27 June 2011
ByAppeared in BioNews 613
The Chukchansi Indian tribe in California, USA, will this month vote on whether DNA testing should be used to determine who is entitled to tribe membership.
The tribe has had a surge in membership claims in the past few years. Its population has grown from 30 in the early 1980s to more than 1,000 in 2003, when the tribe stopped accepting new members. Tribal leaders suspect this is because members receive a share of the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino's profits, thus they want to introduce DNA testing, to make sure that applicants are really who they say they are.
'Since we started a casino a few years ago, all of a sudden we had Chukchansis coming out of the woodwork', Reggie Lewis, chairman of the Chukchansi tribe said. 'We thought DNA would be a way to make sure that we only get people who are qualified to be in the tribe in the tribe'.
However some members facing expulsion have expressed concern over the effect testing could have on those who have already been brought up within the tribe and their families. Speaking at the Creating Stronger Nations conference in Las Vegas, US, Janis Contraro of the Suquamish tribe in Washington, said: 'If you start paternity testing [existing members] you open up a whole can of worms'. Furthermore critics insist that the plan could undermine centuries of cultural values. 'DNA testing undermines the notion of what it is to be tribal', said Kimberly TallBear of the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe in South Dakota.
Responding to the concerns, Jennifer Stanley, secretary for the Chukchansi tribe, said: 'We know that at first there will be an emotional issue between families... but in the end what we're hoping through DNA is a unified tribe that actually knows who they are'.
DNA testing has been used in the USA by some of the Indian tribes before. 'DNA testing has helped to settle membership disputes and is a very scientific and clear-cut way to do so', said Sheila Corbine, Attorney General for the Ho-Chunk tribe in Wisconsin.
Should the Chukchansi tribal council vote for the DNA testing to be introduced, the tribe will have to amend its constitution to enable all potential new members to be tested. It will cost around $400 to take the test.