The Genographic Project: Anthropological Genetic Analyses of Indigenous Human Populations of North America - North Slave and Sahtu Dene

Regions: Sahtu Settlement Area, North Slave Region

Tags: biology, anthropology, genetics, ancestry, dna

Principal Investigator: Schurr, Theodore G (9)
Licence Number: 14861
Organization: University of Pennsylvania
Licenced Year(s): 2011 2010 2009
Issued: Feb 09, 2011
Project Team: Jill Bennett Gaieski (Project Administrator, University of Pennsylvania), Amanda Owings (Lab Technician, University of Pennsylvania), Miguel Vilar (Post Doctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania), Matt Dulik (Graduate Fellow, University of Pennsylvania), Haleigh Zillges (Undergraduate, University of Pennsylvania), Kevin Keating (Undergraduate, University of Pennsylvania)

Objective(s): To explore the ancestry and history of the aboriginal populations of the NWT through the analysis of genetic diversity in these communities.

Project Description: In this project, the ancestry and history of the Aboriginal populations of the NWT will be explored through the analysis of genetic diversity in these communities. Through this DNA analysis, the origin and diversity of these aboriginal people will be investigated and their relationship to other aboriginal peoples of Canada and Alaska will be assessed. Overall, this approach will generate new insights into the human occupation of the circumpolar region of North America over the past 10,000 years, as well as provide broader insights into the origins and ancient dispersal of Native American populations through the Americas.

As part of this study, we will collaborate with aboriginal peoples from the NWT to investigate their ancestry and origins. To better understand the results of the genetic analysis, the researcher will consult the written and oral tribal histories and genealogical data from participants in each community, and also review the ethnographic and linguistic data available in the published literature. The researcher will collaborate with research organizations such as the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre to obtain relevant information about the Aboriginal communities of the region. This approach will provide the most extensive context in which to interpret the genetic data.

The researcher will begin making arrangements to work with the participants that have given permission to do so. Their permission will have been gained through extensive outreach with them over the course of many months, and through personal visits to the communities beforehand. The research visit will be coordinated with the participants so as to visit at the most appropriate time for them.

Once situated in these communities, the study will be conducted in three stages. Each stage will take about 20-30 minutes per person. The first is the informed consent process. Here, all of the details of the project will be discussed and the methods to be used for genetic analysis and then participants will be asked to sign the project consent form to confirm their agreement to participate in it. One signed copy of the form will be kept and the other will be left with the participants, along with the principal investigator’s (PI) contact information.

If an individual chooses to join the study and gives consent, interviews about that person's family history will be conducted. That is, participants will be asked to provide information about their name, age, place of birth, and the language(s) they were taught as children. Participants will be asked where their parents and grandparents were born and what languages that they spoke. No one will ask any questions about an individual's health and medical history. This genealogical and family history information provides the context for interpreting the genetic results, and is essential for the project. All personal history information will remain confidential, and maintained on secure computers and locked file cabinets in the applicant's laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania.

The third part will involve the acquisition of a DNA sample. The participants will be shown how to swab the inside of their cheek with a cloth-tipped plastic scraper, or use a mouthwash kit, to provide a DNA sample for genetic analysis. All persons who provide samples will be assigned a randomly generated alphanumeric code, or Genographic Project Identification Number (GPID), that they can use to retrieve information about the DNA test results from the secure Genographic Project website. These samples will be analyzed for variation in the mtDNA (maternal genetic history) and Y-chromosome (paternal genetic history) in the laboratory of the PI.

Whenever possible, the North American team will return to all participating communities following the completion of the genetic analysis to share the results with community members in person. All DNA test results, along with explanatory materials, will be sent to participants beforehand by the research team.

The researchers are willing to work with local educators to develop educational curricula for local schools, in English and local languages, with the aim of translating scientific data produced by the Genographic Project into teachable units in history, science, and cultural studies. In this regard, a number of scientific publications describing genetic research involving indigenous populations of North America have been sent to Aurora College in Fort Smith, and, upon request, can provide these and similar resources to educational and tribal institutions in the NWT.

The scientific reports describing the genetic data resulting from this project will be jointly authored with members of participating organizations, and published in cooperation with these communities. The researchers will also seek ways in which to involve members of local communities in the research process. Furthermore, the research team will be available by telephone, fax and email to discuss the DNA test results or related issues with participants, both before and after the initial visit for sample and data collection.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011.