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“The much-publicized settlement between Arizona State University (ASU) and the Havasupai tribe over alleged misuse of DNA samples collected from tribal members sheds light on the often-uneasy relationship between indigenous peoples and academia.
For many American Indians, the case is an example of the paternalism that that has dominated the relationship between academic researchers and tribes for generations.
“There continues to be a sense that Western ways of knowing and understanding are more important and therefore give researchers the right of way in understanding the world,” says Dr. Sonya Atalay, a member of the Anishinabe tribe and an assistant professor of anthropology at Indiana University.
Researchers are beginning to find out, however, that failure to be forthright with research subjects, honor their customs, and produce research for their benefit spurs deep-seated resentment among research populations, according to Atalay. In light of the Havasupai dispute, some tribes developed policy on participating in genetics research while others opted out of research projects altogether. . . .
The Havasupai, a tribe of about 650 members living on the floor of the Grand Canyon, sued the university alleging that researchers did not get adequate consent to include the blood samples in additional research. After spending $1.7 million fighting Havasupai claims in court, ASU settled with the tribe in April for $700,000 and issued a public apology. The Havasupai had sought $60 million in the lawsuits it brought against the university. . . .
In addition to $700,000 in compensation to the 41 plaintiffs named in the Havasupai lawsuit, ASU agreed to return the blood samples, collaborate with the tribe in areas such as health, education and economic development and create a scholarship program for tribal members. . . .”