The co-constitution of human genome diversity research, concepts, and practices with concepts of race, indigeneity, and indigenous governance of science
This is my longest standing project and has resulted in a monograph, Native
American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, forthcoming
in fall 2013 with the University of Minnesota Press. The book treats the
politics of race and “population” that inform contemporary genome research on
indigenous populations, particularly how different parties (scientists
themselves, DNA test consumers, and family tree researchers) use DNA concepts
to re-script concepts of Native American identity and history. The book ends
with a look at how Native American tribes and Canadian Aboriginal peoples have
sought to govern genome science research thus producing innovative bioethical
interventions. I also advise multiple scientists and biomedical ethics centers
on genomics and indigenous peoples’ governance. In addition to the forthcoming
book, this research resulted in several peer reviewed publications and op-ed
pieces with one more forthcoming. In addition, I’ve presented several dozen
talks on this research at universities; science museums; at humanities, social
science and genome science conferences; and to tribal government and program
staff at locations across the U.S. and Canada, and in Australia, New Zealand,
and the U.K.
As part of this project, I was co-principal investigator with Jenny Reardon (Sociology and the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering, UC-Santa Cruz) and Rebecca Tsosie (College of Law, Arizona State University) on a National Science Foundation-funded workshop, Genomics, Governance, and Indigenous Peoples held at Arizona State University in November, 2008. Based on that workshop, Reardon, Andrés Barragán (UC Davis Anthropology), and I are building a Web resource, also called Genomics, Governance, and Indigenous Peoples (GGIP), that draws together concerned scholars and scientists situated in various fields (science and technology studies, anthropology, environmental science and policy, gender studies, genetics, sociology) who are interested in fostering analysis and discussion about the social, political repercussions of genomic research. The GGIP site seeks to assist indigenous peoples around the world by providing critical and independent commentary and relevant information on emerging forms of biotechnology affecting their cultural specificity and rights.
Constituting knowledges across cultures of expertise and tradition: indigenous bio-scientists
U. Illinois Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics
Indigenous peoples respond in diverse ways to bio-science research depending on the particular questions asked, and the methods and histories of those fields. Sometimes they resist inquiry that they view as in conflict with their values. In the U.S. and Canada, our research sites, indigenous peoples also regulate research, make property claims on scientific data, and require certain benefits in return for granting researchers access to communities. Native American tribes show interest in initiating/funding genomic research in order to bolster their intellectual and governance capacities. Tribes emphasize and fund training in science and technology fields in order to build capacity that is necessary for self-governance and community flourishing. Accordingly, Native Americans and Canadian First Nation individuals train in technoscientific fields, thus potentially supporting indigenous self governance by diversifying (with bodies and ideas) the fields that impact their lives.
Joining me in this research are two of my lab members, Hekia Bodwitch and Theodore Grudin. We investigate indigenous genome scientists as agents in the democratization of genome science fields using archival and ethnographic methods. Because they facilitate or challenge indigenous genome scientists’ roles as knowledge producers at the intersection of genomics and indigenous governance, tribal regulators, cultural experts, and community members will also be a focus of research, especially as they address the intersections of genomics with both indigenous “traditional” and bureaucratized ways of knowing. Subjects are drawn from fields to which indigenous peoples and governments are connected; they include basic human population genetics research (i.e. on human migrations and evolutionary questions), biomedical research, and other areas of genetic and biological research. Indigenous scientists are still few in number and they work with non-indigenous collaborators who also broker knowledge and opportunities for scientific inquiry between the laboratory and the tribe. Thus we will also focus on non-indigenous scientists’ roles in integrating scientific practices, priorities, and values into indigenous governance.This research is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its Science, Technology, and Society Program.
Indigenous, feminist, and queer theory approaches to critical "animal studies" and new materialisms
Pipestone, also called catlinite.
