Dated: May 20, 2006
Released by: Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism
Contact: Debra Harry
Indigenous Peoples Oppose the National Geographic Society’s New Vampire Project
(New York) Indigenous peoples gathered in New York are voicing their opposition to a global genetic research project that proposes to collect 100,000 DNA samples from Indigenous peoples worldwide. The National Geographic Society and the IBM Corporation launched the “Genographic Project” 13 months ago with a goal of mapping ancient migratory patterns using genetic information. The project is largely funded by the Waitt Family Foundation of Gateway Computer fortune. The taking of samples will be coordinated by ten worldwide regional research centers. With centers in Australia, Brazil, North America and Southeast Asia, Sub-Sahara and South Africa, this project is certain to affect many Indigenous peoples around the world.
On May 20, 2006 several Indigenous leaders will meet with the Genographic Project to voice their concerns to the project’s core staff, including lead researcher, Dr. Spencer Wells, and top National Geographic officials. Some participants in the upcoming meeting hosted by Cultural Survival plan to deliver a petition signed by over 850 calling for an end to the Project and a boycott of all programs, products and services of the National Geographic Society, IBM, and Gateway Computers.
“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.” The Genographic Project itself warns of a risk to Indigenous peoples that “it is possible that some of the findings that result from this study may contradict an oral, written or other tradition held by you or by members of your group.” Le`a Kanehe (Native Hawaiian), an attorney of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism, warns that, “it is a real risk that the Project will discredit Indigenous peoples’ own traditional knowledge about our own origins and could be used by unfriendly governments to deny our human rights as the original inhabitants of our territories.”
Marcos Terena (Terena) Chairman of the Inter-Tribal Committee in Brazil said “Indigenous peoples in Brazil have been exploited by this kind of research in the past. We refuse to be exploited again.”
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.”
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.”
Many Indigenous peoples see no significant difference between the Genographic Project and a predecessor project, the Human Genome Diversity Project, which was defeated many years ago. In the 1990s, the HGDP faced international opposition by Indigenous peoples who considered the project an unconscionable attempt by genetic researchers to pirate their DNA for their own purposes. Although Dr. Wells has denied any strong connection between the HGDP and his new effort, Luca Cavalli-Sforza, the founder of the HGDP serves as chairperson of the Genographic’s advisory committee. Recently, Cavalli-Sforza stated that the Genographic Project is almost the same as the HGDP. Indigenous peoples built a global movement opposing the HGDP and the patenting of Indigenous peoples genes.
“The only difference between the two vampire projects is that the Genographic Project has much larger goals, seeking to obtain more blood and making a global database of information available to future scientists, including our oral histories,” says Debra Harry, Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism, which has led Indigenous peoples opposition to the Project.
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. We want this project stopped.” Because Wells’ research team has started taking DNA samples without any advance notice to the public, Indigenous peoples will be asking the Genographic Project’s commitment to full transparency, including by identifying the targeted Indigenous peoples for research and to fund international regional informational briefings for such peoples.”
For more information see www.ipcb.org