A new Indian Country Today article
highlights recent results of UC Berkeley Native graduate students' work to call the UC Berkeley Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Department (TDPS) to respond to and engage in dialogue after its production of the John Fisher Ishi play last spring. The play re-told the Ishi story with fictional embellishments that deeply offended Native American students and tribal community members in central coast and northern California. As a UC Berkeley faculty member, I was so impressed by key Native grad students who led the way in mounting an intellectually sophisticated analysis and response to the production.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I attended a teach-in last evening co-organized by members of the UC Berkeley American Indian Graduate Student Association (AIGSA) and faculty from the Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Department (TDPS) regarding the play, Ishi: The Last Yahi
produced by TDPS. Here is a link
to an apology written by TDSP Chair, Peter Glazer, and published in The Daily Californian.
The play, which closed this past weekend, raised the ire of Native American students at Cal and California tribal community members alike. I was unable to attend the play and so I will refrain from making my own analysis here of the play and scenes that apparently portrayed in a highly fictionalized account Ishi and his sister as incestuous, Ishi as a rapist, and the killing of a resulting baby. The scenes particularly offended many in the UC Berkeley Native American community. Ishi is the name given by UC Berkeley anthropologist Alfred Kroeber to the man ("ishi" meant "man" in his indigenous language) who emerged from the wilderness near Oroville, California in 1911. Ishi was the last survivor of his particular group, although cultural relatives survived then and today.
In response, three Berkeley graduate students and AIGSA members, Tria Andrews (ethnic studies), Kayla Carpenter (linguistics), and Peter Nelson (anthropology) wrote an op-ed, "American Indian graduate student association calls for art with ethics,
" also published in The Daily Cal
. The students analyze key problems with the play. Nelson is a student in my graduate seminar, Indigenous, feminist, and postcolonial approaches to science, technology, and environment
, and a promising young Native American archaeologist who does such work precisely to help his California tribal community participate more fully and critically in repatriation and cultural resource management. During the teach-in he called attention to a persistent problem in both scholarly and popular representations of Native Americans: the stories told by whites about Native Americans are really usually about white people themselves, their own angst, and their own histories and identities. But why must native peoples, our bodies and histories, repeatedly serve as the raw materials upon which Euro-Americans explore their own identities and past, especially in ways that seem to forget that we are still here? Who presumes the authority to tell which stories, how, and to which ends?
Unlike social and natural scientists, actors, directors, and scriptwriters can produce knowledge (fiction too is knowledge) without adhering to the kind of informed consent and increasingly collaboration with the human subjects caught up in their productions. I am not calling for artists to be held to the same human subjects protocols as we in the "hard" and "soft" sciences are held. Rather, I reiterate the question posed by Berkeley graduate student Tria Andrews at the end of the teach-in last evening: "Do we produce art just for the sake of art? Or do we want to become better human beings? What kind of human do you want to be?" Her questions, to my ear, asked for more self-reflexivity and accountability by artists and writers to those whom they make the objects of their knowledge production. Andrews' questions challenge us profoundly. With artistic (and academic) freedom, she and other graduate students noted, comes responsibility.
In a similar analytical vein, I just published with my colleague, Jenny Reardon
(sociology and biomolecular science and engineering, UC Santa Cruz) an article in Current Anthropology, "Your DNA is Our History." Genomics, Anthropology, and the Construction of Whiteness as Property
. Our article takes on some of the same issues that Peter Nelson calls attention to, but as they pervade the fields of biological anthropology and human population genetics. Reardon and I and the scholars on whom we draw answer that question of why not only Native American lands and valuable resources, but also bodies, histories, and cultures are continuously appropriated by whites in their research, always a kind of storytelling. While whiteness and blackness have been defined in the U.S. American racial imagination as mutually exclusive, American Indians were racialized differently in relation to whiteness. Native Americans have been seen as culturally ancestral to whites, and during an earlier racial science regime as farther along on that road to civilization than Africans were seen to be. Our biological and cultural patrimony were then seen as the rightful inheritance of whites and a white nation that sought to use them on the road to greater development. The 19th century doctrine of Manifest Destiny--that moral imperative for the U.S. to develop--has appropriation in common with the 21st-century scientific imperative to produce knowledge "for the good of all." But as both genetic science and this recent incarnation of the Ishi story show, such knowledge serves the needs and desires of some in our society more than others, and too often at the expense of those others.
L to R: H. Arai, M. Hakoda, M. Yamaguchi, K. TallBear, K. Kinase, and K. Ando
Through a UC Berkeley-Meiji University exchange program, I have had the honor this month of leading a seminar at Meiji's School of Political Science and Economics. On the first day of the seminar, “Indigenous & Feminist Approaches to Technoscience & Environment,” the students and I began by “situating” ourselves. The exercise accomplished the task of introducing us to one another, but it did more than that; it introduced students to a key body of theory in feminist science studies, one of my fields of expertise.
I take the term “situated” from feminist science studies scholar, Donna Haraway, and her seminal chapter, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” In class that first day, Meiji students and I had a conversation—not easy given Haraway’s highly theoretical language, the students’ intermediate English, and my illiteracy (!) in Japanese—about “partial knowledges” and what it means to be not “biased,” but rather “situated” within particular historical and cultural streams. As feminist philosopher of science Sandra Harding explains, as scholars we inquire from within our particular lives. We stand somewhere. The usual understanding of “objectivity” assumes that researchers or scientists can play God—that they can stand nowhere and everywhere at the same time—looking out at a world and naming it in some universal scientific language. The Meiji students and I combined theory with our personal stories to have a conversation about how we are all situated in specific ways in relation to our fields. As individual cultural beings, we come to ask particular research questions (or get interested in the disciplines and majors we do) and not others. We are attracted to certain methods and ethics and not others because of the lives we live and our histories. Thus the knowledge we produce will be partial. However, that does not mean that we cannot strive for objectivity. Indeed Harding and Haraway call us to strive for “strong objectivity,” or “feminist objectivity,” an objectivity that is not conflated with neutrality but one that is more rigorous than that by virtue of laying out and discussing how our different experiences shape what we see and how we see it. Feminists are critical of science that is dominated by men and by class-privileged European (American) cultural values. They advocate making room for a greater diversity of voices, experiences, and standpoints in science. If we diversify who does research, we stand a chance of capturing a broader array of hypotheses, and of developing new research methods and ethical frameworks. We will understand more, and work more effectively – thus the claim to strong objectivity. Science might also then become more “democratic,” meaning it might serve the interests and needs of a broader set of societal actors.
Whew! We had to get through all of that theory during our first meeting, and it was not easy. But Meiji students work hard. Their persistence was a call to me to work very hard, especially to speak more slowly and carefully. I am from the upper Midwest of the U.S. where we are famous for speaking quickly. (My students at the University of California, Berkeley also tell me that I speak too quickly.) I am also a professor who reaches for the most theoretical term on the shelf of words. It is easier. I need to think hard to find plainer English. But Meiji students and I struggled together to communicate across our language barriers. As we went around the room, each of seven students situated themselves as young scholars. Three women and four men, they explained their interests at Meiji University and how their particular experiences growing up conditioned their particular interests in economy, environment, and politics. Born during the 1980s, a decade of economic difficulties in Japan, a couple students spoke of becoming interested in economics. One of the women spoke of becoming interested in gender politics and analyses because of gender dynamics she had encountered in her own life.
