Native Americans are not special snowflakes

By Razib Khan | July 12, 2012 11:45 pm

Dienekes, in response to Living Anthropologically, Petty identity politics indeed, or, holding a grudge is no excuse for anti-science:

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?

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 Planckfolks 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 thePalefaces, 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!

Much of the argument outlined here anticipated what I immediately thought when I read the first few sentences of the post. I don’t deny that in the past scientists behaved unethically. But the experiences of Native Americans are not sui generis. Let’s be honest here and admit that politics is the primary force driving this particular behavior. There are surely many people of all groups who are not especially interested in or sympathetic to scientists treating them as objects of study. But only some groups have collective recognition of the kind which results in the veto of study participation of even of a minority.

Also, did anyone else notice that the paper out of Broad explicitly discussed Native Americans, which is an American appellation most commonly, but lacked any American native samples? I think the results are robust, but it’s rather like inferring the demographic history of Germans by looking at Austrians, Alsatians, Danes, and Dutch. Reminds me of the use of Pakistanis in the HGDP because the Permit Raj prevented sampling of Indians.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy
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  • Jenna

    I assumed that their reluctance wasn’t so much due to their distrust of science or resenting mainstream American culture as the underlying fear that many self-identified Native Americans may not in fact have a lot of, or even any, native blood. Many black and white Americans with anecdotal native ancestry haven’t been able to support that with genetic testing, for that matter. Right now, I don’t believe it’s clearly regulated as to who can claim tribal membership, and tribes could fear that the government may require members to “prove” genetically that they qualify. Even if that may or may not be considered legitimate, I imagine most self-identifying Native Americans would have a negative reaction, even be devastated, at learning that they were genetically minimally or not at all Native American.

  • chris y

    Also, did anyone else notice that the paper out of Broad explicitly discussed Native Americans, which is an American appellation most commonly, but lacked any American native samples?

    This sentence is a wonderful example of the semantic confusion that can be engendered by the appropriation of the word “American” to denote citizens of the USA, while “America” continues to refer to two well populated continents. Not your fault, but I had to read it twice to work out what you meant.

  • Darkseid

    I think i remember Razib posting this on his Pinboard feed:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/us/22dna.html?pagewanted=all
    “Listening to the investigators, Ms. Tilousi felt a surge of anger, she recalled. But in Supai, the initial reaction was more of hurt. Though some Havasupai knew already that their ancestors most likely came from Asia, “when people tell us, ‘No, this is not where you are from,’ and your own blood says so — it is confusing to us,” Rex Tilousi said. “It hurts the elders who have been telling these stories to our grandchildren.”

    Others questioned whether they could have unwittingly contributed to research that could threaten the tribe’s rights to its land. “Our coming from the canyon, that is the basis of our sovereign rights,” said Edmond Tilousi, the tribe’s vice chairman. ”

    I also wonder if some tribe “members” worry that they be outed as posers and are not genetically native american and, therefore, are not entitled to benefits.

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt
  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    i don’t think it’s just that ppl will find out they’re not native american. spencer wells said that only 2 out of 50+ tribes returned a “yes” to being in a study. most of these tribes have lots of people with native american ancestry. these aren’t just elizabeth warren types. there’s a deep ideological suspicion, founded and unfounded.

  • WF Posey

    I don’t think the so-called objects of these so-called studies participate with as much awareness as you would care to give them credit for. The majority of these studies are made frequently by telling the participants as little as possible. I think so-called scientists will make studies like these with or without cooperation. The real problem with most of them is how science becomes twisted in a near desperate effort to prop up all pre-existing conclusions. The latest studies in North American migration patterns is a good case in point. The sample size being credited with this study is hopelessly small. It is to small to have much confidence in the results it claims to have produced. I am an American Indian. i am well versed in most of the studies, contemporary and historic, around American Indians. In all of them, I have seen very little evidence of what you call putting aside the grudge for science. What I have seen instead is the behavior of researchers that resist fully informing the participants. I am not sure what point this article has beyond continuing another pointless rant that began somewhere else. All of these studies have some merit, but not one of them represent conclusions in the neighborhood of the truth. The sad thing about most studies is how little the researchers actually try and communicate with the subjects. American Indians never have experienced any effort by modern people in any discipline to talk to them directly about what they might know. There are many ethical and moral questions about the methodology and the presence of an open and honest seat at the table for all those concerned. these problems taint every research project to date that I have ever perused.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    The sample size being credited with this study is hopelessly small. It is to small to have much confidence in the results it claims to have produced. I am an American Indian. i am well versed in most of the studies, contemporary and historic, around American Indians.

    you aren’t well versed in statistical genetics. the sample size is large, and the authors have a lot of data to go on.

  • http://dienekes.blogspot.com Dienekes

    I’ll add that if a sample size is small, not participating in research ain’t gonna increase it.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    The Native Americans and some other aboriginal populations were especially mistreated when compared to other groups mentioned in the post by Dienekes, because the effect of colonialism was in the long term greater for them.

    Basically, just look at which people who experienced European colonialism now live in countries not ruled by Europeans and which don’t.

    Look at how many independent countries of their own the peoples of Africa now have or how many independent countries Slavs have and how many independent countries Native Americans have.

