University pays damages to Indian tribe for alleged misuse of DNA

The New York Times reported a week or so ago that Arizona State University had paid damages to an Indian tribe for misuse of DNA that had been collected by a University researcher (here, with further analysis here). The tribe claimed that the researcher, Therese Markow, had obtained permission to use the DNA for one purpose but then used it for other purposes. That is, she had not obtained informed consent for wider-ranging research than the original research, which was to study diabetes among the members of the tribe. The Times did not give enough information about the consent given by the Indians to allow a judgment as to whether Professor Markow acted unethically, but she insists that she did not, in part because it is impossible to tell in advance the direction of a research project. Indeed, it is easy to conjecture that the University settled the suit because contesting it would damage its image.

One of the issues that rankled the tribe was that the DNA was used to cast doubt on their creation myth. Forgive me, but their creation myth is as obviously wrong as the more-widespread creation myth of many Biblical literalists. It needs to have doubt cast upon it.

Although The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was not a factor in the lawsuit, the case reminds me of nothing more than that of Kennewick Man (see also here). In that case, an Indian tribe stymied the efforts of anthropologists to study a fascinating fossil that had been discovered in the Pacific Northwest and at least appeared not to have Indian features. In the end, the Army Corps of Engineers destroyed the archaeological site.