I also situated myself. I am a Native American woman who was born in 1968, a year of political upheaval in the U.S. and worldwide. I was raised by my grandmothers and by my young mother who was also a college student in a small South Dakota university town. I was politicized at a young age by my mother and her student activist friends who protested against the Vietnam War and U.S. imperialism and colonialism at home and overseas. Native American scholars were also important in my politicization. At the age of five I asked my mother, “What does it mean, Custer Died for Your Sins?” I referred to the title of Vine Deloria Jr.’s important 1969 collection of essays by that title. In that book, which I heard mentioned many times by my mother and her friends, Deloria, the most prominent 20th century Native American scholar, analyzed the role of policymakers, Christian churches, and academics in the colonization of Native Americans. In his darkly humorous essay, “Anthropologists and Other Friends,” he especially criticized the role of Anthropology as a discipline in the U.S. colonization of Native Americans. Yet despite understanding that universities were culpable in colonization, my mother also emphasized to me that a university education was the best route to a better life, to opportunities beyond the racism and poverty in South Dakota. One can perhaps see why I will publish a book next year about the colonial politics of biological anthropology and other genetic research on Native Americans. I was situated in a very particular way and found it quite easy to ask the research questions that I do. Not just anyone would think of these questions in the way that I think of them. That is because no one else stands exactly where I stand. And yet because of that, my vision is also partial. It is both open and limited in ways that are different from the visions of other scholars. That is why we need diverse persons and views to make the disciplines and the university more rigorous in its knowledge production. We need to also not be chauvinistic about our own disciplines. We need to find trusted intellectual allies across fields and work together to craft knowledge that is multidisciplinary in a way needed to solve problems in our multicultural world.
The feminist and indigenous (or Native American) scholars that I assign my students also help them re-think relations between humans and animals as “social relations,” thereby according more agency to nonhumans that shape and make our lives as humans possible. The human/animal split is a violent split in Western “ontologies” or knowledges. It is a split that implies hierarchy and that is used to justify not only the mistreatment of the Earth and destruction of the environment, but it is also a split used historically to de-humanize and oppress some humans. These ideas set the tone for our seminar at Meiji University. For their final paper, I assigned the students to write about a relationship that they have with a “nonhuman.” They could choose an animal or organism, but also any other nonhuman that scientists might not classify as “living.” The important thing is that the students should explain the “life force” or agency of that nonhuman in a convincing way. As the students read in class, some peoples, including indigenous peoples, understand stars, rocks, and spirits to be living beings in ways that Western science would reject.
I assign Berkeley students this same paper. Meiji students and UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources students both choose to write about nonhumans with which they interact regularly and to which they are ethically committed. But because they stand physically and culturally in very different places, students from the two schools choose some very different nonhumans about which to write. My Berkeley students often do environmental science and tend to be “outdoors” people. They often write about the trees, fish, wildlife, or particular ecosystems with which they work and to which they are committed. Likewise, Meiji students this year thought of paper topics that are so very situated in their particular lives and experiences in Tokyo. To me, their projects are surprising and fascinating. With their permission, I share a couple of insights from student papers based on conversations we’ve had in class. As I write this, their papers are not due until tomorrow.
A second year student, Masato Yamaguchi, is writing about his relationship with trains. As I understand him, trains are not simply mechanisms of convenience, not simply physical matter, a collection of materials and parts assembled into a useful technology. The train as a figure has been central to his life since before he can remember. His family tells him that when he was a baby he would instantly stop crying when a train passed by. He speaks also of the destruction caused by the tsunami at Sendai, and the desire of the people there to get the trains back on line as soon as possible. Masato indicated that like him, the people of Sendai were not only concerned about convenience, but the train’s role in everyday human practice. The sounds and feelings of its movement through geographic space are central to peoples’ very sense of a normal life and to inner well-being. The train he indicates has a life force of sorts. It is not only people who made the train but the train helps make a good and normal human life. His analysis is simply brilliant, and so different from what I read from Berkeley students, or what I hear in Native American communities. Of course, it took us some time to communicate these complex ideas across our language barrier, with my shortcomings being much more profound than those of my students who are working hard to learn English. (I should take a Japanese language class back in Berkeley!)
A fourth year student, Manami Hakoda turned her paper in early. Yes, early. She speaks and writes of her relationship with the English language and how she not only learns to wield English, using it and shaping it to her own ends, but how she is reconfigured as a different kind of person as she engages the English language. Manami writes of becoming more assertive and outgoing in English than she is in Japanese. English and the way it is spoken also causes her to gesture, to move her body more as she speaks it. She also writes of Japanese language being “softer” and more “polite.” She writes of the way in which language and culture construct one another, and the way in which an individual and a language also construct one another. Similarly to how Masato describes the train, Manami speaks of coming to see English as a living thing in and of itself and not simply as a tool for human use. She also takes a lesson from Sandra Harding about strong objectivity and writes of using both languages to be more intellectually rigorous in how one engages with the world. She values both languages for the different things they can see and do.
Kim with friend Jun Kamata: writer, professor, photographer
I learned much from Meiji students. Their insights reinforce in me the sense that a stronger, truer understanding of the world emerges when we listen to and value knowledge produced from within very specific experiences and situations, rather than trying to filter out our differences, hoping to find a “neutral” language. I look forward to reading the rest of their papers, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have shared the past few weeks with them. I hope they feel similarly. I would be proud if I could speak and write Japanese as well as my Meiji students speak and write English.
This piece was originally written for publication in the Seikei Forum of the School of Political Science and Economics, Meiji University. It is posted here with permission.
I blogged last week
about my new research project with Native American bio-scientists who explicitly situate themselves within histories of marginization from the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and within histories of oppression more generally. This leads them to more sophisticated understandings of the role of the technosciences historically in colonial projects. They tend not to be under the illusion that there are hard lines between scientific knowledge production and politics. They give me hope that the STEM fields in which they participate can be made more multicultural and democratic.
I noted in that same blog
the testimony of my own colleague, an environmental scientist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), Wayne Getz
, who witnessed the violence perpetrated against UC Berkeley students by the Alameda County Police Department. I do social studies of science and have been demoralized in the past by what I see as unreflective and problematic politics of race in the genome sciences. I've more recently begun to look for scientists who give me hope, who are conscious of the political histories of their fields or who clearly do not view their lab as a retreat from the messy, political world. I also know the work of explicitly feminist and anti-racist engineers
and scientists who are clear about the relationship between diversifying who does science and changing science, folks who want to make their fields less hierarchical, less male dominated, and more class, race, and gender diverse. I am trying to be hopeful, and positively engaged.
However, I also notice that a disproportionate number of university administrators now come from the STEM fields, a sign of the growing power of those fields in the university, and the under-funding and marginlization of the social sciences and humanities. And I wonder if there is a link between the particular way that UC administrators are managing this difficult political situation and their immersion in technoscientific fields that explicitly de-link investigation of the nonhuman material world from society or "politics." Do they come to their positions ignorant of, or even allergic to, social issues and conflicts? Or is the problem not the administrators' fields of origin, but rather the emphasis the university places on cultivating administrators who might be good at raising money to build hi-tech lab facilities (big science as the savior of the university and the national economy), but who have too little to offer us in terms of a deep social-historical perspective needed to manage a complex and highly politicized institution like a UC campus? Do they see us - faculty, students and staff - too much as a potential economic engine and too little as a diverse group of intellectuals and societal actors? Pehaps they are too busy linking the university to the big money that dominates the full range of institutions the students are protesting against. Is the problem the STEM fields broadly, or those particular individuals culled from within the STEM fields to run our university, as it is constituted in this moment in history? Witness Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi here
, deep in political waters that are clearly over her head, departing the UC Davis campus yesterday after calling in police who abused the courageous young students she is supposedly there to serve. Katehi
has all three degrees (B.S., M.S., and PhD) in electrical engineering. Our own Chancellor, Robert Birgeneau
, (B.S. in mathematics and Ph.D. in physics) recently characterized students linking arms as NOT non-violent protest. He thus appeared to justify the use of batons by police to assault students, and to ignore an important history of non-violent protest in the U.S. I believe he's recently revisited that mistake.In short, my question is, does the
the common, willful representation within STEM field cannons of their approaches as universal and therefore outside culture and politics have anything to do with the greater numbers of STEM faculty now swelling the administrations of universities, and then the particular political choices being made by such administrators that are helping to visit police violence on our students?
Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)
(close to 4,000 registrants), held October 27-30, 2011. An overworked assistant professor, I am just now getting around to finishing this post. SACNAS
focuses on preparing students for research careers in the biophysical sciences and mathematics. Indeed, in addition to 1000 poster and speaker presentations and 38 multidisciplinary science symposia, there were 58 professional development sessions at this year’s meeting. Like other scientific meetings, SACNAS
features presentations of scientific papers and posters, plenary sessions, networking luncheons, receptions, big name keynote speakers, and a huge exhibit hall where universities and other research institutions and agencies recruit graduate students and employees (over 300 exhibitors this year). It also features big time technology, which is noticeably absent at the social sciences and humanities meetings I attend. Fundamental Differences: Scientists Situating Themselves and Mentoring
is also different. Atypical of scientific meetings in the U.S., this one is heavily populated by brown people. And many of them talk about bringing science together with culture. I heard little of that common ideology that “science”—or the systematic, empirical investigation of the natural/material world—happens ideally with humans and their cultures abstracted from the process. Histories of exclusion from scientific fields and feelings of cultural isolation in relation to normative practices were front and center at SACNAS.
But so were personal historical narratives in which culture (however one defines that) is a source of strength and a reason to not only do science, but to change science.
Mentoring is a core function of SACNAS.
It brings to the fore, more than in other scientific communities I’ve encountered, systematic and open discussion about personal history, and the importance of family as both a source of support and a reason to achieve. It goes without saying that Native American and Latino scientists do science because they are deeply curious, and want to prove, in response to racist contrary assumptions, that they could. But I also heard a lot of talk about giving back, even when one’s family or cultural kin don’t understand or are leery of the decision to become a scientist.
In a panel on the “real life adventures” of SACNAS
scientists, four established scientists—two bioscientists, a chemist, and a mathematician gave off-the-cuff talks recounting their personal, familial, and systemic (e.g. racism and poverty) challenges on their way to achieving PhDs. One panelist, a Chicana professor of mathematics, recounted, growing up poor in East Los Angeles, but with a close-knit family, a charismatic and hard-driving high school math teacher, enabling her journey to an elite private women’s university and on to a PhD in mathematics. But the moment in her talk that encapsulates the SACNAS
difference is when she stated unapologetically that she may not be at the cutting-edge of new mathematical theory. She has come to realize that she got a PhD in mathematics “to produce great mathematicians.” She will graduate her first PhD soon. For those who were not in the room, it may be hard to understand how it felt to hear that, but the room immediately erupted into applause. Her tone was powerful, her heartfelt openness a testament to the centrality of mentoring in this community. I was moved almost to tears.
On the same panel, Professor Wilfred Denetclaw
, Diné (or Navajo),
from San Francisco State University told of growing up on the Navajo reservation and earning PhD in zoology at Berkeley, and the culture shock he encountered along the way. The difference-making part of the talk for me is the way his “marginal” culture was made normative. Professor Denetclaw
spoke a bit of Diné language
in his talk, and not in that way I often see at social science or humanities conferences or agency meetings, where Native American languages seem to be treated as sacred artifacts, and not everyday things. Professor Denetclaw
recounted his lineage and clan, then spoke with a jovial tone that indicated even to a non-speaker like me that there were enough folks in the room who actually understood him that he could use the language to actually communicate, and not simply as protocol or to demonstrate respect. Denetclaw was of course in a privileged position. There are more Native language speakers among the Navajo than in many other tribes in the U.S. I also find that Diné are over-represented among tribal people in the biophysical sciences. At one point I encountered six
Diné scientists talking in a circle before a session, probably power broking! They were all laughing and in a good mood. It felt like the
Diné scientific mafia. I felt tickled. What a different scene from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists or American Society of Human Genetics meetings that I also attend.
In between panel sessions and keynotes, at dinners and lunches that are served to thousands in a gigantic banquet hall, SACNAS
members shared their personal stories and the role of SACNAS
in their lives. Every graduate student and professor I talked to, most of whom had been coming to SACNAS
for years, spoke of the affirmation and encouragement they receive there. Some spoke of hard times in science when they considered leaving their labs or their fields entirely, times when they felt like social or cultural curiosities. But SACNAS
colleagues continued to network them and help them find opportunities to stay in science, and encouraged them to stick with science and to make it different. Several told me that they didn’t get this encouragement with their primary advisors at their universities, but did from SACNAS
where people understand where they come from, and where they can be who they are. I was astounded by the power of this organization in the lives of the Native American and Chicano scientists I met. During one of the meals, the Executive Director of SACNAS,
the impressive Judit Camacho
, asked all newly graduated PhDs in the crowd to “please stand and be recognized by your community.” Individuals all across the hall stood to applause. At that same banquet, a twenty-something student from Salish Kootenai College
of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana introduced her mentor at the college (a non-Native, middle-aged, male scientist) who was there to receive an award for developing the first fully accredited Bachelor of Science degree in a molecular science at a tribal college. She explained that “connecting science to culture is very important to Native students. It keeps us interested in coming back for more.” (I thought in response that “science”—meaning high-tech Western science—is always connected to culture of course, just not our Native American cultures.) She was so confident, and her mentor so humble. Both clearly articulated the complex connections between culturally resonant science education, tribal institution-building, and flourishing in Indian Country.
Listening to SACNISTAS (their affectionate name for themselves) situate
themselves and their institutions reinforces my sense that having more diverse scientists might make scientific fields and institutions more explicitly conscious of their cultural presumptions that work for some and not others. Scientists from historically marginalized groups might more clearly see the development of scientific fields as entangled with not only the good, but also the violent and oppressive aspects of human history than their colleagues. They are less likely to displace blame onto “politics” and “religion.” I hear this claim in the Q&A after every talk I give about the politics of human genome diversity research. “It’s not the science that’s the problem,” some audience member will claim. “It’s the scientifically uneducated public, or the science reporters who skew our words and findings!” Scientists who are able and willing to be more critically reflective of their fields give me hope that scientific fields and practices can be made more tolerant, multicultural, and democratic.
This idea and hope is central to my current research project, Constituting Knowledge across Cultures of Expertise and Tradition: An Ethnographic Study of Indigenous Bio-scientists and Their Collaborators.
A key hypothesis of this new research is that diverse scientists 
will open up scientific fields to more diverse research questions, methods and ethical innovations that will better serve the research priorities of a broader array of individuals and communities (the meanings for me of “democratizing” science). Indeed, a couple of the Native American scientists who work with ancient human DNA make a case that Native American tribes might want to reconsider doing genetic research on ancient remains. What are their reasons? That Native Americans have the incentive to develop research methods that are less destructive of bone and that are more respectful to the being whose remains are being studied (they are not viewed as simply lifeless bone). Native American genetic scientists also tend to be much more interested in what happened over here, and not so much in how, when or how many people crossed the Bering Strait. How are tribal peoples today related to one another? What were their associations historically? How does the genetics correlate with their oral histories about how they are related and associated? How can both human genetics and plant genetics illuminate those relationships? And how can they do genetic research in ways that are respectful and appropriate, and which accord more intellectual property rights to Native peoples and not simply to non-indigenous institutions?
These Native American scientists understand that scientific narratives have much authority in policymaking. It is therefore prudent to have a voice in the construction of historical narratives that are increasingly genetic with research questions and hypotheses, methods and ethics that are consonant with our cultural practices and knowledge priorities, rather than shaped solely by non-tribal research priorities and Western bioethical assumptions. Native scientists provide the antidote to the discouragement I felt when I first started researching the politics and cultures of human genome diversity research involving “Native American” migrations into the so-called New World. The assumptions, priorities and technical language I encountered suggested to me a lack of real investment in the flourishing of the indigenous communities whose DNA was required for study. Perhaps in the abstract scientists like the idea of indigenous flourishing, but like philosophers, naturalists, and federal agents before them, they too often presume that indigenous peoples are doomed to vanish and then define us out of existence, in this case according to degrees of genetic admixture. These politics set the stage for the urgency to sample. The conceptual frameworks of the
Native scientists I've encountered seem more critical than those of those non-indigenous scientists who privilege myopically constructed genetic narratives of the “history of the Americas” while our creation narratives and our incisive analyses of colonial history on these continents get ignored. But the binary thinking that shapes genetic research sometimes shapes our responses to that research. Genetics OR creation narratives is unsatisfying. So is the concept of accepting (tolerating?) “multiple truths.” I’m looking for a more fundamental conceptual overhaul.
