1. Contemporary Native Americans have very good reasons to not participate in these studies of earliest Americans.
Just like in “Battle of the Bones”–which attempts to make a science-versus-creationism argument for studying Native American remains–people take this “paucity of samples from North America” as an opportunity to bash contemporary Native Americans for opting out of these studies. Dienekes blog asks if this is “Petty identity politics contra science?” and commenters on various articles condemn Native groups for this supposedly “petty” refusal.
For many years I’ve been showing the BBC production, Bones of Contention: Native American Archaeology for Introduction to Anthropology. Produced in 1995, this film is even older than “Battle of the Bones,” but it takes a BBC perspective to give a fairer presentation of U.S. politics and Native issues. What this film at least makes clear–and seems lost on so many–is that Native Americans have plenty of good reasons to still be suspicious of genetic investigation.
Genocide. Treaty abrogation. Children sent to boarding school to be stripped of language and identity. Contemporary inequalities. The fact that every time I assign “Battle of the Bones” and screen Bones of Contention, some students openly snicker or rant about Native Americans holding back science. It’s one of the factors that went undiscussed in that re-study of Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man–how did Morton get all those skulls anyway?In my opinion that is a lot of hooey to justify the unjustifiable. I won't argue about the veracity or details of this version of history, but surely native Americans from the US were not especially mistreated compared to other people colonized by Europeans?
Petty identity politics indeed.
I mean, there are now samples from Native Australians, East Indians, Sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans from all over the Americas except the US. Why don't all these people not "hold a grudge" for their bad treatment at the hands of Europeans, but, apparently, are perfectly willing to participate in genetic research if it's explained to them how they might learn more about their ancestors from it?
And, why limit ourselves to people colonized by Europeans? Surely, Slavs, for example, have a lot of things to say about German Rassenkunde scientists belittling them, studying their skulls to "prove" they are an inferior race, and hatching up and executing plans for their annihilation. So, why do the Russians give the Denisova fingerbone to ze Max Planck folks to study, or allow them to study ancient DNA from all over their territory?
Scour the literature for a while, and you'll find plenty of (modern) Germans studying Jews, and Jews studying pretty much everybody, including many not-so-friendly Muslim populations. You'll find Russians too, studying all the subjugated ethnic groups of their former Empire, and plenty of Han Chinese scientists studying some of the 57 ethnic groups of their country. You'll find Serbs and Turks forgetting about the Battle of Kosovo or the Balkan Wars to participate in joint research about the origins of the Neolithic. You'll find Roma and Saami being studied by their native European "oppressors."
And, how about those African Americans whose ancestors were dragged across the Atlantic in chains, and forced to work as slaves, surely they have as good a reason, if not better, to be suspicious of being made an object of study by people outside their community? But, last time I checked, there were plenty of studies on that population, informing them about the sources of their African ancestors and the timing and extent of admixture with their European ones.
In short: you'll find plenty of groups with historical or even contemporary sources of conflict setting aside their differences in the interest of science.
The anti-scientific attitude of certain Native American groups cannot be ascribed to a history of oppression or conflict with the ancestors of the scientists wishing to study them. And, indeed, if Native Americans were once oppressed by the Palefaces, why don't they let themselves be studied by Chinese or Japanese researchers, or indeed by their own scientists: there are Native American geneticists after all!
There are two answers to this question:
- The cultural relativist nonsense about science being a "white man's way of knowing" that is of no use to Native groups who already know who their ancestors were.
- "petty identity politics" indeed.