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News > Science and Tech

Scholars Urge Scientists to 'Respect Indigenous Communities'

  • Research on the remains of the Kennewick Man, or Ancient One, created

    Research on the remains of the Kennewick Man, or Ancient One, created | Photo: Brittney Tatchell/Smithsonian Institution

Published 28 April 2018

According tho seven scholars engagement with Indigenous communities grants scientific research important information. 

Researchers of Indigenous cultures around the world are being urged to include local communities in the studies’ and to respect their desires in the analysis of ancient remains.

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A recent article published in Science Magazine titled "Advancing the Ethics of Paleogenomics," called on archaeologists and another scientist to make ethical considerations when dealing with Indigenous communities highlighting the fact mostly absent currently. The article which was written by writers, who completed a summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) Consortium, said much more care was needed in the paleogenomics and genetic analysis of ancient organisms. They grouping argued that better community engagement would also result in better science studies.

As an example they cite the case of the skeleton known as Kennewick Man by the scientific community, but which North American Indigenous nations called tribes call Ancient One.

The ancient remains were found in 1996, but it took researchers almost 20 years to determine the bones were most closely related to Native Americans. DNA analysis on one the most ancient remains ever found in North America unleashed a conflict with Indigenous communities who wanted to bury an ancestor.  

"What we've tried to outline is that not only is community engagement better for the community, which is a pretty well understood concept, but that it makes for better science," Dr. Jessica Bardill, an assistant professor at Concordia University in Montreal and one of the article's co-authors said.

Dr. Bardill explains Indigenous groups can help researchers with context to interpret results through family and oral histories.

Furthermore, the authors outline seven questions to help researchers identify the Indigenous communities that should be approached, potential harms and benefits to the community, community participation, and what happens to the samples after the study.

Recommendations can be summed up in the principle of doing no harm to the communities and regarding ancestral remains “not as ‘artifacts’ but as human relatives who deserve respect in research.”

In cases where researchers don’t know which Indigenous communities are related to the remains, the authors suggest they should start by asking nearby Indigenous groups because they have a connection to the land, including burial places.

Nanibaa’ Garrison, assistant professor of pediatric bioethics at the University of Washington School of Medicine And the article’s co-author, explained that "engaging communities at the outset is critical for understanding their concerns or questions about research involving ancient relatives. Without feedback from the community, scientific interpretations remain one-sided and inherently biased."

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