SHI to sponsor DNA research during Celebration

Sealaska Heritage Institute will sponsor a DNA study by the Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, during Celebration 2012.


The Genographic Project: Molecular Genetic Analyses of Indigenous Populations of North America — University of Pennsylvania is being led by Principal Investigator Dr. Theodore G. Schurr, who was at Centennial Hall during Celebration June 7-9.

The goal of the study is to better understand the migration paths that early humans took as they moved from one place on earth to another place, including the time and process by which humans entered the Americas.

The institute agreed to support the study only after a thorough review of the consent form to ensure that interests of tribal members are protected, said SHI President Rosita Worl. SHI has supported DNA studies in the past because of our cultural value of “Haa Shagoon” of maintaining ties to our ancestors and obtaining knowledge for future generations, Worl said.

“What is fascinating to me about Dr. Schurr’s work is that he was able to distinguish between members of the Eagle and Raven moieties based on their mtDNA haplogroup,” said Worl, an anthropologist, who has hypothesized that the Tlingit Eagles and Ravens emerged from different populations.

Volunteers will be interviewed about their genealogy and allow a cheek swab for a DNA sample, said Schurr, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Genographic Project’s North America Regional Center.

“It’s the stories we’re able to see through the analysis of DNA, but also hear through people’s accounting of that history, and read through records, and see visibly on the ground through archaeology that really give us a very concrete sense for what’s happening, what people are experiencing, and what they’re trying to convey to us through their art, through their history and through their language,” Schurr said.

Participants’ names will be kept confidential and the DNA will be used only for this study.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.


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