Havasupai Tribe Reaches Historic Settlement in Human Subjects Violation Case

CONTACT (Plaintiffs): Shayna Samuels, 718-541-4785
CONTACT (ABOR): Katie Paquet, 602-229-2543

(April 21, 2010 — Phoenix, AZ) – Yesterday the Arizona State Legislature’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee approved a settlement agreement between the Havasupai Tribe and the Arizona Board of Regents resolving litigation involving allegations of unauthorized genetic studies of Havasupai people.

Two decades ago, two former Arizona State University (ASU) researchers collected hundreds of blood samples from Havasupai members, in connection with diabetes research. According to the Havasupai, without their consent or knowledge, the samples also were used in DNA studies that conflicted with Havasupai cultural beliefs, identity and privacy.

Carletta Tilousi, lead Plaintiff and Councilwoman for the Havasupai Tribe said, “We are glad to have come to a resolution with ASU, and hope that this experience helps create better awareness, understanding and cooperation between this institution and our people, and helps us to rebuild what we have lost.”
The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) and Arizona State University have formally apologized to the Havasupai people, and the Tribe has acknowledged that great efforts have been made to improve the oversight and conduct of human subject and biomedical research at ASU as a result of the lawsuit.

Key elements of the settlement include return of blood samples to the Havasupai Tribe, monetary compensation to the 41 individual plaintiffs, and collaborations between ABOR and the Havasupai people in areas such as health, education, economic development, and engineering planning. For example, the Havasupai will collaborate with ASU, the largest public research university in the United States, to seek third party funding to build a new health clinic and a high school. Havasupai Tribal Members will also be eligible for scholarships at ASU, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

Ernest Calderón, President of the Arizona Board of Regents, said that “The Board of Regents has long wanted to remedy the wrong that was done. This solution is not simply the end of a dispute but is also the beginning of a partnership between the universities, principally ASU, and the Tribe.”

The Havasupai Tribe lives at the base of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a place reachable by an hours-long hike or mule ride, or in the modern era, a helicopter. Currently the Tribe is composed of about 650 registered members. The remoteness of their location has allowed them to retain a strong cultural identity as well as the native Havasupai language.

“This is much more than a settlement; it is a victory for the Tribe,” said Robert Rosette, Attorney for the Havasupai Tribe. “This is an opportunity to partner with the largest research institution in the United States to create programs which will help the Tribe build a stronger sovereign nation.”

“As we see it, this settlement is far more than dismissing a lawsuit; the settlement is the restoration of hope for my people, and the beginning of Nation Building for my Tribe” said Chairwoman Bernadine Jones.

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