Fifth Session, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
New York, 15-26 May 2006
Collective Statement of Indigenous Organizations Opposing “The Genographic Project”
Agenda Item 4
Presented on behalf of:
Global Indigenous Caucus, Buffalo River Dine Nation, International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB), and the Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association.
Thank you Madame Chair. This is a collective statement on behalf of several Indigenous peoples’ organizations.
Indigenous peoples worldwide remain very concerned about a global genetic research project known as The Genographic Project, which plans to collect 100,000 DNA samples from Indigenous peoples in an effort to construct theories about historical human migrations. The Project is a collaborative effort of National Geographic Society, IBM Corporation with funding from the Waitt Family Foundation, sourced by Gateway Computer fortunes. The taking of blood and other biological samples, as well as oral histories, will be coordinated and maintained 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.
The Genographic Project is exploitative and unethical because it will use Indigenous peoples as subjects of scientific curiosity in research that provides no benefit to Indigenous peoples, yet subjects them to significant risks. Researchers will take the blood or other bodily tissue samples for their own use in order to further their own speculative theories on human history.
Indigenous peoples are concerned that the Genographic Project will discount Indigenous knowledge, oral histories, and undermine our human rights. In fact, their informed consent form states: “It is possible that some of the findings that result from this study may contradict an oral, written, or other traditional held by you or by members of your group.” Despite the speculative nature of genetic research on human histories, these findings could be used to undermine “indigenousness” or “aboriginality” of Indigenous peoples and our rights as the original inhabitants of our territories. Such theories, carrying the weight of Western science, could be used to undermine our human rights to our territories and jeopardize our unique political status. Indigenous peoples oppose this kind of research because our creation stories and languages carry information about our genealogy and ancestors. We do not need genetic testing to tell us where we come from.
We also have significant concerns regarding free prior informed consent. First and foremost, this project was launched without any broad-based input from Indigenous peoples. Second, there is no clear process for collective decision-making with Indigenous peoples at the local level. The Project relies primarily on individual consent, which the GP expects to obtain in 20 minutes from Indigenous participants. If an Indigenous person consents to participate in the GP, they consent to have their genetic material and derived information available for future human migration studies.
Part of the Genographic Project is devoted to so-called “ancient DNA” research, which requires destructive analysis of genetic material taken from the bodies of our deceased ancestors in an attempt to compare them to modern populations. The bodies of our ancestors are sacred and should not be desecrated in the name of scientific curiosity. There is no way to get their informed consent and we have no right to consent for them.
The GP is trying to induce Indigenous peoples to participate in the Project by establishing “The Legacy Fund,” which proposes to donate money to Indigenous peoples’ cultural preservation projects. There is no connection between preserving blood and perpetuating Indigenous culture. Our blood is sacred, inalienable and not for sale.
On May 20, 2006, we presented a petition to the National Geographic Society calling for a halt to the Genographic Project, which was signed by over 860 Indigenous peoples and organizations and allies.
We know that sample collections have already started in Africa and North America, but there has been no open disclosure about where they have already taken samples or a target list of peoples for the future. We are urgently calling on the Permanent Forum to join our opposition to protect our most vulnerable communities from this unwanted intrusion.
- The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues demonstrates their concern to the international community on the targeting of Indigenous peoples for genetic research as exploitative and unethical.
- Recommends the United Nations Human Rights system and the States to enforce the highest ethical standards to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples as human subjects in genetic research.
- Recommend that the National Geographic Society, IBM Corporation, the Waitt Family Foundation and affiliated private and governmental research institutions immediately cancel the Genographic Project.