    Yes, the native peoples of the Americas have 0 independent countries of their own. Nada, zilch, zero.

    Their experience is very different to the Slavs, who in the 20th century regained most of the lands that the German “drive to the East” had taken from them in the last thousand years. (Not that it was often the same Slav groups, many having gone culturally extinct, but still…)

    The Native Americans have not got past the colonial period, it’s still their everyday experience.

    They are poor, second class citizens pushed on the margins of society and often on marginal lands. They don’t tend to have any representation on federal levels and are treated as cultural relics, part of the past by the majority European populations who rule their ancestral lands. On average, their population numbers are still nowhere near what they were before 1492.

    As long as the Native Americans don’t have a few independent countries of their own in the Americas they are special snowflakes to me and I fully understand why they are not so interested in taking part in these studies.

  • jb

    Can anyone explain to my why researchers don’t just do an end run around the tribes by appealing to individuals? They could be very up front about it: For political reasons your tribe does not want to cooperate with us. But if you believe that science should take priority over politics, and if you are curious about the true origins of your people, and its relationship to the rest of humanity, then we would like to hear from you. Even if only a tiny fraction responded, surely that would still be more than enough.

    So could the tribes actually forbid individual members from cooperating? (And keep in mind that not all Native Americans are even tribally affiliated). Could they torpedo the research is some other way? What actual power do the tribes have in this matter?

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    Jenna, I don’t understand why some non- Native people are so keen about the amount of Native blood the people who identify as Natives have, when their own identities tend to be connected to national – not ethnic or genetic identities – which are very recent, mostly deliberate creations. “American” or “Canadian” etc are not things that can be found out through blood samples, for example.

    Surely there are impostors and people who take credit for very little amount of Native heritage, but in countries created by immigrants, countries where re-creating yourself, being what you want to be, is often trumpeted as one great part of these countries, I don’t really understand the negativity felt towards people who identify as Natives in these circumstances, as being Native American or First Nation in North America tends to mean that you are among the most worse off people in those countries.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    9 –

    One could argue that Paraguay is an independent, Native-American country. At least, the nearly the entire (mixed-race) population is bilingual between Spanish and an indigenous language, and the indigenous language (Guarani) is taught in all public schools.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    Paraguay is ruled by an European elite, who own most of the land and just kicked out a president who very moderately tried to – among other things – improve the condition of the natives.

    It’s the same with Bolivia or Guatemala or Peru, which all have large aboriginal populations and two of which have had – and one of them still has – presidents with native background. All are still very much European (and mainly Spanish, although – for example – Bolivia has also significant amount of German and Italian derived families among it’s elite) countries where the native populations are marginalized.

    The Guatemalan civil war of 1960-96 was also largely a genocide of the Mayan people, as they formed the huge majority of the 200 000 or so of the casualties. The people convicted for killings in the civil war still number about a dozen or so and the aboriginal groups – even when they even officially form over 40 percent of the population – are almost totally absent from politics. They learned the (intended) lesson, so to speak, of the civil war and now let the Europeans run the country and keep it’s wealth. (When Guatemala’s new post- civil war constitution was accepted in a referendum in the late 90s, only 10 percent of the population dared to take part in the referendum.)

    This thread was mainly about Native Americans in the United States, though, where they are exceedingly small and marginalized minority.

    When an UN special representative, who had proposed giving a small amount of land in the US back to the Native Americans as a way of trying to help lift them out of poverty and improve their condition overall, tried to meet members of the US Congress earlier this summer, not a single member of the US Congress accepted.

    That’s the reality of the situation of Native Americans in the US still today.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Raimo –

    I have a feeling that Razib is going to give you the smackdown, as you seem to be melding modern identity politics with 19th century ethnic nationalism. The former is a wrong-headed, but generally inoffensive political stance. The latter has a body count large enough to say it was an unrequited failure, and has indeed been abandoned as an idea of international law.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #14, i don’t have time. the comment is pretty much “not even wrong/what the fuck.” do you think he’s useful as a commenter??? his stupidity is a little on the long-winded side. btw, nice to know that the pygmies and khoisan in the HGDP have their own nation-states and are treated awesomely ;-)

  • Brel

    Raimo and a lot of the other posters with similar opinions ignore the fact that plenty of indigenous peoples from other parts of the Americas, who were also marginalized by Europeans, were still willing to be part of this study. Tribes located in the US were a glaring exception. Curiously, despite advocating for Native peoples, these commenters only manage to show their own US-centrism.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    I have been very polite and intend to be so in my comments. I don’t consider myself either stupid nor “not even wrong” when it comes to my comments, but those are naturally my own opinions and I don’t take any offense if I am labeled that way.

    Moving on: Trying to approach to the question of why people don’t take part in these studies should also take account the viewpoints of the abstainers and the context of their lives and the historical brackground. I personally think that we should at least be open to the possibility of them if not justifying, then explaining, the behaviour of the abstainers.

    If we don’t do that, we could just end up blaming them being obstacles to scientific study , and if that path would be taken, the question about why they abstain could have been as well bypassed and that conclusion adopted immediately from purely our own viewpoint.

