Genetic Research on Ancient Indigenous Bodies Needs Ethics Code: Scientists

By Weber, Bob | The Canadian Press, April 26, 2018 | Go to article overview

Genetic Research on Ancient Indigenous Bodies Needs Ethics Code: Scientists


Weber, Bob, The Canadian Press


Genetic research on bodies needs ethics code: paper

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Somewhere in a lab in Illinois scientists are examining residue on the teeth of ancient humans from the British Columbia coast. They hope to use the genetic data therein to help re-create the daily diet of the long-gone predecessors of today's Metlakatla people.

But the relationship between the researchers and the Indigenous people whose ancestors are in the lab goes much deeper than a thin film on a tooth.

"Community collaboration is absolutely essential," said Alyssa Bader, an anthropologist who works in the field of paleogenomics, which uses ancient DNA from people to shed light on the distant past.

Bader and several co-authors published a paper in Science magazine Thursday in which they argue the need for a code of ethics for scientists using genetic techniques.

"There are a range of concerns," said lead author Jessica Bardill of Concordia University in Montreal.

Conducting such research without the full co-operation of the people from whose land the DNA was taken furthers a long colonial history, she said. It also suggests Indigenous cultures are like lifeless artifacts that can be studied like anything else.

"Those research practices can be a continuation of issues of extraction and exploitation and of narratives of vanished or extinguished Indigenous people."

When ancient bodies can't be clearly linked with modern cultural groups, that's often because the links were destroyed when the bodies were collected, said Bardill. Even when no connections exist, the wishes of modern Aboriginals should be respected because they see themselves as guardians of the land, which includes its archelogical remains, she said.

That also leads to better research, Bardill suggested.

"It's not just about what many might belittle as politically correct pacification. …

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