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Yanomami indians demand that blood samples taken by North American scientists in 1967 be returned - 05/04/2002

Local: São Paulo - SP
Fonte: ISA- Instituto Socioambiental

The Indians, with the support of an official request from the Public Attorney to the universities where the material is currently stored, will make their request during a seminar at Cornell University between the 5 and 7 April. The seminar will debate the ethics of scientific research and the protection of the genetic heritage of indigenous peoples
This Friday (05/04), the yanomamis Davi Kopenawa, from the Demini region of Amazonas, Totô, from Toototobi, also in the state of Amazonas, José Serepino, from Venezuela, and Jô Cardoso de Oliveira, executive secretary of the Pro-Yanomami Commission, will arrive at Cornell Univeristy to participate in the seminar "Tragedy in Amazonia: Yanomami voices, academic controversy and research ethics", organised by the North American anthropologist Terence Turner.

The debate about research ethics and the protection of the genetic heritage of indigenous peoples has become a crucial question among academics and scientists in the United States since the publication of the book "Darkness in El Dorado", by the British journalist, Patrick Tierney. Released in November 2000, the book, based on eleven years of research in Amazonia, alleges that blood sample were collected in various Yanomami villages in Venezuela and Brazil by the geneticist James Neel and the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon between 1967 and 1968 in exchange for manufactured goods.
According to the Pro-Yanomami Commission's Yanomami Bulletin, published last Tuesday, the principal questions to be debated by the participants in the seminar relate to violations of the Nuremberg Code, which in 1947 established an international code of conduct on ethical aspects related to research conducted on human beings - and the suspicion that the blood samples were reprocessed and continue to be used in new research without the knowledge or consent of the Indians.

For the Yanomami, the seminar represents one more opportunity to demand the return of the blood samples, reinforcing the declaration made by Davi Kopenawa to participants in the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Anthropologists (AAA), which took place in Washington in 2001: "I would like to speak again about the book and the blood which was taken from my kin and taken from there and today is stored in a refridgerator. I would like to know what they want to do with this blood and why do they keep it. I want them to give the blood back to me so that I can take it back to Brazil and spill it into the river to make the shaman's spirit joyful".

The Pro-Yanomami Commission has already localised some of the Yanomami blood samples, which are kept at the Anthropology departments of the State University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.

Public Ministry intervenes

The Public Ministry is examining the question. The Assistant Attorney-General, Ela Wiecko Volkmer de Castilho, sent a document to the researchers Andrew Merriwether, of the University of Michigan, and Kenneth Weiss, of the State University of Pennsylvania, with ten questions about the existence of Yanomami blood samples, on 7 March.
In Brazil, Resolution 196/96 determines that the National Commission on Research Ethics of the National Health Council must accompany requests to conduct research on special themes, including indigenous populations, research involving the participation of foreigners, as well as research which involves sending biological material abroad. As well as this measure, the Normative Instruction 01/95 determines that all national or foreign researchers who intend to enter indigenous territories to conduct scientific research must send their application to the president of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI).

See the Document sent by the Brazilian Public Attorney to the Universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania (United States) about the collection of blood samples from Yanomami Indians by North American researchers.