I want to learn how to learn, see, and speak in new ways with Native American scientists. I began this new research with hope that Native American scientists (and scientists who work in long-term collaborative arrangements with indigenous peoples) might be different from others I had encountered, and might be willing participants in a more complicated, constructive, even anti-colonial conversation. I worried that Native American bio-scientists too would be indoctrinated with overly simplistic notions of neutrality vs. bias, or that research is primarily about freedom of inquiry. Would they understand that “research” is always also the extraction of resources (be they biological or cultural or intellectual) often primarily for the benefit of those who inquire and their institutions? I have been pleased and a little surprised by the scientists I have interviewed and observed—that I can have this kind of conversation. My social science chauvinism has been thankfully undermined when I speak with them. Critique, Productively Aimed: Heteronormativity and Political Economy Much of my research involves interviewing scientists. Attending the SACNAS meeting was a form of participant observation. But I am no distant observer of scientists. I interact as someone who is positively invested in their project and a productive participant in their community. Next year I will propose a panel on some of the very issues I write about here. Like the SACNAS scientists, I need this differently-thinking community to help me stay in the academy. I conceived of a project to research Native American scientists because I needed to care for my subjects. I came to a point where I began to feel demoralized by what and whom I studied. I did not like how it felt to not care, indeed even to hope sometimes for the projects I studied to fail. Because the SACNAS scientists give me hope, I want to help their cause, to diversify who does science and how we do it. If I am a member of their community, I have a responsibility to offer supportive critique, critique that is productively aimed. I have two such critiques to offer a
fter several panel sessions and two award ceremonies this year. First, it struck me that things felt heteronormative at SACNAS.
That is, every person’s story presented on a panel or in an award ceremony featured the family unit that consists of heterosexual married couples with children. Everyone was married. Everyone had children. Granted, there were plenty of women scientists. Indeed the gendered patterns of colonialism have produced higher levels of formal education amongst women than men in some communities. Still I didn’t see a queer scientist in the bunch, or a non-normative family form aside from the extended family. At the social science and humanities meetings I’ve attended queer academic presence and politics are everywhere. Then I investigated the SACNAS
program, and lo and behold I saw a reception hosted by the National organization for Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals
for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, and their allies.” I had to get home to my own child and so could not attend the reception, but I am curious to go next year and to hear more about the role of LGBT scientists at SACNAS.
How might they make science more multicultural and democratic, including by questioning the imposition of heteronormative assumptions onto nonhumans in research.
I began writing this blog in the sterile, spacious, marble-floored San Jose, CA Convention Center, where I attended the largest ever annual meeting of the SACNAS 2011 exhibitor hall. UC Berkeley & UC Davis recruitment and display tables
meeting is the political economy of big science and technology. We in the academy all know the economic disparities between the social sciences/humanities and the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Those disparities were in my face at SACNAS.
Multi-course meals with banquet staff were served throughout the meeting. SACNAS
was able to give 1000 travel scholarships to students: amazing. Sponsors included major scientific research agencies and foundations and donations in the tens of thousands up to $100,000 by several universities. Like the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)
meeting that I sometimes attend, this meeting was kitted out with lots of expensive technology. At regular panel sessions and keynotes, two gigantic overhead screens flanked the stages where speakers sat in television talk show-style chairs or spoke at podiums. Presentations were slickly programmed with all kinds of special effects that you just don’t see in the technologically staid PowerPoint presentations of most social scientists. There were precisely programmed musical clips playing as speakers ascended and left the stage and for the photo ops that followed each award. As at the ASHG Presidential Address I blogged about last year,
there were camera men on platforms filming the keynotes. The different political economic reality at play in the STEM fields was particularly noticeable when the lights in the cavernous banquet hall were turned completely down and the Star Wars
theme began playing. Two astronauts hovering mid-air in the International Space Station appeared on screen, so much larger than life. They had recorded a personalized welcome for the 2011 SACNAS
meeting participants. The room swelled with laughter and applause, mine included. I understood like never before how intoxicating can be the nectar of big science and technology. I was certainly not the only person at my banquet table to feel like I’d traveled a long way from that reservation border town where I grew up. Sharing the moment with the promising and gregarious young Diné
scientist sitting next to me, my critical perspective was definitely mixed with pleasure.
But pleasure turned to sadness for me when the big name speakers took the stage. Two middle-aged white males from a highly ranked university, both in positions of great power in that university, and with esteemed scientific careers, gave talks meant to inspire. For some of the scientists in the hall, I am sure they did. What I heard was the gospel of neutral, universal science unencumbered with critical reflection on the histories of exclusion that condition the disciplines, all of our disciplines. One of the speakers, a prize-winning scientist, projected photographs of his prize-winning team, all white males except one male from China. Yet no histories of exclusion in his scientific field were acknowledged. To the contrary, he spoke to the room full of brown faces and said “You too can win this prize someday.” Deploying a “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” narrative against a depoliticized history of his field seemed so unfitting a gesture before this crowd. Hadn’t we just heard from SACNAS
members about the importance of personal and social histories shaping the questions asked, the methods used, the way analysis is done?
The other big man of science, also an administrator, delivered the second sermon of the night: big science and technology as salvation from our economic and political woes. He focused on the role of science and technology in U.S. global capitalist competitiveness. And he spoke of the role of “diversity and inclusion”—of giving people of color access
to all of this opportunity and economic largess. He noted nothing about how diversifying science can also make scientific questions and methods more robust and our interpretations more rigorous, and help science serve a wider array of people. Nor did he note the current political economy of the university in which class divisions get deeper and deeper between fields of inquiry.
The problem with the line “diversity and inclusion” in use at so many universities around the country is that it can refer to gender balance or to the browning of the laboratory, but it doesn’t mean changing how science gets done. While the famous guys who came to speak at SACNAS
may not get that, the SACNISTAS I talked to do get it. The conceptual distance between those who control the university and those who work for “inclusion” is vast. I drove the 47 miles home to Berkeley feeling profoundly weary. I hope that SACNAS
scientists as they ascend to places of power in research and funding institutions think harder about the current political economy of research, and how to help narrow those gaps. I ask them that while they take pleasure in their own fields, not to become STEM chauvinists. I trust that they will do better at avoiding the myopic and dangerous view that big science and technology are objective goods, unconditioned by histories and ongoing relationships of oppression and exclusion. Postscript: Writing and Studying While the Occupy Movement Simmers around Me
A couple of weeks ago, I entered the San Jose Convention center feeling conflicted about my privilege. I thought not simply of “poor masses,” but of close friends and family who are unemployed, facing unemployment, who do not have health care, or enough money to pay their bills every month. I thought of the Occupy Oakland folks who were at that very moment downtown at Oscar Grant Plaza, just a few miles from my house in Berkeley. (Oscar Grant was the young African American man who was killed while he lay prostrate, unarmed, in a subway station by a BART cop on New Year’s Eve 2009.) In San Jose, in that gleaming temperature- and socially-controlled convention center, I felt a distance between what I am doing and what those folks were doing and continue to do—that multi-racial, multi-generational, multi-class group of citizens who are apparently putting their bodies on the line given incidents of police aggression against non-violent protestors. While I was at SACNAS,
just like all of those SACNAS
scientists and scientists-in-training, I chose to be in a research community, to do work that is personally fulfilling, but that I hope makes a difference for the communities I care about. I have always understood research to consist of political acts, and I feel the need to explicitly link my everyday work inside the hallowed halls of Berkeley with critical “everyday” events in our world. The negative links between powerful research institutions and the lives of the less powerful are for this social scientist always clear. The history and political economy of the disciplines is intimately linked with war-making and exploitation and land and resource-grabs in the development of nations. (Increasingly the STEM fields grab the power while the humanities and social sciences get increasingly marginalized.) But the positive links between research inside an institution such as Berkeley and social struggles can be hard to see, or the positive links seem farfetched or too costly to folks who live in immediate material deprivation and with daily violence .