    Karl, you might feel that ethnic nationalism etc is something of the past, but looking at recent history, it does still play a role in the way people behave. We can look just at Mali and the Tuareg rebellion there. We might prefer a world where ethnic nationalism wouldn’t play a role, but it still does and for example in Europe, a lot of the countries are still to a large extent products of ethnic nationalism of the 19th century. It’s not just something that we can expect all people or even countries to have left behind.

    As just as a personal opinion, not directed to any person here, I feel that victims are right to feel victimized and to carry grudges, even when as a result they hamper scientific progress. It’s their right in my opinion.

    Otherwise we might just as well make laws that everyone needs to give DNA samples to scientists when they want them.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    Brel, I’m not advocating as such for anyone. Basically I’m just saying that I personally understand why Native Americans in US wouldn’t want to take part and that I consider it their right not to take part. I would prefer to see as many people as possible taking part in these studies, but I don’t want to take a negative attitude towards people and entire groups of people who decide otherwise. They have their reasons, and I don’t think myself that the fear of being proven “not Native” or not connected through genetics to some ancient human remains is that high among the reasons not to take part.

  • Brel

    “Trying to approach to the question of why people don’t take part in these studies should also take account the viewpoints of the abstainers and the context of their lives and the historical brackground.”

    The question isn’t why people abstain. Nobody here has a problem with people abstaining from studies if they desire. The question is, instead, why nearly every tribe from one specific country (the US) abstained while groups in other countries were much more willing to submit data for the study. The number of tribes in Canada who took part from the study also seems to be quite low, but it still wasn’t zero. It’s a curious phenomenon, and nearly everyone has resorted to rather crude tools to explain it, including you. “They were/are victimized” doesn’t cut it, since (as you yourself pointed out) that’s true all over the Americas. The plight of the indigenous peoples of the Americas is lamentable, but it in itself doesn’t answer the specific question posed in this blog post.

    “If we don’t do that, we could just end up blaming them being obstacles to scientific study , and if that path would be taken, the question about why they abstain could have been as well bypassed and that conclusion adopted immediately from purely our own viewpoint.”

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why indigenous peoples have a strained relationship with large parts of mainstream society, including geneticists, and to see them as justified in that. But if they make decisions based on their grudges that others consider to be poor, they should be as open to criticism as anyone else. And I couldn’t even parse the last part of your sentence.

    “I feel that victims are right to feel victimized and to carry grudges, even when as a result they hamper scientific progress. It’s their right in my opinion.”

    I don’t think most people here object to that right. But other people also have the right to judge them for their decisions.

    “Otherwise we might just as well make laws that everyone needs to give DNA samples to scientists when they want them.”

    Strawman.

    “I don’t think myself that the fear of being proven “not Native” or not connected through genetics to some ancient human remains is that high among the reasons not to take part.”

    FWIW I don’t think this either. But I do think that some of the reasons that US tribes in particular opted out of this study are due to ideas coming out of American universities (the aforementioned identity politics), which peoples outside the US are less affected by. As Karl Zimmerman noted, identity politics is mostly harmless, but can be annoying. This sort of thing is one of its annoyances.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    Brel, about “And I couldn’t even parse the last part of your sentence.”

    What I meant is that if we don’t really want to take a close look at the reasons of the abstainers and take a serious consideration of them, we might as well not bother to ask the question at all and just label them as “obstacles to scientific study”.

    The problem of criticizing indigenous peoples by persons from the majority population in these things is that it’s privileged people criticizing marginalized people for not accommodating the wishes of the privileged.

    A case of the indigenous not jumping and saying “Yes sir, right away sir!” when we want them to jump. In some cases, they have spent centuries doing just that and now find themselves in a position where they can finally say “No”. I don’t grudge them for doing so, even when it’s a case where “Yes” would reveal so many interesting scientific facts.

    When it comes to the special case of US and to lesser extent Canada, I would propose that in these cases tribes do have more influence than in the Latin America where the judicial position of aboriginal ethnic groups often tends to be different. And then we get back to the historical background, the whole system of reservations and so on. So, in Latin America you would be dealing more with individuals and smaller groups like families, than legally defined larger groups of people with their own hierarchies when you go looking for samples.

  • Greg Chang

    The reason Native Americans don’t want to get DNA testing is that their elders cling to origin myths of mankind springing out of the American soil. Those myths hold a great deal of power even for modern Native Americans because they tie into self-identity. If modern Native Americans found out they were descended from East Asian nomads, they would no longer be proud NATIVES of America but rather visitors, just like European Americans. That is why Native Americans readily accept vaccines and cholesterol screening blood tests but refuse to be tested on their origins.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    The problem of criticizing indigenous peoples by persons from the majority population in these things is that it’s privileged people criticizing marginalized people for not accommodating the wishes of the privileged.

    since you are the god of these things, is a black american scientists talking to a native american a privileged majority person? your comments are totally sloppy from the outside perspective, even if they make sense to you.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #21, most native americans are christian. so it is unlikely to be sincere belief in that mythology. though to be fair scientists tend to ask particular representatives/community leaders who might not be representative, so to speak, of the community as a whole.

  • Amanda S

    Unfortunately I think that it’s probably over-optimistic to think that all the various groups that appear in the genetic data sets have actually given informed consent to their participation. Explaining the purpose of such studies to groups of people who are little influenced by western scientific thinking and for whom the results would make little sense is not easy.

