's about these kids that are dead out there."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

SD epidemic: children still taken

Money? Yes. Money.
Every year, 743 Native American children are seized from their families and tribes. Of the ones who are not returned to their families, only half will make it into foster families- the rest find themselves in state institutions. Help us investigate South Dakota's foster care system! SIGN THE ‪PETITION:

Friday, February 6, 2015

CALLED HOME: Book Contributors

We are honored that these adoptees (or relatives of adoptees) contributed to CALLED HOME:

Suzie Fedorko,
Andrea Hill,
Anecia O'Carroll,   
Ben Ani Chosa,
Cynthia Lammers, 
Debby Poitras, 
Elizabeth Blake,
Evelyn Red Lodge,  
Gail Huggard,
Janell Black Owl,  
Jessup Fasthorse Neubert,
Janell Loos,   
Joan Kauppi,
Johnathan Brooks,  
Lawrence Sampson,
Leland Morrill,  
Lynn Grubb,
Kim Shuck (relative of adoptee),   
Mark Heiser,
Mary St. Martin,  
Meschelle Linjean,
Patrick Yeakey,  
Terry Niska,
Thomas Pierce,  
Samantha Franklin,
Alice Diver,    
Leland Morrill,
Patricia Busbee (editor),
Trace DeMeyer Hentz (editor),
Starla Bilyeu,   
Douglas LittleJohn,
Mitzi Lipscomb,
Karen Kaminawaish M.A., M.S.,
Thayla Barrett,   
Jesse Stonefield,
Karen Ann Jefferson,   
Levi EagleFeather,
Brit Reed,  
Catie Ransom,
Kim Dupre (relative of adoptee),   
Karla Mena,
Lisa Bos,
Drew Rutledge,
Michael Pintozzi,   
Marylyn Jean Chrismer,
Sheryl Lee Sinclair,  
Mary Thompson,
Amelia Cagle,       

Suzanne Zahrt Murphy (poet) and Judi Armbruster (poet) (not adoptees)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Why Native Americans are concerned about potential exploitation of their DNA

Image via Boston Public Library (Creative Commons)
Image via Boston Public Library (Creative Commons)
| February 2, 2015 |

Until the advent of genetic genealogy, knowing your ancestry meant combing through old records, decoding the meaning of family heirlooms and listening to your parents and grandparents tell you about the ‘good old days’. For anthropologists and archaeologists interested in going back even further in time, the only reliable means of understanding human history were trying to interpret ruins or remnants of skeletons or other information uncovered at the site of remains.

DNA testing has changed all that, allowing us to delve far deeper into our past than before and with a much higher degree of accuracy. Although there are many issues stirred by DNA testing, none is more provocative than interpreting our family and tribal ancestries.

Nowhere is this more apparent than among the Native American tribes in the United States. I recently wrote about a large scale genetic analysis among the American population by personal genetics and genealogy company 23andMe, using its extensive database to begin to decipher the ancestral origins of various ethnic groups in the United States.

Though the study involved more than 160,000 people, less than less than one percent of those who participated self-identified as Native American. Rose Eveleth, a journalist writing for The Atlantic suggests that this lack of participation may have a lot to do with how native tribes perceive genetic testing,
But when it comes to Native Americans, the question of genetic testing, and particularly genetic testing to determine ancestral origins, is controversial. […] Researchers and ethicists are still figuring how how to balance scientific goals with the need to respect individual and cultural privacy. And for Native Americans, the question of how to do that, like nearly everything, is bound up in a long history of racism and colonialism.
[…] for Native Americans, who have witnessed their artifacts, remains, and land taken away, shared, and discussed among academics for centuries, concerns about genetic appropriation carry ominous reminders about the past.
Eveleth references the widely publicized case where the Havasupai tribe living near the Grand Canyon sued an Arizona State Unviersity scientist for using genetic samples collected from the tribe to conduct research outside of the purpose of the original study. The crux of the issue was the consent form which covered a broad range of uses for the samples–a fact that the tribes claimed was not explained to them appropriately.

Although the tribe won the case, reclaimed the samples and settled with the university for $700,000, the issue captured the front page of the New York Times and put “every tribe in the US on notice regarding genetics research” as Native American tribal research ethics expert Ron Whitener quoted in an article titled “After Havasupai Litigation, Native Americans Wary of Genetic Research” published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A.

Around the same time that the genetics of the Havasupai were being studied, another high profile issue bought Native American tribes in conflict with researchers. The ‘Kennewick Man’, an approximately 9000 year old skeleton was discovered by accident in 1994 in Kennewick, Washington. The Umatilla tribe which were indigenous to the region sought to reclaim the remains under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to bury it in accordance with traditions. Anthropology researchers who wanted to study the skeleton however, argued there wasn’t enough evidence to convincingly show that the remains were Native American and therefore should not be returned. This resulted in a widely publicized eight year long legal dispute between scientists and the government that ended in 2004 with the court ruling in favor of the archeologists, a decision that the tribes were expectedly unhappy with.