I stare out the window of the small Vietnamese restaurant where I now write, and I try to think of a convincing response to that challenge. Across the street I see a Bank of America branch with a cop standing in front of it, protecting the interests of the powerful. I’ve noticed these past days increased police presence outside the big banks, no doubt in response to the protests against the role of bank corruption in our current economic crisis. At the same time I now hear the helicopters beat the air overhead as student protestors gather at nearby Sproul Plaza. I bring up the San Francisco Chronicle online and read: 21 minutes ago, “Dozens of campus police in riot gear…descended on students outside UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall and arrested several protesters as they attempted to set up an ‘Occupy Cal’ encampment.” A campus spokesperson notes that “tents and overnight encampments will not be tolerated.” The police, of course, are not there to protect the interests of the students—those who are not very powerful and who are in solidarity with the Occupy movement. Police are there to stand in a line against them. Students, like bank protestors are too often seen as always already about-to-be criminals. As I write, I receive a department-wide email from a senior colleague, a bio-scientist coincidentally (quoted here with his permission):
“I [and a colleague] have just returned from Sproul Plaza, where we had the misfortune to witness the apparent unnecessary use of physical force by the UC and Alameda Sheriff's PD against peaceful protesters assembled on the lawn. [We] observed repeated incidents of baton jabbing and overhead baton hitting of students whose apparent crime was to be physically present on the lawn in support of the placement of tents. Several individuals were arrested, including one well-dressed women in her mature years. All arrested individuals were roughly handled. We were both disgusted by these acts and question the wisdom of our university's leadership (noticeably absent) that set up this type of confrontational situation between students and police (with at least one of the latter carrying out his duty with some reluctance). The time has come when we should openly question some of the decisions being made by our academic leaders in allowing confrontational situations between police and the university community to unnecessarily arise.” Wayne Getz, Professor Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management UC Berkeley (November 9, 2011)
Like the young scientists at SACNAS
, the Berkeley students inspire me. The sciences, like the university more broadly, are both culprit and fertile ground for change. I have to hope that this is the case, and so I write against a dominant narrative that would over-simplify the role of the sciences and scientists in this history unfolding around us. I write about alternative assumptions and practices, and those individuals amongst us who are able to imagine a different future.*This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1027307.
For science studies folks it goes without saying that any references to “situated” refer to Donna Haraway’s seminal essay “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York and London: Routledge 1991: 183-201. My references to the democratization of science are much informed by the thinking of feminist philosopher of science Sandra Harding and by my previous exposure to the field of community planning, a field in which research and doing are one-in-the-same. And it is assumed that communities should research and do for themselves. Finally, my understanding that research is always a set of political acts was developed early on. I was five years old when I was first exposed to the ideas of Vine Deloria, Jr., particularly in his famous essay, "Anthropologists and other Friends." In Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto.1969. Reprint, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.
In this case Native Americans, but we can extend the hypothesis to scientists from multiple race, class, and religious backgrounds, and to sexuality.
But my big struggle at the
Researchers Reconstructing Genome of Extinct Human Population Using 1000 Genomes Data
(October 14, 2011, GenomeWeb Daily News) is a perfect example of the conflation of the notion of a genetic population with a cultural group. I'd like to see an original publication. Is this idea coming from the reporter more than the scientists, or from both? Below, I truncate some of the choice quotes: Researchers have started to reconstruct the genomes of individuals from an extinct indigenous population known as the Taino, who lived in the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and Lesser Antilles before the Caribbean was colonized by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. The Taino population appears to have become extinct within around 100 years after they came into contact with Europeans...The team found genomic patterns that corresponded to the three-way European, African, and Taino ancestry that exists in the Puerto Rican population...The overall sequence patterns in the Puerto Rican genomes point to a rapid decline in the Taino population...as evidenced by a pulse of Taino ancestry that seems to have percolated down through the Puerto Rican population over time.
I am no expert on the politics of Taino identity. I understand in basic terms that the "extinction" of Taino is contested, and that there are individuals and groups that identify in some way as Taino, or as indigenous to Puerto Rico. What this article says to me is that we are to take the presence of genetic ancestry in "Puerto Rican genomes" from Africa and Europe in greater percentage as meaning that Taino don't exist. Not that having genetic ancestry alone from pre-contact indigenous groups (especially absent social affiliations) should be conflated with an indigenous identity. But what is interesting about this article is that I've seen scientific communities also conflate in that way too. These correlations of genetic population with cultural group identity just seem so arbitrary. And one more question:
aside from a purported decimation of Taino identity, what does the "extinction" narrative do, and how does it fit with a narrative of amalgamation or mestizo identity? That's a genuine question. If anyone out there is writing about the cultural politics of Taino genome research, please comment here with links.
Below is a flyer from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) about a panel on which I will speak. My talk will take off from other panelists' legal, historical, and sociological analyses to ask how "blood" differs from "DNA" and what are the consequences for tribal sovereignty?
From blood to DNA, from “tribe” to “race” in tribal citizenship
This talk will compare symbolic blood as it has been used in 20th and 21st-century U.S. tribal enrollment with the more recent advent of DNA testing for enrollment. I briefly examine both “Indian blood” and “tribe-specific blood” and compare these concepts with that of the “DNA profile” that is increasingly used in enrollment in concert with existing blood rules. How might DNA testing influence how we understand “Native American” as a racial category? I argue that genetic practices are more likely to “racialize” Native American citizenship than are current blood rules alone, and this is more harmful to tribal sovereignty than are blood concepts of identity.
I've been remiss in blogging this summer in large part because I've been traveling around the country working on a new research project, "Indigenous Scientists and Cultures of Expertise and Tradition." I'm interviewing Native American bio-scientists, including graduate students, their non-Native collaborators, and other non-Native scientists who work in collaborative research with tribal and other indigenous communities. My hypothesis is that such individuals work in ways that may help democratize scientific research practices, in part by asking more diverse research questions that serve not only the needs of non-Native scientists and scientific institutions but also or primarily the intellectual and community developments needs of indigenous communities. I am also interested to see if such individuals come to influence the take-up of science and technology in tribal governance. If all goes well this year, in the next two years I'll interview scientists in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. I'll present early findings at the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting
in Montreal in November, where, by the way, my entire panel will be populated by Native American tribal citizens. I also want to note a fantastic
workshop I attended in July at the University of Illinois Institute for Genomic Biology. The Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING)
brought together established Native American scientists, graduate students in the bio- and social sciences, and community members from tribal and First Nations communities around the U.S. and Canada for one week of lectures, wet and dry lab training, and hands-on activities in ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) of genetic research. The ELSI activities were integral to the program and not simply tacked on as an afterthought to the "real" scientific training, as is too often the case. Students and faculty alike participated in vibrant discussions and role-playing in ways that also expanded the definition of "ethics" to include the idea that indigenous peoples are more than just potential research subjects who participate or resist accordingly. They can also be scientists. They are, of course, regulators, and tribal sovereignty in all of this is key. But they can also be funders of and investors in genetic research, thus shaping the questions that get asked; the methods that are used; and influencing whose institutions, communities, human resources, and economies get developed in research. The Navajo Times has just published an article on the workshop. I'll post a link here when when it's available online.I did interviews in Minneapolis week before last. Boston is my next stop. Time to get up and out of this Janesville, Wisconsin Motel 6 and hit the road.
I hope i can find some good coffee.
On October 9, 2010, I posted a blog entry
(re-posted below) in which I respond with a mixed review to the Genographic
/Seaconke Wampanoag jointly-authored publication "Genetic Heritage and Native Identity of the Seaconke Wampanoag
" (Zhadanov et al 2010). In short, my thoughts were that Genographic's genetic data could undercut tribal identity and attendant political claims. The Seaconke Wampanoag who were sampled were shown to have almost no "Native American" genetic lineages. It remains to be seen what the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) would do with such data. It could be damaging to a tribe looking for recognition from the U.S. government and its attendant rights and resources. However, I characterized the jointly-authored article as also a step forward for Genographic
in that it simultaneously foreground non-genetic tribal histories. Scientific publications usually give short shrift to non-genetic knowledges. I have been very critical of Genographic elsewhere
. In the interest of analytical fairness, I wanted to also acknowledge what the project did right. But this month, things have taken a turn for the worse in Genographic's
relations with some of its indigenous subjects. My October 2010 post has been extensively referenced by the Peruvian organization Asociación ANDES in their comprehensive critique
of the Genographic Project's
now thwarted plans to sample Q'ero people, descendants of Incas, who live in a rural area of the Cusco Region of Peru.