    I went to a talk by Vanessa Hayes a year ago in which she discussed the effort that the project that she was involved with took to gain the consent of San participants. I think that the degree of concern to get this consent is likely not the norm when seeking data from such groups especially when they live in countries with weak rights legislation.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    22. I have just my own opinions and my own view of these issues, I don’t try to claim anything else.

    When it comes to that example case, I think that it would depend on the personal views of the Native American in question. Based on what I have learned, some of them would see even a Native American scientist as a representative of the privileged majority, perhaps not fully integrated to it, but still it’s representative.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #24, at a certain level of science the informed part of “informed consent” is a farce. at least going by the spirit of the guideline. in fact, the vast majority of biologists have no idea what the group out of broad is doing.

  • Brel

    “The problem of criticizing indigenous peoples by persons from the majority population in these things is that it’s privileged people criticizing marginalized people for not accommodating the wishes of the privileged.”

    Cute. You haven’t spent much time on this blog, have you? I think you’re 3/4 of the way down the white liberal talking point list. Keep going, and you might hit all of them in one day’s posting!

    “I don’t grudge them for doing so”

    Good for you. Other people, however, will, and they have every right to do so. Unless they’re white liberal racists and believe “marginalized” people should not be treated as agents capable of making choices that can be praised or condemned.

    “So, in Latin America you would be dealing more with individuals and smaller groups like families, than legally defined larger groups of people with their own hierarchies when you go looking for samples.”

    Well now we’re getting somewhere. In this case then, to what extent is it “them saying ‘No'”, as you put it, as opposed to tribal councils making decisions and speaking for them?

    “If modern Native Americans found out they were descended from East Asian nomads, they would no longer be proud NATIVES of America but rather visitors, just like European Americans.”

    Somehow I doubt it would work the other way for a lot of the people posing this argument. I.e., “Since we all come from Africa, ‘European’ peoples aren’t native to Europe, and therefore mass immigration of non-Europeans to Europe is okay!” The indigenous peoples of the Americas, or what’s left of them, are direct descendants of the first peoples to settle in these continents. This situation is not “just like European Americans” any more than illegal, unwanted migrants in Europe or China are just like the natives of those lands. But the Natives’ problem is and always has been demographics–due to disease and the like, they didn’t have enough numbers to get their way on their own lands.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    Brel, different groups of people in a society don’t tend to argue from equal positions in my opinion. And when people from a disadventaged position argue with privileged people, I personally think that we should be more understanding with the weak being an obstacle to “progress” than with the powerful being so. Not that we shouldn’t, respectfully, try to make them change their minds, if possible.

    “Well now we’re getting somewhere. In this case then, to what extent is it “them saying ‘No’”, as you put it, as opposed to tribal councils making decisions and speaking for them?”

    As long as the tribal councils would be accountable for their decisions and the individuals, if they would wish to do so, being able to go on and give a sample on their own choosing against the wishes of a tribal council, I don’t see any problems. Certainly we should expect that sometimes tribal councils would take a position against genetic samples when indvidual members might not care much about it either way.

  • AllenM

    Razib,

    There are deeper problems here than just doing the research. Even between tribes any way to place times of arrival at the place the Europeans found them is fraught with consequences- including consequences of water rights, land rights, and NAGPA cultural association rights. You link Gambler’s House blog, and see young Carson tiptoe around the issue in his posts related to Chaco Canyon.

    Chaco is a great example- currently the scientists have finally settled on a chronological succession of occupation there, but any cultural interpretation is still resisted by the Navajo, who have a nearly zero level of association with the times of classic occupation and construction.

    Further disputes between the Navajo and Apache, and the Hopi and Zuni tribes continue to this day, as the Navajo and Apache only came to the Four Corners region in the last 400 years.

    Genetic testing would further establish these demarcations, and indeed might be used to decide real winners and losers in other tribal contests, including membership of most tribes with blood quantum requirements.

    The tribes in the Four Corners regions (with the exception of the Zuni), were not conquered by the Spanish, and only submitted by arms or treaty within the last 150 years. This fairly recent historical contact and submission has been fraught with damage to the tribes, including their internal organization and resistance to outside control by the Federal Government.

    One could even argue the Hopi were never really conquered, since their first contact with the United States was to complain about the Navajo in 1850! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopi#Hopi-U.S_relations.2C_1849.E2.80.931946

    In short, while I agree with your viewpoint that science will be done, the organized tribes will never condone the research, for religious and political reasons.

  • maria

    Mr. Khan,

    I take it from the tone and substance of your article that you have no personal experience with Indigenous peoples on any part of this planet. If you did, you would understand that the past indignities suffered by the earth’s first peoples are very much fresh and still continue to create inhuman conditions in these communities. Check in with some of the peoples on the reservations across this beautiful country and you will come face to face with the results of “not especially mistreated”. Reservations are plagued with the highest rates of poverty, diabetes, alcoholism and suicide all of which are direct results of the systematized destruction of a people. The first nations peoples of this country(and around the world) continue to be marginalized by policy,profit and a general lack of humanity. I urge you to think of the weight of your words when you produce another article of this nature, think of the people before you think solely of their DNA. Speak to the elders of these communities so that you can humanize your research and truly make a difference in the realm of science. We are communities that have been here for thousands of years with story and a wealth of knowledge that persists in spite of every effort to dismantle it.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    jesus christ, cry me a river. they’re fucking eating pygmies in congo today (or within the last 15 years):

    http://news.softpedia.com/news/The-First-African-World-War-Main-Menu-Pygmy-Meat-65756.shtml

    but we got their DNA.

