Havasupai Tribe Win Nice Settlement From ASU In Scandalous Blood-Sample Case

Back in May 2004, we published a cover story entitled "Indian Givers," which broke the news about a remarkably devious study conducted by genetic researchers at Arizona State University.

The piece described how those researchers, led by Dr. Therese Markow, a nationally known genetics-research professor then at the university, had misled members of the tiny (about 650 members), poverty-stricken Havasupai tribe, who live on the floor of the western Grand Canyon (see photo), into providing blood samples in the early 1990s for what they said might help solve the tribe's diabetes epidemic.

Instead, the samples were used for other research, including attempts to prove that tribal ancestors had crossed the frozen Bering Straits into North America. As the story pointed out, that was akin to a scientist asking Christians from Nazareth to give blood for a diabetes study, then producing research to suggest that Jesus never existed.

That's because the Havasupai are raised to believe that the retreat of waters from a global flood had carved the Grand Canyon, and that the Canyon is the birthplace of the human race.

You can check out the story out here.

The situation raised myriad questions about the complex intersection of modern science and the cultures of indigenous peoples.

Dozens of tribal members filed lawsuits against the researchers, the Arizona Board of Regents, ASU president Michael Crow, and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, claiming that "ASU's actions have invaded the personal privacy of Havasupai tribal members and the cultural and religious privacy of the Havasupai tribe."

A Maricopa County Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit, but the Arizona Court of Appeals later reinstated it, giving the tribe new legal life.

The case ended again in a settlement between the parties, and we're calling it a good win for the tribe against civil defendants who fought hard for years to keep it from happening:

The Board of Regents is to pay the tribe $700,000.

On top of that, the defendants are to fund a high school, a medical center, and scholarships for tribal members.

And, finally, ASU is to return the controversial blood samples to the lead plaintiff of the lawsuit, tribal member Carletta Tilousi, as well as the data that was gathered during the various studies done with the DNA material.

This may be the best thing to happen to the beleaguered tribe (floods devastated the Supai Village in 2008) in a long time -- and it was a long time coming.