Asociación ANDES raises important points in their communiqué that I'd like to highlight and cross-reference with the productive response of another body to the kind of "old school" research that Genographic is accused of. That is, research practices that are top-down, primarily extractive in that they benefit researchers, their institutions and economic networks while returning little or no intellectual or economic benefit to usually much less powerful research subjects. In addition, such research and how it conceptualizes history and personhood may directly assault indigenous conceptions of history and personhood that condition indigenous claims to self-governance and rights to land and resources. After all, is it not genetic and other biophysical data, non-indigenous historical narratives, and the moral frameworks of a scientific state that hold sway in dominant courts and institutions? Certainly, indigenous historical narratives, moral frameworks, and data (sometimes biophysical but also sometimes immaterial and not knowable by science) do not hold much sway.
Asociación ANDES accuses Genographic scientists of "neo-colonial" research. It's difficult to argue with the organization given the uneven benefits that accrue to those who research versus those who extend their arms to have their veins opened, or who part their lips to have the cotton swab inserted. The biological resources of such individuals are extracted so cleanly and quickly that it is sometimes difficult to see the political economic similarities between these procedures and the much messier extraction through the centuries of indigenous natural resources via minerals mining and land theft and development.
For those in doubt, let me substantiate the comparison between old and neo-colonialisms a bit more fully. As I summarize Asociación ANDES incisive points and relate them to another important document that I called attention to in yet another post
, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Guidelines for Health Research Involving Aboriginal People
is the Canadian equivalent to our National Institutes of Health (NIH
). Let me emphasize that the research problems highlighted by Asociación ANDES are the types of practices that are viewed as problematic and addressed by the CIHR guidelines. The guidelines help remedy the unsurprisingly colonial context of human subjects research that has always been entangled with and not separate from the colonial practices of nation states. A comparison with the CIHR guidelines shows that Asociación ANDES' critiques are not radical, but their ideas are increasingly recognized as fundamental to ethical research today. "Ethical" in a post-colonial era means also culturally
respectful, and mutually
beneficial, as the CIHR guidelines attest to. Roderick R. McInnes
, immediate past president of the American Society of Human Genetics
(ASHG), in his presidential speech
at the 2010 ASHG annual meeting
, highlighted multiple principles that are consistent with Asociación ANDES call for ethical research.
Following, I paraphrase Asociación ANDES' critiques of Genographic. In bold, I paraphrase CIHR guidelines that address such problems:
Original 5/12/2011 Disclaimer:
- BAD INFORMED CONSENT PROCESS. Genographic did not approach local/regional authorities to get approval for their research plan, nor did they consult research subjects before plans were announced to the community that DNA would be collected. Genographic's Web site asserts that informed consent should be "deliberate, considered, individual and collective." To the contrary, a one-page flyer with patronizing language was delivered to the community not long prior to the planned DNA collection. A powerpoint presentation was planned immediately prior to DNA collection. This allows no time for community input to the research process, nor for real collective consent as collective discussions take considerably more time than individual discussion and consent, which is also not easy given the difficult subject matter. CIHR Article 4: Researchers should consult community leaders first to obtain their consent before approaching community members individually. CIHR Article 11.1: A researcher has an obligation to learn about, and apply, Aboriginal cultural protocols relevant to the Aboriginal community involved in the research.
- UNCLEAR ON FUTURE RESEARCH AND USES OF SAMPLES/DATA. Genographic has not clearly identified future planned genetic studies and therefore future uses of blood samples and sequence data. In addition, future disposition of collected samples is unclear. It is important to be clear on these matters because it has been a common practice for genetic researchers to trade samples between labs with no reconsent of samples for different research projects--projects to which the original donors might object. CIHR Article 12: Researchers should respect the proprietary interests of individuals and communities in data and samples, obtain consent for transfer of data and samples to third parties and for secondary uses if samples or data can be traced back to individuals or communities. CIHR Article 13: Biological samples should be considered "on loan" to the researcher unless otherwise specified in a research agreement. This article is influenced by Doris Cook's and Laura Arbour's "DNA on Loan" concept.
- DISRESPECT OF GOVERNMENT JURISDICTION. Genographic has disregarded Cusco's regional government sovereignty by not contacting the government prior to planning collection. Genographic should have made its intentions known to "state, regional, and indigenous" governing bodies to acquire approval. CIHR Article 2: Community jurisdiction over the conduct of research should be understood and respected. (Asociación ANDES is unclear about the relations between state, regional, and indigenous governing authorities in its communiqué. It seems important to know whether indigenous self-determination is supported by regional and state authorities.)
- POTENTIAL STIGMATIZATION. Genetic sequences linked to indigenous communities today may in the future be linked to particular medical conditions that can stigmatize indigenous populations as peoples. Thus privacy and anonymity as a collectivity is key for indigenous peoples. Individual anonymity and privacy--the stuff of standard informed consent models--is inadequate for indigenous groups. Asociación ANDES charges a Genographic scientist from Peru with writing about a particular indigenous group having a "defective gene" that "predisposes them to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV..." CIHR Article 5: Concerns of individual participants and community regarding anonymity, privacy, and confidentiality should be respected and addressed in a research agreement.
- DISREGARD OF INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE, SCIENTIFIC CHAUVINISM. Genographic purports to tell the genetic "truth" about Q'eros' indigenous identity, whether they are in fact related to the Incas or the Aymara or to Amazonian peoples. The Q'eros already know who they are, and their ancestors in non-genetic ways. CIHR Article 1: Researchers should understand and respect Aboriginal world views, including responsibilities to the people and culture that flow from being granted access to traditional or sacred knowledge. Article 7: Aboriginal people retain their inherent rights to any cultural knowledge... The researcher should also support mechanisms for the protection of such knowledge...
- BAD SCIENCE. "Historical claims by molecular biologists sometimes overreach their field of competence and what can ultimately be concluded through science and the historical record. They are influenced by and reliant on assumptions about genetically 'isolated' or 'inbred' populations that discount historical fluidity of cultures and previous intermarriage." This shortcoming in researcher knowledge can be in part remedied by CIHR Article 3: Communities should be given the option of a participatory research approach. Also by CIHR Article 14: The Aboriginal community should have opportunities to participate in data interpretation and to review conclusions to ensure accuracy and cultural sensitivity of interpretation.
- SCIENTISTS, STATES, AND INDUSTRY, BUT NOT INDIGENES BENEFIT FROM RESEARCH. Asociación ANDES charges the project with existing only "to satisfy the curiosity of Western scientists" who stand to benefit by gaining publications and scientific prestige, while the Q'eros get "molecular 'proof' or 'disproof' of their heritage" with profound legal and social consequences. If genetic data is used to argue against indigenous heritage, a peoples' claims to self-governance, land, and resources are compromised. Genographic has not secured the indigenous involvement needed to articulate a research scope in which indigenes might actually benefit. Indeed, economic benefits stand to accrue only to non-indigenous scientists as they build their careers. Critics fear that nation-states and commercial actors may also benefit from the extraction of indigenous genetic data that seeds the biotechnology industry just like the extraction of indigenous natural resources has long benefited non-indigenes. In addition to CIHR Article 1 that calls for researcher respect for Aboriginal world views, CIHR Article 9 enlightens: Research should be of benefit to the community as well as to the researcher.
- FULL DISCLOSURE OF COMMERCIAL INTERESTS & PROTECTION OF INDIGENOUS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. While Genographic prohibits commercialization of genetic samples and data by members of its consortium, Genographic scientists should fully disclose their support for and ties to industry in their other research projects, including to the biotech industry. Published "sequence and diversity data" may be commercially exploited by other, non-Genographic scientists. This kind of openness would engender real informed consent, disclosing fully who benefits and how. CIHR Article 8: Concerns over and claims to intellectual property should be explicitly acknowledged and addressed prior to research and expectations of all parties stated in research agreement. CIHR Article 12.1: Researchers should respect the rights and proprietary interests of individuals and communities in data and biological samples generated in the course of research, and such interests should be stated in research agreements unless communities waive the right. Again, Article 13 regarding the DNA being "on loan" to the researcher is instructive.