  • Brel

    “Brel, different groups of people in a society don’t tend to argue from equal positions in my opinion. And when people from a disadventaged position argue with privileged people, I personally think that we should be more understanding with the weak being an obstacle to “progress” than with the powerful being so. Not that we shouldn’t, respectfully, try to make them change their minds, if possible.”

    I also think ‘we’ should, “respectfully, try to make them change their minds, if possible.” What else would we do? I don’t see where we’re disagreeing in any practical sense, except that you don’t think certain people should be thought of as your equals. But given the waffle that you produced when Razib tried to elicit who you think should be thought of as equal to Native Americans, I’d say your racial ladder needs some more working out. Those of us who don’t believe in racial, gender, etc. ladders don’t have this vexing problem. Maybe you should try it sometime!

    NB: I really don’t care about the idea of the tribes who opted out of this study as being “obstacles to Progress” or whatever. Their decisions about these things hardly affect me; any harm that is done affects them first and foremost. And plenty of good data was collected in spite of their decision. I do, however, think of their refusal as vaguely stupid, just as I would if Irish people or whoever also rejected being part of a genetic study on poorly thought out grounds. I can do this without positing some massive and poorly-defined gulf between myself as a Privileged Person and them as Helpless Victims, and treating them with the inevitable condescension.

    P.S.: If you’re new here I recommend reading Razib Khan’s opinions about white privilege and like ideas: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2012/05/white-supremacy-and-white-privilege-same-coin/

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    I most certainly think that all people should be thought equal, of mine and others. But to pretend that we all have equal positions in current societies is not realistic as far as I’m concerned. We haven’t yet achieved a fully egalitarian society anywhere on this planet. I think these kind of facts need to be taken into account. Otherwise we would be just left baffled of the reasons why different groups of people and different individuals have different attitudes towards these projects.

  • chris w

    #11: “I don’t understand why some non- Native people are so keen about the amount of Native blood the people who identify as Natives have, when their own identities tend to be connected to national – not ethnic or genetic identities – which are very recent, mostly deliberate creations. “American” or “Canadian” etc are not things that can be found out through blood samples, for example.”

    Well, if a “native” person is of 3/4 European ancestry, then any grievance regarding oppression by Europeans becomes less convincing for that particular individual, considering that the majority of their ancestors were the colonizers, not the colonized. Plus, I thought terms like “native”, “indigenous”, “aboriginal”, “first nations”, etc., were supposed to emphasize being here first. That’s not a very persuasive claim if the majority of one’s ancestors were European, African, etc.

    #30: “earth’s first peoples”

    ??? Lol, that’s the first time I’ve heard that phrase.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #34, not to mention that native peoples themselves are quite cognizant of issues of blood & ethnicity in terms of the quanta controversies. raimo’s opinions aren’t based in a deep and thick understanding of the dynamics particular to the USA.

  • Brel

    “We haven’t yet achieved a fully egalitarian society anywhere on this planet.”

    A genetics blog probably isn’t the best place for you. It really shows how hard an egalitarian society would not only be to achieve, but also to maintain. If we have to wait for an egalitarian society to take shape before we can make judgments about the actions of others, we’ll be waiting for a long time.

    “Otherwise we would be just left baffled of the reasons why different groups of people and different individuals have different attitudes towards these projects.”

    Um, no, it’s all understandable by learning their history, worldview, and current concerns. But just because I understand why a group feels a certain way, even if they’ve been victimized in the past, does not mean I have to agree with them and find all their ideas credible. Generally when white liberals say this type of thing it’s to make a division between who should be indulged and who should be mocked for defending their group interests. But the way I see it, all groups have interests and will tend to pursue them, and those interests are not somehow automatically invalid if the group is powerful or automatically valid if the group is weak. They’re all valid interests for the groups concerned. Whether I agree with any of them, or am willing to help the group achieve them, is another matter entirely.

  • jb

    I personally think that we should be more understanding with the weak being an obstacle to “progress” than with the powerful being so.

    I personally think that is amazingly condescending! When we talk about “weak” and “strong” here, at most we are talking about political weakness and strength. We are not talking about old people in a nursing home, whose feeble hearts might give out if you say something to get them riled up. We are talking about people who ought to be fully functioning grownups, and who shouldn’t require a double standard to protect their delicate sensibilities from offense. Everybody, weak or strong, has reasons for what they believe. Sometimes good reasons, sometimes bad. Are you really saying that members of politically weak groups should be treated more gently when they believe stupid things for bad reasons?

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    34. It doesn’t work that way, neither identity nor oppression are often tied to the amount of genetic material you yourself or others perceive you to have, it’s how other people identify and how they act towards you as a result of which little ethnic-religious etc locker of their minds they file you in.

    It doesn’t matter if of your genes 3/4 come from Europeans if you have grown up on a reservation and get seen and treated as an “Indian” (for good or ill) by the majority population. You are still living with the current consequences of the history of the Native Americans. Your 3/4 European heritage won’t make your lot in life any better alone.

