A dozen scholars from across the globe met recently at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law to discuss the promise and perils of current efforts to transform indigenous people's governance of genomic research.
"This is a select group capable of drawing on their past experiences to envision the future," said Rebecca Tsosie, Executive Director of the Indian Legal Program at the College of Law, who is principal investigator of the National Science Foundation grant that funded the workshop, "Genomics, Governance, and Indigenous Peoples."
"Many people are writing about this issue, but you are actually doing things, putting things into practice," Tsosie told the group as the two-day workshop began on Thursday, Nov. 6.
Tsosie and her two fellow organizers - Kim TallBear, assistant professor of Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jenny Reardon, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Faculty Affiliate in the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz - said they invited participants who were not afraid to seriously engage the issues.
"As genomic research becomes increasingly sophisticated, it is vital for all of us to think about how such research is used and controlled," said Dean Paul Schiff Berman of the College of Law. "As part of the new model for public legal education that we are building at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, we are committed to having the College of Law provide opportunities for reasoned discourse on important matters of public concern.
"Moreover, we hope that this discourse will not be confined to academic debates, but will connect with communities, policy-makers, judges, and others who will be able to transform the discussion into tangible action that will bring positive change to the broader society. I am therefore thrilled that we could host this important conference."
The "no-PowerPoint" format of the workshop had participants share written responses to several questions before convening, and then participate in several recorded dialogues that will be used to produce a written document.
TallBear said the format was inspired by work she did on a book, This Stretch of the River, in response to the celebration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In that book, several Lakota and Dakota writers taped their discussions of the subject.
"The conversations produced knowledge and experience that was not present in our written work," TallBear said.
And the work to edit and compile the project meant the learning continued beyond the conversations, she added.
Discussion topics at the genomics workshop included: cultural harm and transforming the legal system; charitable trusts, biobanks and partnership governance of genetic research; and tribal-genetic research agreements, indigenous research, and governance implications.