- COMMUNITY CAPACITY BUILDING NECESSARY? Real informed consent may be impossible without specialized training in genetics, without which it is difficult to evaluate scientists' claims. CIHR Article 10: Researchers should support education and training of Aboriginal people in the community, including training in research methods and ethics. This is followed by CIHR Article 14: Aboriginal community should have opportunities to participate in data interpretation and to review conclusions to ensure accuracy and cultural sensitivity of interpretation.
I rely on Asociación ANDES describing accurately Genographic's public relations materials and their actions on the ground, or lack of action. The problems the organization points out are consistent with my critiques and those of others, both scholars and activists, of Genographic and of genetic research on indigenous peoples historically.10/17/11 Update:
Since I originally wrote this blog entry, a colleague, an anthropologist of science who works in Latin America has translated for me the original letters between the Peruvian indigenous community leadership, the Cusco regional President, and National Geographic. These letters in Spanish are linked to in the May 6, 2011 ScienceInsider article
that covered this story. The English translations, which are consistent with ANDES' analysis of the situation, will soon be available at the Web site Genomics, Governance, and Indigenous Peoples
An article out this year in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology highlights the potential incongruence between Native American identity and genetic ancestry. (Thanks to geneticist Bryan Sykes for tipping me off to it. How had I missed it?) Zhadanov et al’s “Genetic Heritage and Native Identity of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts” would be more aptly titled, “Genetic Heritage vs. Native Identity . . .” This study completed by the folks over at Genographic is paradoxical to say the least. First, the downside: the paper in one sense represents a superfluous genetic study of the tribe’s genealogy. Any student of New England history and anyone who looks at Wampanoag people knows they’ve been intermarrying with “European” and “African populations” for a long time. We didn’t need genetic analysis to tell us this. There was a minor surprise in what they uncovered in their analyses of Seaconke Wampanoag citizens mtDNA and Y chromosomes, or their maternal and paternal lineages respectively. That the majority of both of their lineages were traceable to “African” and “West Eurasian” lineages is not what surprises me. I know something about New England tribal history. Slightly surprising is that the only direct Native American lineage they did find is traceable very probably to one Cherokee ancestor who married a Wampanoag several generations ago. But given the way that Indians from different tribes moved around during the 20th century, meeting at boarding schools, pow wows, at Haskell, at conferences . . . I’m not really surprised by that either. There is no genetic indication then of Wampanoag ancestors. This genetic situation is a bit more incongruent with their Wampanoag identity than I predicted in my 2007 Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics (JLME) article, “Narratives of Race and Indigeneity in the Genographic Project,” but not by much.
No, what surprises me is the tone of this article that does not conflate Native American identity with Native American genetic lineages. For example, authors note that “the high frequency of nonnative haplotypes in this population, along with the paucity of Native American haplotypes, reveals the substantial changes in the genetic composition of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe in post-contact American history” (Zhadanov et al 2010: 586). This is an important passage that explicitly grounds the people as Wampanoag first. Their genetic lineage is not deterministic.
And that is the fascinating upside to this study. People who know my work know that I’ve been pretty critical of Genographic. But in this article they are very good about not trumping the tribe’s Wampanoag identity with their genetic findings. The authors spend about 1/3 of the paper recounting the literature on New England history and the impact of European or white settlement on the numbers and state of Wampanoag. And they do this historical accounting in a way that emphasizes Wampanoag survival and not simply their decimation in the face of a brutal colonization. This is a flip of Genographic’s usual narrative (and the Human Genome Diversity Project before it)—that the indigenes are all vanishing and therefore must be sampled as quickly as possible.
No doubt Genographic’s tone is related to the fact that they share the byline with tribal community members (3 are listed as co-authors). This is also a welcome change from the old school days (still in existence for many) in which a tribal group is named in the short acknowledgements at the end of the paper, thanked for donating their blood samples. Or even worse, some papers from the early 1990s and before actually thank agencies such as the Indian Health Service (IHS) or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for turning over blood to the scientists. One wonders about the informed consent in those situations.
Of course, others who have not developed this relationship of collaboration and no doubt moral obligation that the Genographic authors have developed with their Wampanoag collaborators may not be so forgiving. The Bureau of Indian Affair’s (BIA) Office of Federal Recognition (OFA), for example, mediates tribal recognition cases in large part by calling in the disciplinarians to pass judgment on the authenticity of Native identity claims. So historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists get a good deal of say. There is no good reason why genetics and biological anthropological evidence will not be brought into the mix. Let us hope that regulators and policymakers in our genetically rather fetishistic country do not hold Genographic’s findings against the Seaconke Wampanoag people.
photo: jonathan goldberg-hiller
On April 12, 2011 I organized (in concert with UC Berkeley's Science, Technology, and Society Center--STSC) this syposium that brought together animal studies scholars in queer and critical race studies with scholars working within longer-lived indigenous approaches to knowing “nonhumans.” Below are the opening remarks that I presented at the symposium. Following are links to the iTunes podcasts of the events:
Part 1: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/why-animal-queer-animalities/id390697297?i=93318980
Part 2: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/why-animal-queer-animalities/id390697297?i=93318979 Opening Comments
Kim TallBear, UC Berkeley
I have organized this morning’s symposium with the Science Technology and Society Center (STSC)
here at Berkeley under Cori Hayden’s
leadership (with tons of help from our student assistant Judith Gray). Our purpose is to bring into the center of this burgeoning field of animal studies empirical analyses of human/nonhuman relations—indeed social
relations—that privilege frameworks of critical race theory, queer theory, and indigenous and post-colonial (or is that anti-
The last decade has seen an upsurge of important scholarship in the field of “animal studies.” Under this rubric, scholars with roots in a variety of disciplines from across the spectrum of the social sciences and humanities attempt to recover knowledge territory claimed by and for the natural sciences alone over the last several hundred years. Today, we have scholars representing (and surely their allegiances bleed across disciplinary lines) library and information sciences, cultural studies, political science, linguistics, Africana studies, Gender & Women studies, sexuality studies, and Native American and Indigenous Studies. There is also prominent scholarship in this field coming from anthropology, geography, and multidisciplinary environmental studies. Not to mention the actual social lives lived by both humans and nonhuman persons
(if I can borrow language from indigenous ontologies) that will influence today’s conversation.
Within this already critical field of animal studies, thinkers aim essentially to dismantle hierarchiesin therelationships of “westerners” with their non-human others. A prime example is the recent move to “multi-species ethnography"
by anthropologists, geographers, and other social scientists. Scholars apply anthropological approaches to studying humans, to the social relations (not simply “interactions”) between humans and nonhumans, located in their social and physical habitats.
As S. Eben Kirksey
and Stefan Helmreich
comment in the introduction to the recent Cultural Anthropology special issue
on the topic, new anthropological accounts are starting to appear in which nonhumans (animals, plants, fungi, and microbes) previously relegated to the status of “bare life” or “that which is killable” are now appearing “alongside humans in the realm of bios,
with legibly biographical and political lives” (545).
In short, “multispecies ethnography centers on how a multitude of organisms’ livelihoods shape and are shaped by political, economic, and cultural forces.” Organisms have livelihoods
. Our panelist, Scout Calvert’s
scholarship on the work done to cattle and the work that cattle do in our industrial meat complex - and the effects on the lives of cattle and humans - can be understood within this tradition.
This work is both methodologically and ethically innovative. Yet is also has starting points that can only partially contain indigenous standpoints, and thus the importance of bringing indigenous voices to this table. One contribution of indigenous studies is to localize human/nonhuman relations in cultural, political contexts. Anthropologist Paul Nadasdy’s study of the Kluane First Nation and other Arctic hunting peoples is instructive here.
Nadasdy documents reciprocal exchanges (sometimes coupled with domination and its elements of coercion, deceit, and danger) between northern hunters and nonhuman persons who they know to be “thinking beings.” Sometimes these beings “consciously give themselves to hunters,” sometimes they have to be outwitted. Very importantly, Nadasdy explains hunting societies’ ontologies
(what they know) rather than their beliefs
about the world. And he calls anthropologists to beware of their own discrediting languages that would see animal gifts to humans as metaphor rather than reality. A second contribution is to extend the range of nonhuman beings with which we can be in relation. Much animal studies work restricts its attention to beings that “live,” e.g. dogs, bears, mushrooms, microorganisms. It is animal
studies after all. But for many indigenous peoples, our nonhuman others may not be understood in even critical western frameworks as living.
