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Press Release – For Immediate Release
Dated: July 19, 2006  

Local Contacts:
Andrea Carmen, International Indian Treaty Council (907) 745-4482 or
Faith Gemmill, Neets’aii Gwich’in 907-750-0188 or
Shawna Larson, (907) 841-5163 or

National Contact:
Debra Harry, Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (775) 574-0301 or

Genographic Project to Begin Expedition to Collect Blood from Alaska Natives

July 19, 2006  The Genographic Project, a genetic research project initiated by the National Geographic Society, will commence an expedition to collect blood or other human DNA samples and oral histories from Alaska’s Native peoples on July 20 2006. The expedition, led by population geneticist Spencer Wells, ultimately plans to collect more than 100,000 DNA samples from Indigenous peoples worldwide and has been met with global opposition by Indigenous peoples citing numerous ethical and human rights concerns. 

In May 2006, those concerns were affirmed by a United Nations body that recommended the Genographic Project should come to an immediate end.  On the closing day of its two week meeting, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) announced its recommendation that “the World Health Organization and the Human Rights Commission investigates the objectives of the Genographic Project” and request “that the Genographic Project be immediately suspended and report to the Indigenous peoples on the free, prior and informed consent of all the communities where activities are conducted or planned.”

Also on May 20, 2006 several Indigenous leaders met with the representatives of the Genographic Project and its parent organization, the National Geographic Society (NGS), to express their overwhelming opposition to the project. Noting the project’s goal to map the migratory history of humankind through DNA, Art Manual, (Shushwap Nation) and director of the Indigenous Network on Economy and Trade in British Columbia, Canada, says, “We don’t need genetic testing to tell us who we are or where we come from. Our creation stories and languages inform us of our genealogy and ancestors.”

The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB) presented a petition to lead researcher, Dr. Spencer Wells, bearing the names of more than 850 Indigenous nations, organizations, individuals, and supporters calling on the National Geographic Society to stop the Project. “The fundamental ethical question is whether the benefits to research subjects will outweigh the risks. The answer is an absolute ‘no’ ”, says Nilo Cayuqueo, (Mapuche) of Abya Yala Nexus.  He further notes, “this research poses real political risks that can be used to undermine the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

“At its August 2005 International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) Conference in Ermineskin First Nations, Treaty 6 Territory, Alberta Canada, attended by over 700 Indigenous participants from around the world, including from Alaska, the IITC adopted a resolution by consensus affirming that “it is unethical to proceed with human population genetic research on Indigenous Peoples because the risks to these Peoples far outweighs any potential benefits”. The resolution also “encourages Indigenous Peoples to prohibit activities related to the Genographic Project to be conducted within their territories, including any collection of blood, other DNA samples and oral histories.” IITC’s Director, Andrea Carmen, based in Palmer, Alaska, said “I hope the Alaska Native Peoples will take a stand at the tribal government, corporation, village, and individual level and say “NO” to the Genographic Project.”

Referring to the Genographic Project’s plans to undertake genetic analysis on the remains of Indigenous peoples’ ancestors, Stan Williams (Anishinabe) of the Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association in Vancouver BC notes that, “the ancestors are sacred and we cannot allow any acts of desecration on their bodies.”

Despite the opposition generated by Indigenous peoples and other critics including sectors of the scientific community, the Genographic Project continues to move forward with its goals.  Harry says “We do not believe that this Project is providing adequate information to Indigenous peoples regarding its purposes and the potential risks they may face if they participate. That means it will exploit vulnerable peoples for its own benefit. Many local communities and villages do not know about these global issues.” In addition, Harry said “The Genographic Project has an internal list of Alaska Native peoples and villages from whom they intend to collect genetic samples.  We have asked for “absolute transparency by identifying the targeted Indigenous peoples they intend to visit in advance of those visits, but they have not been forthcoming with that information.”

Faith Gemmill, Gwich’in from Arctic Village, Alaska who works for the REDOIL network in Alaska states: “The idea of coming into our territories to hunt for blood samples and DNA from our bodies or from our ancestral remains is appalling! Indigenous peoples are not guinea pigs, we are human beings and we deserve to be respected as such. If Alaska Natives understood fully what this project is, these researchers would not leave with one drop of our DNA nor would they be allowed to come into our territories at all.”

Harry calls on the media to help carry this critical information to Alaska’s villages, especially those most remote, to ensure they are adequately armed with information to protect their rights and interests.”

For more information regarding Indigenous concerns and opposition to the Genographic Project, visit the IPCB website at:


Key National Geographic Society “Genographic Project” contacts are as follows:

Terry D. Garcia
Executive Vice President
National Geographic Society
1145 17th Street, NW
Washington DC 20036
(202)828-6615 office
(202)775-6126 fax
(202)494-6165 mobile


Spencer Wells
Director of the Genographic Project
National Geographic Society
1145 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036  USA
202.828.5465 office
202.862.5270 fax,


Lucie McNeil
Director of Communications
National Geographic
The Genographic Project
Tel: 202 857 5841
Cell: 857 222 7508