Blood and Sovereignty–Native Americans Give Voice to Studies on Them

New America Media, News Feature, Paul Kleyman, Posted: Apr 18, 2012
Photo: Elders of Washington State’s Squaxin Island Tribe are shown in a recent issue of the Klah-Che-Min Newsletter enjoying a shopping trip for traditional blankets and other goods. But unlike seniors in mainstream American culture, Squaxin elders—especially women– hold considerable decision-making power, such as on the tribe’s participation in health research.

SAN FRANCISCO—For Native Americans in need of good research on their persistent health issues, the troubling case of Arizona’s tiny Havasupai Indian tribe “put genetic research on the front burner,” stated Ron Whitener, executive director of the University of Washington’s Native American Law Center in Seattle.

The $700,000 settlement that Arizona State University (ASU) made two years ago with the Havasupai—plus the return to the tribe’s care of 151 remaining blood samples [] from a university freezer—chilled research cooperation throughout Indian Country. Some tribes even wanted to halt any cooperation with genetic research institutions, Whitener said.

Studies Perpetuated Stereotypes

Members of the small Havasupai band had discovered that without their permission ASU scientists and graduate students had mined blood samples tribal members provided in the early 1990s for purposes beyond the diabetes studies they had agreed to.  Read More