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close this bookLife Industry: Biodiversity, People and Profits (WWF, 1996)
close this folderPart 2 - The practice- bioprospecting or biopiracy?
close this folder5 Human genes - The new resource
View the document5.1. The human genome diversity project
View the document5.2. Indigenous peoples' reactions to the HGDP
View the document5.3. Glorification of the Genes - genetic determinism and racism in science

5.2. Indigenous peoples' reactions to the HGDP

Indigenous peoples' network on biodiversity, ALEJANDRO ARGUMEDO

It is first important to understand that indigenous people are not minorities. We are significant peoples and we are nations. It has taken us 20 years of struggle at the UN to be recognized as such.

Indigenous people have a fundamentally different view of the world from the scientists that have dreamed up the HGDP. Three months ago I was in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in Colombia where the Kogi live. The Kogi is a nation close to the Caribbean, and its people have a philosophy of life in which everything is sacred- the wind, every twig, every stone, every person . . . The Kogi see people outside their lands as doing wrong things'. They call themselves older brothers' and those outside 'younger brothers' because they see that the latter don't realize what they are doing. I once had the chance to meet a mama, a Kogi priest, who told me, 'If you see any younger brothers (by which he meant the scientists involved in the HGDP) tell them to stop, because nobody has the right to rape their own mother, and that is what they are doing to the earth'.

The HGDP is a manifestation of the commodification of the sacred, which I have to oppose. Because science has been used as a magic tool to control nature for so long, people have lost their sense of communion with the earth, their sense of belonging to nature. Science separates us from nature, thus separating us from the sacredness of life, from spirituality and the energy that flows through all things. This reductionist approach destroys the holistic view. By focusing on smaller and smaller things, like genes, you can't build up the full picture of life. You cannot explain life in terms of chemicals and genes, so you have to construct ethics to fill in the gaps. This reductionism is what causes the proponents of the HGDP to look at people in such a dehumanized way, seeing us as 'isolates of historical interest'.

The HGDP is business disguised as science. The real objectives are being hidden, and access to information is practically impossible for us to obtain. We are not against science when it is co-operative, participative, controlled and transparent. But the HGDP does not fit this mould, so we cannot support it. Democracy is being redefined as having access to markets, as having rights to compensation. We don't believe in that. Our basic principle is the sacredness of life, so we cannot accept this madness.

The questions that the HGDP tries to answer are those of the dispossessed. People that have lost their connection with nature and their respect for it lose respect for themselves. That is why they ask, 'Where do we come from?' and 'Where are we going?' Even with all this work on genetics, they are getting more confused - they don't even know what a gene is any more. Nevertheless, scientists keep pursuing this 'knowledge'. Stop. That's enough. Let's regain some respect for life. If we don't have any respect for ourselves, of course we are going to destroy what is out there in the name of science, of knowledge. Just look what is happening to the world out there.

This is why the HGDP is irrelevant to indigenous peoples. It focuses on issues that are unimportant to us. We know who we are. We know where we have come from and why we are here. Our concerns are about how we can protect our lands, how we can protect our lives and livelihoods in the colonialist states in which we live, and how to seek alternatives to the destruction we see around us. Around the world, people have lost their spiritual relationship with the world reviving this link is what we should be striving for.

Cordillera Peoples' Alliance, the Philippines, VICTORIA CORPUS

Of the 722 indigenous groups targeted by the HGDP, 11 from the Philippines were included, including my own people, the Ifugao, from the Mountain Province. The Cordillera Peoples' Alliance has protested to the UN Commission for Sustainable Development about the project for the following reasons:

(A) Motivation for the project The HGDP starts from the premise that indigenous peoples are endangered. The main reason for this is because of the genocide and ethnocide that has been committed through colonialism. It is highly insulting to us that people claim to he concerned about our endangered position, yet they are more interested in collecting our genes than addressing the main causes of why we are endangered, such as poverty, militarization, and the fact that our rights to self-determination are not recognized. Why don't these researchers and corporations take action to help us? Why do they simply stand by as we die, and instead immortalize us in their gene hanks. This type of research is immoral. It lowers our peoples to the status of living gene providers for the chemical industry.

(B) Collection Methods Although prior informed consent (PIC) is a prerequisite for collection to take place, none of us trust this because of our past bitter experiences. In the Philippines, even contraception has been imposed on people without them knowing, and the simplicity of collecting blood and hair samples makes the acquisition of samples very easy without PIC.

(C) Fate of the materials If our genes are found to have useful characteristics like disease-resistance, will they be commercialized? And if they are found to have susceptibility to particular diseases, we are potential targets for biowarfare. Many indigenous people are thorns in the side of governments and developers, because of their opposition to the building of dams, mines and so on. The easiest way to kill the protest is to release genetically engineered disease carriers into communities, just as smallpox virus was introduced into Indian communities in the Amazon.

We are told that the results are not for commercial ends, but we have little reason to trust the researchers. Patents have already been taken out on the cell lines of indigenous people without their consent (see p. 90), so our fears about the fate of our genes are not unfounded. The scientists may have valid intentions, but what happens when the information gets into the hands of industry? As part of a medical' mission a Hoffman-la Roche subsidiary is already collecting genetic material from the Aeta pygmies in the Philippines.

(D) Impact on ancestral rights The project its to he used to study migration patterns. Does that mean that if Aborigines are shown to have come from Asia originally, this evidence can be used to deny their rights to their ancestral homes?