Random thoughts on a variety of subjects
by Sam Redman
A NYTimes article today describes how the Havasupai people, who live in the Grand Canyon, won a legal settlement from Arizona State University. The tribe had claimed that university researchers misused their DNA. They had given blood samples so that DNA scientists could explain why the tribe was inflicted with horrible diseases, including diabetes and schizophrenia, which now seems related to inbreeding. Their objection to the study was that their DNA, compared with others from around the world, established that they were a mixture of various populations and were quite similar in genetic makeup to many other North American tribes, providing evidence of shared ancestry. Their objection was that the DNA had been provided merely for studying about their diseases and that the published results of the studies about their origin were in conflict with their tribal oral traditions which say that the tribe was created on the floor of the Grand Canyon and that they are a pure race carrying on their divine capacity of keepers of that natural landmark. You can read the Nytimes article here.
What is sadly ironic is that the scientific information derived from the study could (or should) be the key to the very survival of their tiny clan. The tribe is faced with diseases directly related to their inbreeding. The inbreeding has obviously been a result of their mission (which now we know was misdirected) to keep their tribe a pure race, based on their guiding principle that its origin was solely right there in the Grand Canyon. Outsiders apparently were not welcome to “marry” tribal members, because their tribal leaders evidently assumed that such actions would defile the purity of their claim as the “guardians of the Grand Canyon.” But, we (and they) now know that the reality is they have another origin and another tradition (they have a genetic history of blending with other tribes) which, if restored, could save their tribe from extinction.
So, now that they know the truth, that they are indeed a hybrid people, they should be free to change their pattern and customs and return what are actually to their true ways of old. I have read stories of traditions in some tribes, where when it came time to seek a mate, the young men would be sent out on treks (their literal “rites” of passage) to distant communities to find suitable maidens and then bring them back to join the group, so that they could then raise a family and keep the tribe strong. If those stories are factual, those tribes (and the scientific data now shows that the Havasupai of old were included in such practices) must have somehow sensed that inbreeding went against the laws of nature and they established “taboos,” which resulted in their own preservation through genetic strengthening. Somewhere along the line, the Havasupai lost the truthful oral telling of their tradition (one of their ancestors was obviously quite imaginative) and continued with the lie which has resulted in the pathetic state of their current population.
The truth should set them free from the myth which they have perpetuated that has resulted in the sad circumstance of their present condition with their pervasive mental illness and other destructive diseases. They should be receiving counseling from paternalistic Arizona medical and mental health professionals who could help them to restore their true ancient tribal traditions and begin to seek women and men from outside their group to become the mates who could genetically save future generations of the tribe from their present dilemma.
It is so odd that they fought this legal battle to preserve a destructive falsehood when the revealed truth of their actual tradition could become the tribe’s “salvation.”