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The Genographic Project: Indigenous Representatives Profiles

The Genographic Project: Indigenous Representatives Profiles At the center of the Genographic Project, a research partnership of National Geographic and IBM, is the field testing and DNA analysis of the world’s indigenous populations over the five-year course of the project. This field research, funded by the Waitt Family Foundation, will be conducted by a team of leading scientists from 10 regional research facilities around the world.

The team of field investigators, led by Spencer Wells, Ph.D., hopes to sample the DNA of populations who have remained relatively isolated over many generations. Members of these communities carry key genetic markers in their DNA that have remained embedded, and virtually unchanged, over time. The genetic markers, like indelible footprints, are the most reliable indicator of shared lineage.

The following individuals are representatives of indigenous communities who are participating in the Genographic field research and are attending the April 13, 2005, launch of the Genographic Project at National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to speak on behalf of their communities.

Julius Indaaya Hun/!un//!ume Hadza Chieftain Tanzania

Julius Indaaya Hun/!un//!ume is the chieftain of the Hadzabe tribe, a nomadic hunter-gatherer people that lives around Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania. The Hadzabe possess genetic lineages that have helped us to locate the origin of our species in Africa. The Hadzabe are Tanzania’s last hunter-gatherers, adhering to the ancient way of life that is probably similar to that of their ancestors some 50,000 years ago. They are one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes on earth. As a Hadzabe leader, Julius leads the men of his tribe on daily hunts. The women of the tribe spend their days gathering fruits and berries and digging for roots. When their hunts are unsuccessful, the Hadzabe men gather honey and pick berries. The Hadzabe children have daily target practice to learn how to shoot their bows and arrows. The tribe gathers nightly around a fire as they sharpen their hunting weapons, and older tribal members share stories with the youngsters.

The Hadzabe are a matrilocal society; the men have just one wife and, once they marry, move in with their wife’s tribe. The male tribal elders watch over the younger boys. When Julius is ready, he will pick one young male to take over the leadership of the group. The Hadzabe speak Khoisan, an ancient and complex click language related to that spoken by the San Bushmen of southern Africa. There are similarities in their language with the San Bushmen in southern Africa which could point to common ancestors. Today the Hadzabe number around 1,500 people, and their way of life is threatened. Commercialization has taken over much of the surrounding land, immigrant farmers are deforesting Hadzabe hunting terrain, and outside groups are encroaching on their territory. As a Hadzabe tribal leader, Julius hopes the Genographic Project will be one way to call attention to the threatened cultural legacy of his people before it is too late. He is featured in National Geographic’s upcoming television program “Search for Adam” and has hosted Wells and the National Geographic film crew in his village.

Battur “Turo” Tumur Descendant of Genghis Khan Mongolia/San Francisco, Calif., USA

Originally from Mongolia, named “Land of the Nomads” for its vast, seemingly endless steppeland, Battur Tumur now lives in San Francisco. He recently discovered, through a DNA test conducted as part of the upcoming National Geographic television program, “Search for Adam,” that he is descended from Genghis Khan — an enormously exciting revelation for any male Mongol. The infamous12 th-century Mongolian warlord, known to his people as Chinggis Khan, is seen by the Mongols as a symbol of strength, loyalty and stability. Sparsely populated and geographically remote, Mongolia is located in Central Asia between China and Russia. The Mongolian language, a member of the Ural-Altaic family of languages, reflects the early influence of other cultures, which includes Korean, Uzbek, Kazak, Finnish and Turkish. Nearly half the population still lives a nomadic lifestyle, and one-third live in the capital city of Ulaanbataar, where Turo grew up. Early Mongolians were hunter-gatherers who lived in the northern forests, the camel breeders of the Gobi Desert, and the herdsmen who inhabited the country’s rugged grasslands. Perhaps in keeping with the hardy lifestyle of his forbears, Turo currently works in heavy construction in San Francisco, saying, “I like hard work.” Turo says of his new-found status as a Ghengis Khan descendant, “My family and I were so surprised and happy to receive the news. It is very exciting to be related to Chinggis Khan; he is our hero. People may not know much about Mongolia, but they have all heard of ‘Genghis Khan.’ Every Mongolian idolizes him and wants to be related to him.” Globalization and the opening of its borders to the outside world are causing many Mongolian youth to leave the nomadic lifestyle behind. But Turo remains close to his roots, practicing Buddhism, living with other Mongolians, and celebrating Mongolian holidays. He is a passionate advocate of cultural preservation and hopes the Genographic Project can help preserve the ancient history of his people.

Phil Bluehouse Jr. Navajo Indian Arizona, USA

Phil Bluehouse is a Native American of the Navajo Nation and lives in Arizona. The ancestors of the Navajo were an ancient tribe with roots leading back to Asia. They are thought to have arrived in North America some 8,000 years ago in a second major migration into the Americas, via a coastal route. The first wave of migration into the Americas was roughly 15,000 years ago, via the Beringean land bridge that existed during the last ice age. There are currently about 250,000 Navajos, and many live on the Navajo reservation, a 25,000-square-mile tract of land that covers Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The Navajos have a deep spirituality and belief that all people are connected. They share those beliefs, and the story of their creation, through their strong tradition of migration stories, or “journey narratives.” According to Phil, the Navajo Nation is composed of 110 clans, each with a different name — Phil’s is Red House Minigoats — reflecting their creation journey. The description of each person’s clan can be found in their molecular structure, “where each of us has a unique journey narrative and message, and an allocation of features that describe who we are,” says Phil. “To know who you are is very important to the Navajo.” The Navajo are matrilineal, following the journey narratives and traditions of the mother’s clan. Phil says the Navajo interpretation of human migration is similar to the one being explored in the Genographic Project. “We’ve all come to where we are through a migration, from one being to another and of one sort or another.” Phil has dedicated much of his time to the Dineh Medicine Man’s Association, a group of men and women who, tradition states, are imbued with special powers to heal the people, or Dineh. Through song, prayers, chants, herbs and ritual objects, Phil says, the medicine men hope to “preserve, protect, promote and perpetuate Navajo ideologies and traditions through the medicine man’s peaceful, healing ways.” The Navajo Nation, like many indigenous populations, is falling prey to the lure of Western culture; according to Phil, the reservation is being bombarded by external influences. Still, he believes the Navajo culture will never become extinct: “Our language, traditions and world are permanently imprinted in our DNA and RNA. We reenact them through our rituals and ceremonies, and we will always be able to re-discover those points of reference in our DNA through our chants, rituals and mind/body journeys.” Phil worked with Spencer Wells on National Geographic’s “The Journey of Man,” and says of the Genographic Project, “This will educate us and allow us to have a journey together. We’ve all been created to discover and find, and the puzzle — the scientific and the traditional realms — is starting to come together. This will take us all to the next level of knowledge, to make more connections. I think this project may confirm the journey we, as Navajos, have been telling for a long time.”