    36. We certainly can make judgments of the actions of others without achieving utopia first, but we have to understand why people act like they do and try to understand those reasons, if we want to have a chance of convincing them to act otherwise.

    If we can’t look at things from their point of view, but just demand them to accommodate our wishes, I don’t think we will get very far. Neither do we get very far if we just take it for granted that we are right and that they must be wrong as far as I’m concerned.

    The idea I get from many posts is in this thread that people just don’t want to contemplate the possibility that the native peoples, from their point of view, do have justified reasons not to take part in these projects. But people don’t usually take very well to that kind of attitude. Bridges need to be build, instead of just wanting the Native Americans hoist a white flag once more.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    37. I’ve found out that most people have to be dealt delicately. People take offense easily, especially if it’s a case of something that they hold dear or otherwise have strong opinions about. Just saying that they are wrong doesn’t work that well, you have to try to build some common ground and doing so you need to give something to get something.

    At least you need to look at things from their point of view and show sympathy and respect to their views, instead of claiming “I’m right and you are wrong. Deal with it and do as I tell you to do.” Eventually, with mutual understanding, there can be progress.

    I believe that people and groups with more powerful positions don’t have to be treated quite as gently as people and groups that are in a far more weaker positions. I certainly have less sympathy towards powerful people and groups. Not that you don’t have to proceed delicately with them too, but that’s just because of human nature. Logic works badly if you have already made the other one angry.

    But if we are dealing with people who have few possessions, less material etc reasons to be proud, I think we should proceed more gently. The less you own, the more dear it is to you, and our identity is among the most important things we own. When you have little beyond it, it’s importance grows even greater. I feel we should respect that.

  • Brel

    jb: “Are you really saying that members of politically weak groups should be treated more gently when they believe stupid things for bad reasons?”

    As I mentioned in #36, this is a way for white liberal types to distinguish between who is and who isn’t deserving of their support (and not only them; all political activists do it to an extent). It’s a good way for sharpening their political concerns and helping out allies. If they think, for example, “oh, these people are Tea Partiers; they’re Privileged and aren’t real victims deserving of my concern” then they have avoided wasting their time helping people who don’t support their ideals. Native Americans and other non-white dispossessed populations are part of their coalition, though, so they get true victim status, and are allowed, for the sake of keeping peace within the coalition, to get away with saying things that wouldn’t be permissible for those outside the coalition. It’s certainly an effective technique for preserving their coalition, but white liberals ought not to think everyone should agree with them in their evaluations, and shouldn’t call us terrible people or racists when we do disagree. (To be fair, Raimo hasn’t done that yet.)

    “Bridges need to be build, instead of just wanting the Native Americans hoist a white flag once more.”

    Are you seriously comparing handing over a genetic sample to surrendering to the cavalry? Did you read Razib’s post about the Pygmies?

    Anyway, it doesn’t sound like you’re as benevolent as you think you are. You also say the Natives are wrong, and that you want to get them to change their minds, but you’re trying to be very delicate about it so as to wheedle them more effectively. At least we openly say, “this isn’t the wisest decision, and here’s why” and allow people to clearly understand our views and the rationale for them, so they can rethink their opinions if they see fit.

  • Mark

    “At least you need to look at things from their point of view and show sympathy and respect to their views, instead of claiming “I’m right and you are wrong. Deal with it and do as I tell you to do.” Eventually, with mutual understanding, there can be progress.”

    And, in the interim, mass death. Even after it became clear in the early 1980s that there was a new, deadly sexually transmitted disease among gay men, there was strong political resistance in San Francisco to closing the bathhouses, and gay groups did manage to keep them open for an additional two or three years. That doesn’t seem like a long time, but about 3,000 gay men were using the bathhouses per week, and they were averaging about three partners per night. One reason for the resistance to closing the bathhouses was a belief, based in gays’ history of oppression, that if the government closed the bathhouses on Sunday, it would be putting gays in camps on Tuesday.

    The director of public health in San Francisco at the time, Mervyn Silverman, was very big on dialogue and understanding. He could have saved a lot of lives if he had told gay activists that he wasn’t going to put them in camps, and please stop getting in the way of him doing his job.

    My point isn’t that Native Americans are facing some hidden danger that genetic testing will save them from. My point is that needlessly indulging other people’s victim mentality can come back and bite you in the ass.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    40. I don’t think I’m benevolent, I don’t suppose such things about myself. I’m complicated, just like I think everyone else to be.

    Do I think that the Native Americans are wrong when not giving samples? I would prefer them to do so for the increase of our knowledge of the human past, but I don’t want to claim that they are wrong not to do so. It’s their right to decide whether to participate or not. Scientists who want them to participate need to convince them otherwise. Eventually I’ll expect things to move on.

    When it comes to Pygmies, yes I read it, and I’ve read about the treatment of Pygmies in central Africa before. When it comes to questions of genetics and identity, some taller Pygmies succesfully “pass” as members of other ethnic groups and avoid the Pygmy label and all that comes from it. Again, it’s a question of how others see and label us, not what our genetic history is, which decides our role in the society around us.