Nadasdy is primarily concerned with human and animal prey, but he also acknowledges similar relations among northern indigenous people and other “objects” and “forces” (trees, stones, thunder, etc.) which are known to be “sentient and intelligent persons” (29). Like our methodological choices, language choices are ethical choices and are key in this project of constituting more democratic relations and worlds. Indeed, animal
studies may be an inadequate construction for capturing human and nonhuman relations across cultures.
The idea then behind this symposium is to bring together scholars within animal studies who focus on queer and critical race approaches with scholars working within longer-lived strands of study, indigenous approaches to knowing “nonhumans” that are focused on critiquing settler colonialism and its management of nonhuman others. For example, Zakkiyah Jackson brings together queer theory, African diasporic feminism and animal studies to look at how black gender is animalized. Critical race theory, queer theory and indigenous studies—including Noenoe Silva and Jon Goldberg Hiller’s work on Native Hawaiian ontologies and relations with sharks and pigs (in distinction to state “natural resource” management of these beings)—all seek to disrupt the division between human and animal. These critical approaches make the link between dualisms and the relegation of certain humans to the realm of less-than-human, to the realm of the animal. Violence against animals is linked to violence against particular humans who have historically been linked to animality. There are real implications, as these speakers will show, for who and what gets to live, and who and what gets to die when the human/animal split is made.
There are multiple theorists who I need to thank for spurring my thinking on this topic and for being (whether they know it or not) inspirational for this symposium: these are my academic colleagues in the world of animal studies, including all of you on this panel. They also include my friend and colleague S. Eben Kirksey (co-editor of the special Cultural Anthropology
issue on multispecies ethnography), who in true feminist tradition is always quick to share theoretical insights, ethnographic contacts, and other opportunities in order to proliferate the thinking and innovation in this field.
Equally importantly though, I have been spurred to interest in this topic by individuals who would not consider themselves part of the animal studies scholarly world, indeed some are not even in the academy, but their work and lives are chiefly oriented towards Native American and indigenous self-determination. As part of that broader goal, these thinkers live and/or theorize social relations between humans and nonhuman persons.
Two important names come to mind: First, is the noted Native American scholar, Vine Deloria, Jr.
, who, in his theorizing of the concept of “American Indian metaphysics,” refuses the binary so integral to our dominant culture—that of science versus religion—or material versus immaterial.
For Deloria, those terms might apply to the West that in its particular history has insisted on severing “religion” from “science,” erecting a hard barrier between what humans can know through their materialistic, empirical investigations and what is believed
to exist beyond the known material world. In disrupting the science/religion divide in American Indian thought, Deloria’s theorizing implicates a second boundary, that between human and nonhuman persons. Deloria writes of the importance of social relations
(not simply interactions
) between “animals,” “energy,” “spirits,” “rocks,” “stars,” in the constitution of American Indian knowledge about the world. Deloria’s theorizing allows for conversations and analyses of meaningful relations between humans and nonhumans, including beings not classed as animate, that are not explicable wholly by materialist science.
These conversations have implications on both ethical and methodological levels (indeed methods are ethics) for how we inquire formally and for how we live. If nonhuman persons’ animacy (to use Mel Chen’s term) is taken seriously, can our scientific hypotheses be expanded, and thus our knowledges made more multi-cultural and potentially more robust? Second, what are the implications for how we live with and among the variety of our human and nonhuman kin who have been variously animated and de-animated in our sciences, religions, and governance structures?
A second important influence comes from outside the academy. My colleague and friend, Oglala Lakota architect and Lakota studies expert, Craig Howe
, argues with me about Vine Deloria’s intentions. He pushes me to refine my theoretical musings. Yet he has eschewed the mainstream academic life to found the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS)
, which he built on his family’s land between the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian reservations in South Dakota. In addition to running Lakota and Native American studies workshops at his facility, Howe lives in daily contact with a host of nonhumans on that land and documents those relations weekly in his blog, Oko Iyawapi
(or week count). Whether Howe engages with rabbits who pointedly observe him when he works outside, who alternately take afternoon naps in the shade of his structures, and sometimes thwart his architectural projects with their own work—their adamant digging; whether he studies the lodges of spiders, so akin to tipis in their form; or whether he follows the movements of star people in relation to distant buttes as he plots and builds the structures of the CAIRNS facility, Howe’s documentation of his daily entanglements with mindful nonhumans along with his theoretical challenges inspire my thinking in this area.
This symposium evinces the idea that indigenous theorizing can and should be brought to the same conversational table with feminist, queer, and critical race approaches in order to understand our co-constitution across species lines—or for indigenous ways of knowing, between kinds
of persons. It is my hope that these critical approaches can together help us take these border and boundary confusions one step further.
Returning to non-indigenous influences, I (and probably most of us) owe an intellectual debt to a major theorist in this area, Donna Haraway
. Her Cyborg Manifesto
reminds us that “social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction” (149).
Haraway’s object of attention in that famous essay was a hybrid of machine and organism. “The cyborg,” she noted, “is our ontology; it gives us our politics” (150). Back in the early 1990s, after 200 hundred years of evolutionary theory, Haraway argued that “the divide between human and animal was thoroughly breached” (151), thus making room for the proliferation of cyborgs, both literally and figuratively, in our culture. Cyborgs were also born of a second breach, that between animals/humans (or organisms) and machines (152). Haraway called attention to a third
boundary made fluid—that “between physical and non-physical” (153). Writing of electronic worlds such as those co-constituted with the goings on in Silicon Valley, Haraway was outside of but resonant with indigenous theorizing that has never given itself up to the binary of material realism vs. immaterial myth.
Haraway asks us not to be “afraid of [our] joint kinship with [both
] animals and machines, not [to be] afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints.” Similarly to Vine Deloria, she writes against binaries that proliferate in non-indigenous cultures. Hers include self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, active/passive, agent/resource. She calls us to see from multiple standpoints at once for this kind of “double vision” is more rigorous. “It reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable” from a single standpoint” (154). What is more, this isn’t just about what is just, it’s also about pleasure. Haraway argues that we should take “pleasure
in the confusion of boundaries and... responsibility
in their construction” (150).
Yet Alutiq archaeologist Sven Haakenson reminds us in the Grizzly Man
that Timothy Treadwell, who lived among bears for many summers in Alaska and co-founded the Grizzly People organization, was killed and eaten by a bear precisely because he disrespected a boundary between human and bear communities that Alaska Natives have lived with for millennia. That boundary crossing resulted in that same bear later being shot by the U.S. Park Service. Treadwell would have abhorred the killing of the bear. Which boundaries get crossed? Who takes what agency in particular boundary confusions? Haraway’s call to not only take pleasure,
but also responsibility
echoes in my head.
I know this is becoming cliché, but I am going to repeat it anyway for there is no better way to say this more concisely: our particular co-constitutions of human and nonhuman matter for who lives and dies
in this world, and how
. The approaches highlighted in this symposium bring yet a wider array of standpoints into this important conversation that is thriving in the academy, but fortunately is not contained by it.
I look forward to our conversations today and into the future as these scholars and their intellectual compatriots continue to challenge us to (re)think our relations “between kin and kind,” and hopefully even the regulatory regimes that are implicated by these relatings. 
S. Eben Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich, “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography,” Cultural Anthropology
Paul Nadasdy, “The Gift in the Animal: The Ontology of Hunting and Human-Animal Sociality,” American Ethnologist
34(1) (February 2007): 25-43.
Vine Deloria, Jr., “American Indian Metaphysics,” in Power and Place: Indian Education in America
, ed. Vine Deloria, Jr. and Daniel R. Wildcat (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2001), 1-6.
Donna J. Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature
, Donna J. Haraway (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), , 149-181. Grizzly Man
by Werner Herzog, 2005 (100 min.) 
This paragraph was not in my remarks delivered orally at the symposium. I have added them to this written transcript for clarification.