Tribal leaders are developing a policy for genetic research and data sharing, potentially ending a 15-year moratorium.
When the Navajo Nation opens its first oncology centre next year in Tuba City, Arizona, clinicians there may be able to offer a service that has been banned on tribal lands for 15 years: analyzing the DNA of Navajo tribe members to guide treatments and study the genetic roots of disease.
That's because the Navajo, the second-largest Native American group in the United States, are considering whether to lift their longstanding moratorium on genetic research. The tribal government banned DNA studies in 2002 to prevent the misuse of its members' genetic material. Although there is still some apprehension about the risk of allowing researchers access to Navajo DNA, the tribe's leaders increasingly see genetic research as a tool to improve medical care for the 174,000 residents of their sprawling reservation, which is roughly the size of Scotland.
As it now stands, Navajo people who live on the reservation must drive hundreds of kilometres to access specialized medical care off tribal lands, in large...