    Most Tea Party supporters are not really privileged, they are used by privileged people to further the goals of the privileged in my opinion, and many of the supporters come from low income groups. I have no scrupples of calling a large part of the base of the Tea Party as victims, although like I wrote before, you often need to proceed delicately with people, and to find common ground so that we could really exchange arguments I probably would use a less loaded a term than a “vicim” when face to face with them.

    When it comes to the aboriginal groups of the Americas, I certainly don’t think that every individual who identifies as a member of those groups is a victim. But I do think that the aboriginal groups historically are victims and still suffer from past wrongs, some wrongs which still continue to be done today.

    When it comes to individuals, the past oppression and current marginalization have different effects on people alive today, it touches some more than others, and people react differently to those things. To call all as victims would be wrong, but to deny that some Native Americans are even today victims of the historical and current wrongs done to their people would be also wrong in my opinion.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    41. Not knowing the specifics of Mr Silverman’s dialogue attempts and the particular gay activists’ own mindset at the time, or if closing the bathhouses outright would have stopped the sexual promiscuity helping the epidemic to spread instead of just moving the sexual activity elsewhere, there’s little I can say to that particular case.

    But I don’t think that these things are comparable, we are not talking about a lethal epidemic which would go on to kill tens of millions people around the world. As long as we are just talking about scientifically interesting thing, and not saving lives, I think we should proceed to find the common ground and accept more slow progress. When lives are not at stake, people and groups should be able to freely decide – but hopefully after being well informed of the matter – whether to participate or not.

  • jb

    Raimo Kangasniemi: I’ve found out that most people have to be dealt delicately.

    This is certainly true, but, as you seem to be aware, this applies to people from all groups, weak or strong. But to treat someone with kid gloves because he happens to be a member of a politically weak group just strikes me as disrespectful to the person. I consider a need for delicate treatment to be a personal failing, no matter what groups you may belong to.

    I’ll also agree that you shouldn’t go into a dispute with the attitude that I’m right and you are wrong. Deal with it and do as I tell you to do. You should always be respectful of the other side, be aware that they have their reasons, and in particular be aware that occasionally it’s going to turn out that you are the one who’s wrong. But again, that applies equally to everybody, not just people who happen to belong to politically weak groups.

    One more point: Just because a group is weak doesn’t mean its leaders are stupid! If there is advantage to be gained by exploiting their own weakness they are probably going to milk it for all it’s worth. If jerking around the mostly white scientific establishment on this issue helps reinforce the principle that whites, because of their past crimes, are morally obliged to defer to the wishes of Indians, then why not go for it? Might prove useful when it comes time to ask for more casinos!

  • Brel

    “I would prefer them to do so for the increase of our knowledge of the human past, but I don’t want to claim that they are wrong not to do so.”

    Here’s where we disagree. I think the Natives are wrong to not participate in the study, and I will not refrain from saying so just because they are under-privileged. Nor will I demand that other whites should agree with me out of consideration for them. But I don’t think their being wrong is hugely important, at least in this case. As I have said, good data was collected from other indigenous groups. And personally speaking, the results of this study don’t have great import to me since I am not indigenous. Now, if there were a study done comparing the Anglo diaspora to the British Isles and Scotland barred its citizens from participating for some hokey reason, I would be very cross indeed, simply because the results of that study would affect me much more.

    You missed the point about the Pygmies. Razib meant that they are being treated much more savagely than contemporary Native Americans, but still were willing to submit genetic data. I suspect American Native reluctance is driven in part by US identity politics issues that have less influence outside of our country, as I have said before.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    44. Relatively few Native American groups have casinos. I don’t grudge them from those that have. But I like to point out that some Native American groups in the East Coast have long traditions of ship building, generations of urban communities of Native Americans have worked as construction workers helping to build among other buildings many skyscrapers helping to define the skyline of many American cities. It’s not that the North American Indian has lived or does live on the guilt or just the scraps of the Europeans. She lives on reservations on her ancestral – or, in the case of people taken far away from their homes, on other native groups’ – lands, marginalized and more often than not, in poverty, yet many still participate in the building of the society which still mostly sees them belonging to the past.

    When it comes to tribal leaders, they of course need to be politicians as much as any civic leaders, and it’s better for the natives if they are good politicians who get things done for their people. When it comes to moral obligation, I think that such things exist and I don’t think that enough can ever be done to repay the wrong done to Native American groups. Much hasn’t or is being done. Even a little bit more would be good.

    45. Not all Pygmies are treated savagely; I would expect that genetic samples would be mostly gotten from people who live lives integrated as members of the society around them. There are pygmies who live in cities too. Those who have to hide in forests in fear of their lives are unlikely to be ready to give samples nor are scientists unlikely even to reach towards them for multiple reasons (it’s difficult, possibly dangerous, the chances of success being low).

    If we look other reasons than marginalization etc, then I would point back to post 29. If we take that road, we might say that to assign a one overall – or even a group of the same reasons – for Native Amerigan groups as a whole could well be wrong. Different tribes could have – and probably do have – partly different reasons for their decisions. In the end, it’s all still tied to historical events and how they created today’s situation.

  • Hone Hika

    Tena koutou, as a Maori in NZ it would be very wrong for someone else to genetically enforce a law on my culture as they did in colonial times. We here in New Zealand have moved on. Our law defines who we are by whakapapa or genealogy. Simply put, if you can’t trace your Maori ancestory, then you’re not Maori. It bothers me we I read blogs suggesting the use of science to define the native title of a person. That, in my view is both disgusting and modern day colonisalism in drag.

