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American Indian Movement of Colorado

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Monday, June 28, 2004

First the land and now....the teeth and blood?

Indigenous Peoples are well aware of the theft of our territory and resources. It's a history we learn early on, from our own people if not the education system, and one that offers a present day context for understanding cases such as the Western Shoshone. Defending against the theft of our territories is one of the highest priorities of Tribal organizations, governments and individuals. Most indian people understand that our territories will turn a nice profit for those that manage to steal it at the point of a gun or under the ruse of "indian supported" legislation. We also understand that we possess resources, other than land, that are profitable, but did anyone ever think that our teeth would be such a hot commodity today?

This story from the Arizona Republic reports that a U.S government dentist, has been stripped of "patient privileges" for shipping extracted teeth, from Indian patients, to Europe.
A U.S. government dentist in Phoenix has been stripped of patient privileges while investigators probe allegations that he sold the extracted teeth of his Native American clients.

Sanders Steinman was put on desk duty at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center after hospital administrators say he was found shipping teeth to an unidentified European institution.

The hospital, which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is one of three Indian health centers nationwide. It serves 56,000 urban Indians and six tribes on reservations near Phoenix. It is also a regional referral center for services that can't be provided in other states
full article

The article reports that Steinman is being investigated to see if he violated employment rules and/or ethical standards. 2 tribal members are quoted in the article
"I am looking into this situation," said Gwen Bahe, council member of the Fort McDowell Yavapai tribe. "It is something that is very, very important to me and my tribe. I will not let it go

Ernie Jones Sr., president of the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe,...""To me, it was like they were trying to cover it up," he said. "Now we are just waiting for the investigation."


This is not the first time an Arizona institution has been scrutinized for using native tissue for purposes that were not consented to.

In March of 2004, The Havasupai Nation filed a $50 million dollar suit against the Arizona State University (ASU), The ASU board of regents and 3 ASU professors. The suit was in response to 400 blood samples that Havasupai Tribal members gave, under the assurances that the blood samples would be used to study diabetes, which afflicts the Havasupai in high proportions. Instead, the blood samples were used to study schizophrenia, migration patterns and were the basis of at least 23 scholarly papers.
In 2003, a tribal member approached ASU administrators and asked if the blood samples had been used for research other than that agreed to by the tribal members. An independent investigation was begun. That investigation revealed the following: Tribal members were misled. The tribal members gave blood specifically for the Diabetes Project, they were not offered nor did they give informed consent to any other research.
The independent investigation uncovered "... numerous unauthorized studies, experiments and projects by various universities and laboratories throughout the United States ..." that resulted in at least 23 scholarly papers, articles and dissertations that involved the Havasupai blood samples. Fifteen of those publications dealt with subjects that had nothing to do with diabetes -- like schizophrenia, inbreeding and theories about ancient human population migration to North America.

The tribal members did not give their "informed consent" for the use of the blood samples for any studies other than diabetes. Tribal members were also unaware of Markow's unauthorized access to more than 100 of their medical records to look for signs of schizophrenia. Professors also collected hand prints "under false pretense" to study diabetes when in fact they were studying inbreeding. full article

For a more detailed story about the Havasupai Blood sample story, read
"Indian Givers"


We also encourage people to visit the website of Indigenous People's Council on Biocolonialism."The IPCB is organized to assist indigenous peoples in the protection of their genetic resources, indigenous knowledge, cultural and human rights from the negative effects of biotechnology.
The IPCB provides educational and technical support to indigenous peoples in the protection of their biological resources, cultural integrity, knowledge and collective rights."

There you will find other examples in which genetic materials have been taken from Indigenous Peoples without their knowledge or consent.

On the one hand, the actions of the Arizona dentist may turn out to be innocous.(however, why would the dentist be stripped of "patient privileges?) On the other, Indigenous peoples need to be vigilant to the fact that our very bodies are now considered resources, in and of themselves.

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