Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: IM Diversity, September 31, 2000
Source URL (Archive.org): http://www.imdiversity.com/villages/native/Article_Detail.asp?Article_ID=575

Darkness in El Dorado

by Nokwisa Yona, NAV Resident Poet

Creating a maelstrom of controversy, news from the BBC online heralded a soon-to-be-released text, "Darkness in El Dorado." This book serves to highlight the impact that progress and technology have on indigenous populations.

Written by journalist Patrick Tierney, the book attacks the activities of a group of scientists (anthropologists and geneticists) that interacted with the Yanomami Indian people of Brazil in the late 60's. Tierney's book, according to various wire services, takes calculated aim at the group's geneticist, James V. Neel, accusing the scientist of both intentionally infecting the Indian People with measles and cold-heartedly refusing them necessary corrective treatments.

Subsequent news headlines and Internet subject lines ranged from "Nazi-Like Experimentation" to "Scientists Killed Amazon Indians."

Whether the book is factual or not, it has created controversy among both anthropologists (http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/chagnon.html) and Native activists. The American Anthropological Association will be looking to answer the question of impropriety among its peers. Investigation results could influence the future of anthropologic interaction (and subsequent interference) with indigenous populations. Then too, past "studies" may surface as being tainted.

On the heels of the book's controversy, came a headline, "Out for Blood" in the Missoula Independent. The article, written by Ron Selden notes the lengths that biomedical corporations reach to obtain blood samples for genetic research.

How far do the companies go?

Selden quotes Judy Gobert, chairwoman of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism, "...some biotech companies have become so desperate for Native American genetic material that they've had representatives approach Indian school-children in California and offer them $100 for a single blood sample."

A new guideline may help in protecting rights.

The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism announced the completion and availability of a new model for Tribal Protection in Scientific Research. The model offers a simple change in the concept of tribal peoples becoming partners, versus subjects.

The IPCB announcement noted, "the Act is an attempt to provide tribes with as much control over research affecting them as possible. It addresses a need for protection that has been absent in other legal and policy arenas."

Corporations and conglomerates will continue to knock at the doors of nature and native people for answers and monetary gain. The question for the future is; who will retain the keys to the door?

BBC article on "Darkness in El Dorado" - http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_938000/938915.stm

American Anthropological Association commentary on "Darkness in El Dorado" - http://www.ameranthassn.org/press/eldorado.htm)

The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism Model for Tribal Protection in Scientific Research - http://www.ipcb.org/pub/irpaintro.html

Nokwisa is a Tsalagi poet and writer. She is an avid and active grandmother, a woman that tends her family, wolves and herbs. While having learned from traditionally minded peoples, she is pursuing added formal education in herbal medicine and homeobotony.