    Indigenous communities know who they are. We have adapted to the lies that colonialism has brought. White people need to accept this. Its simple.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #47, nice to know i’m white! :-)

    p.s. i bet you have more white ancestry than i do actually.

  • Brel

    I like how a lot of these people automatically assume that if you disagree with them, you must be white. Only whites can stand in the way of “people of color”!

    Of course, if they do find out you’re not white, the next thing they say is that you need to “decolonize your mind.” These people are so predictable you can set a watch to them.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #49, is the discussion useful to you? just curious.

  • Brel

    I don’t know that it’s useful, but it’s entertaining enough. I’m not sure how many people are still participating anyway. If you want to close the thread, go ahead.

  • Sandgroper

    #47 Would you mind telling your Maori brethren to get the hell out of my country, stop trying to colonise it and go back to New Zealand? Thanks.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    49. It’s some of the people who have complained about Native Americans not giving samples who have mostly brought up the “whiteness” of themselves and the assumed whiteness or non-whiteness of other posters in this thread – and assumed negativity towards “whites” from the part of other posters. I just want to point that out.

    I have also been assumed to be a liberal by other posters in this thread and to suffer from a “liberal guilt”. That’s also a wrong assumption to have been made. On both accounts. I’m a socialist.

  • Brel

    #53, you’re using tired liberal/identity politics-fueled arguments that a lot of us have heard many times before and are unmoved by. Whether or not you consider yourself a liberal is immaterial to this fact. As I recommended in post #32, you should read other things Razib has written regarding these arguments.

    We do not care about your “identity”, which is a curious American fixation. We care about what arguments you use.

    Regarding the “whiteness” business, I was referring solely to post #47, as was Razib. I have previously stated that I don’t think blood quantum amounts are much of a factor in this. Even if so, that’s for science to determine, not blog commenters.

  • Matt

    “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. “

    Yes. It’s a matter of the unique legal, interaction and civil rights history of the US (and other Anglophone colonies).

    It’s certainly not a matter of Native American groups being unique in holding grudges, really. Looking at the data we have on this kind of thing, they obviously don’t.

    And it’s not sufficient to say “people from traditionally subjugated / colonised groups in poor countries do it, and so do groups who were poor but are now mostly rich, so you must also”.

    I agree we can’t reduce it to the idea of “well, they were oppressed, so whatever they say goes” but I would worry about characterising Native Americans as bearing a “grudge”, especially given the historical presentation of Native Americans as taciturn, hostile and combative.

  • X

    Organisations – including tribal governments – do not have some kind of inherent duty to be helpful to researchers. If some anthropologist or economist wants to research my company, is my company obliged to let them in, or should it first consider whether that would be in its interests and whether its shareholders like the idea? If some busybody wants to figure out whether the British Royal Family’s genes are consistent with their official family tree, are they morally obliged to give us some blood samples?

    I’m not sure exactly what legal powers Native American tribal governments have over their members – a small community generally has better ways to enforce a consensus than the law anyway. But “collective recognition of the kind which results in the veto of study participation of even of a minority” strikes me as a fairly normal power for the kind of entity you can sign treaties with.

  • Raimo Kangasniemi

    54. I’ve tried to be constructive, but clearly you seem to have very “strong opinions”, part of which you have labelled some other opinions and attitudes both “liberal” and “wrong”.

    Like – it seems to me – being able to understand the arguments of others, to put oneself in their place for a moment. To be able to sympathize with their decisions thanks to knowing the reasons for them, with still hoping to change the minds of the people in question in the future.

    You seem to consider that to be “liberal”. I just consider it to be a basic part of being human being in a society of human beings.

    Either one should be open to other side’s arguments or bypass the conversation overall, because without the former the latter is pointless. And in science progress tends to demand that conversation, just like in the society as a whole.

    I think that progress in getting Native Americans to participate in studies like this demand that it isn’t made to be a case of, for example, Native Americans vs Science/Scientists/Whites, but instead is treated on the level of issues, not people, and that the end result isn’t assumed to be a clear case of someone being right and someone being wrong.

  • James

    besides money talks. why dont you poor scientists just throw enough money around to buy their samples lol. you know natives are in million dollar law suits with the government and you expect them to give you handouts to their potential detriment? if anyone is guilty of an isolated entitled worldview it is the scientific community. also you know indigenous guatemalens get murdered all the time in the states by american gangs and it gets universally ignored by the papers. is that somehow less worse than being eaten?

    esl so forgive my typos

  • http://www.textonthebeach.com Seth

    58: also you know indigenous guatemalens get murdered all the time in the states by american gangs

    Very good ‘spin’ for an ESL speaker. (‘Spin’ is an idiom for ‘twisting the language to make a point.’) However, to be fair, you might not be spinning the language at all. I do know that most people in Mexico or South America consider emigrants to America to be, indeed, “Americans” after a generation. But I assure you that these “American gangs” killing the non-Spanish speaking migrants have no relation to the scientists conducting these studies.

  • Zalanii

    What about using Canadian Aboriginals? We have quite a few of them.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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