Now, the issue has come under the spotlight once again with the Seattle Times reporting last month that preliminary DNA analyses indicated that the Kennewick Man was indeed of Native American ancestry. Apart from settling the academic debate, this finding could reignite the social and political controversy that surrounded the affair as the tribes engage in renewed efforts to retrieve the skeletal remains and prevent further research on it.

While it is understandable that tribes are concerned about how their personal DNA (and that of their ancestors) is used, it is a stretch to think that this information might be used to “develop biological weapons or justify genocide” as Eveleth suggests. Nevertheless, genetic testing be it for public health or anthropological purposes is a tricky and thorny path to tread, particularly among Native Americans as she points out in her article
So to many tribal people, having a scientist come in from the outside looking to tell them where they’re “really” from is not only uninteresting, but threatening. “We know who we are as a people, as an indigenous people, why would we be so interested in where scientists think our genetic ancestors came from?” asks Kim Tallbear, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, the author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, and a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe.
[…]So what should a geneticist do, if she’s interested in exploring a question that might involve gathering Native American DNA? It depends. Tallbear says that long before any research questions are formulated and samples are taken, the researcher should actually have a relationship with the tribe. “I think people who want to do genetic research on Native American topics really shouldn’t be doing it unless they’ve got a really considerable history of contact with native communities.”
Razib Khan, an evolutionary genetics researcher at the University of California, Davis, takes issue with how Kim Tallbear, the anthropology researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the book “Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science” discusses the topic in the Seattle Times article (emphasis Khan’s).
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Native Americans and the government and culture of the United States have a fraught relationship. That is true. But today genetics has pretty much zero relevance to the various political debates and arguments. Issues like tribal membership are determined by the cut & thrust of politics, not genomics.[…] And contrary to the implication that Tallbear makes, most scientists who work on Native American genomics don’t do so because of a deep interest in overturning the religious traditions of Native Americans, but because they are interested in the human story, of which Native Americans are an essential part. Rather than ethnic particularism the motives of scientists on the whole are those of universalist humanism.
So one can understand why political activists might balk at the inquiries of geneticists, as universalist humanism often causes problems for those engaged in the great game of ethnic particularism. But what about the academics who lend their voice in support of the latter?
In his analysis, Khan is frustrate–not at how the public is debating the issue but specifically at academics, who give in completely to personal biases and refuse to accept unequivocal genetic evidence. He compares Kim Tallbear with sociologist and intelligent design apologist Steve Fuller, ending with this furious volley (emphasis Khan’s).
Here is an indisputable fact: science is not religion, and the two are very different enterprises. If you don’t accede to this distinction, you have just lost all touch with the empirical world […] The flight from empiricism is exactly what has occurred to many scholars within science studies, probably because that’s where the career incentives are.
Most academics who are skeptical of the “objective” “truth” “claims” of “science” also agree with this fact when they have to put their choices where they mouth is. If they’re diagnosed with “cancer” they won’t put chemotherapy in quotations or demand the services of a tribal shaman. It’s going to be the best science for them and their family. That’s not just a theory, that’s a fact.
While Khan is right, many tribes are quite reluctant to consent to using their DNA or that of their ancestors for research. However, antagonizing the tribes through public personal and legal battles might only serve to alienate them further. In her Atlantic essay, Eveleth outlines the more cautious approach taken by anthropologist Dennis O’Rourke at the University of Utah and how the native tribes contend with their mixed feelings about research.
… O’Rourke works collaboratively with tribes who are interested in what he’s doing. […] Some tribes, he says, worry about it, while others don’t. “It’s important to be very clear about what my interest in the research questions are,” he said, “so if they’re not of interest to the communities they can make that judgment very early and I don’t waste their time in trying to pursue things that aren’t acceptable.”
[Nick Tipon, vice-chairman of the Sacred Sites Committee of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria] says that most tribes are struggling to balance what good might come with what harm they might be doing to tradition and their ancestors. “If someone could come to us and say ‘yes, if we destroy this ancestor of yours, maybe we’d find a cure to cancer,’ would we still have the same feeling? We’re still struggling with that. Our traditional cultural feeling is you’re buried, that’s where you rest in peace, but all societies change. We talk about it. We wonder where the right answers are.”
This is one of the forks on the road where science and society could part ways at the cost of both–to travel together will require a commitment to strong science and common sense.

Arvind Suresh is a science communicator and a former laboratory biologist. Follow him @suresh_arvind.

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The debate will rage on if any tribe should trust a scientist...I wrote an article called BLOOD FOR MONEY about the film The Leech and Earthworm.  It's posted at Trace

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