GENEWATCH
 
CASE IN POINT: THE HAVASUPAI
By CRG Staff
 

In 1990, members of the Havasupai tribe, a small, isolated community living in the Grand Canyon, gave DNA samples to researchers from Arizona State University to contribute to research that could help determine the cause of the tribe's very high rate of diabetes. Nothing much came of the diabetes study, but over a decade later, the Havasupai discovered that over 20 academic articles had been published based on studies conducted at the university using Havasupai blood, studying an array of topics the tribe members never recalled agreeing to. One article found that the tribe's ancestors had crossed the Bering land bridge long ago, contradicting the tribe's oral history of having originated in the canyon; another article claimed the DNA samples showed a high degree of inbreeding among the Havasupai. Many of those who had given blood felt hurt and betrayed, and the tribe issued a “banishment order” against any Arizona State researchers attempting to enter the reservation.

Over the course of a decade, without the tribe's knowledge, degrees and grants had been awarded based on these studies; now, after years in court, the university will pay the tribe $700,000. The remaining blood samples were destroyed this spring. Arizona State has adopted much stricter requirements for researchers working with tribes - and the Havasupai and other tribes will be watching.

 
 
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