I have also recently begun to theorize in the area of indigenous, feminist, and queer theory approaches to animal studies and new materialisms. Last year, I co-organized with the Science, Technology, and Society Center at UC Berkeley a symposium on indigenous and other new approaches to animal studies. I was also part of another UC Berkeley symposium last year on New Materialisms where I did a talk on the role of indigenous thought. Both symposia helped mark a space for the role of indigenous thought in these related and burgeoning areas of contemporary social theory and new ethnographic practices.The recent move to “multi-species ethnography" applies anthropological approaches to studying humans and their relations with nonhumans–beings such as dogs, bears, cattle, monkeys, bees, mushrooms, and microorganisms. Such work is both methodologically and ethically innovative in that it highlights how organisms’ livelihoods are co-constituted with cultural, political, and economic forces.
But the field has starting points that only partially contain indigenous standpoints. Indigenous peoples have never forgotten that nonhumans are agential beings engaged in social relations that profoundly shape human lives. In addition, for many indigenous peoples, their nonhuman others may not be understood in even critical western frameworks as living. “Objects” and “forces” such as stones, thunder, or stars are known within our ontologies to be sentient and knowing persons (this is where new materialisms intersects animal studies). Indigenous approaches also critique settler colonialism and its management of nonhuman others. These and other newer approaches clearly link violence against animals to violence against particular humans who have historically been linked to a less-than-human or animal status. I hope to do fieldwork in summer 2013 at the Pipestone National Monument to investigate Dakota and other indigenous peoples’ relations with and practices related to quarrying and carving pipestone. The monument in southwest Minnesota is the world’s primary location for quarrying this soft red stone that is used to make ceremonial pipes, a central object for the Oceti Sakowin (Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota) religion. In addition to being an ethnographic and theoretical project that casts an indigenous ontological frame onto the concept of “new materialisms,” I will also engage issues and literature related to climate change and its implications for the integrity of this sacred and internationally important site.
Indigenous thought and the politics of nature and sexuality
Following conversations with critical animal studies and new materialisms scholarly communities, I have most recently become interested in the overlap between constructions of "nature" and "sexuality." This includes a foray into “queer ecologies” literature (which will increasingly inform my graduate teaching) that queers environmental scholarship, and conversely, greens queer theory. I throw into the mix a greening of indigenous queer theory. As I challenge Western politics of nature, it has become clear that I cannot avoid a similar analysis of sexuality. Nature and sex have both been defined according to a nature/culture divide. With the rise of scientific authority and management approaches, both sex and nature were rendered as discrete, coherent, troublesome, yet manageable objects. Both are at the heart of struggles involving ideas of purity and contamination, life and death, but which only scientifically trained experts or rational subjects (read historically white, Western men) have been seen as fit to name, manage, and to set the terms of legitimate encounter. There are common challenges to democratizing the science and representations surrounding both concepts. As with the growing academic conversation about new materialisms, indigenous thought has something to offer theoretical discussions of the politics of sex and nature.
I am in the preliminary stages of developing a plan to conduct humanities-based and ethnographic inquiry around this topic. I am interested in how indigenous stories speak of social relations with nonhumans, and how such relations, although they sometimes approach what we in the West would call “sex,” are not cohered into “sexuality” as we know it in Western modernity. Traditional stories also portray nonhuman persons in ways that do not adhere to another meaningful modern category, the “animal.” They feature relationships in which human and nonhuman persons, and nonhuman persons between themselves, harass and trick one another; save one another from injury or death; prey upon, kill, and sometimes eat one another; or collaborate with one another. Indigenous traditional stories avoid the hierarchical nature/culture and animal/human split that has enabled domineering human management, naming, controlling, and “saving” of nature. I expect that such theoretical work in indigenous environmental and sexuality studies will link back to support applied thinking about how to democratize environmental science practices and regulation, as I believe my social theoretical work around the genome sciences has helped construct new bioethical frameworks that incorporate indigenous thought, both “traditional” and “modern.”