Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Socioambiental.org, December 21, 2000
Source URL: hhttp://www.socioambiental.org/website/noticias/indios/20002112a.html

Statement Of The Brazilian Anthropological Association To Be Read At The Panel "Ethical Issues In Field Research Among The Yanomami" At The Annual Meeting Of The American Anthropological Association. San Francisco, November 16, 2000.

The ABA (Brazilian Anthropological Association) was founded in 1955 and is one of the oldest and largest scientific and professional societies of Brazil. The Association has a code of ethics and an ethics committee. The ABA has always stressed the commitment of its members to the groups they study and the importance of ethical behaviour when carryng out research. Since there is a growing concern about ethics among its members, the new board of the ABA elected last July chose Ethics in Anthropological Research as the central theme for the period 2000-2002. We are developing a number of workshops that will discuss this subject in its different dimensions and plan to publish the results of our discussion and establish new guidelines for our members. In 1988 the ABA had to take a stand on the harmful effects of Napoleon Chagnon's article entitled "Life Histories, Blood, Revenge, and Warfare in a Tribal Population" (published in Science, vol.239, 1988, pp.985-992) in relation to the Yanomami whose lands were being invaded by gold prospectors and whose health and survival was in great danger. Both the US and Brazilian press picked up on Chagnon's article and published pieces that nearly destroyed the chances of the Yanomami in Brazil of having their territory properly demarcated. At the time, the military in charge of the indigenous land demarcations declared that the Yanomami would not be granted a continuous area because they kept killing each other. The consequences were so serious that the ABA warned the AAA about the ethical and political implications of Chagnon's article and in, a letter published in Anthropology Newsletter of January 1989, urged the AAA to take appropriate action. We were informed that the request was forwarded to the Ethics Committe but, as far as we know, nothing was done then. The recent controversy around unethical behaviour toward the Yanomami on the part of US scientists confirms the position that the ABA took twelve years ago. The ABA recognizes the right and the responsibility of a researcher to report his or her results, regardless of their political acceptability; however, if those results are taken up and used by others for political or social purposes inconsistent with the original intent of the researcher, it is his or her ethical responsibility to speak out against such misuse. Professor Chagnon has never publicly objected to the use of his statements by forces attempting to justify the invasion and dismemberment of Yanomami territory in Brazil. Since the news about Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado first appeared, the ABA has been closely following the ensuing debate. We have informed our members about the controversy prompted by the publication of this book and referred them to the AAA's away of strengthening relations between Brazilian and North American Anthropologists. There is a long history of North American Anthropologists who have taught and carried out research in Brazil and there are several Brazilian Anthropologists who have studied, taught or carried out research in the United States. More formal, institutional cooperation between the two associations could further these ties. It would also help to promote a dialogue as regards ethical guidelines in anthropological research.

November 9, 2000

Ruben George Oliven President

The American Anthropological Association Executive Board Has Resolved To Take The Following Actions On Allegations Made In Darkness In El Dorado

November 15, 2000

I- Establish a special Ad Hoc Task Force of seven members, six of each will be appointed by the AAA President from among the members of the Committee on Ethics and the Committee for Human Rights, chaired by AAA Past President James Peacock, and charged to:

A. Examine assertions and allegations contained in Darkness in El Dorado as well as others related to the controversy over this document; B. Review AAA' statements on ethics and human rights; C. Consult such other sources (documents and individuals), and coordinate with organizations potentially pursuing investigation including those in Brazil and Venezuela; D. Come to conclusion as to which specific issues, if any (1) are deserving of an in-depth investigation by AAA, (2) can realistically be investigated by the AAA; E. Suggest what kind of evidence might be obtained or individuals interview on each issue; F. Propose any budget (including expenditure categories and dollar amounts) that might need to be committed to conduct such investigation; G. Recommend by whom such an investigation should be conducted; H. Report its findings, conclusions and recommendations to the executive Board no later than its February 2001 meeting.

II- Charge the AAA Committee on Ethics to consider developing additional draft guidelines to the Code of Ethics and other materials, and report to the Executive Board. Consideration should be given to the common dilemmas faced by anthropologists conducting research in field situations; including: (1) their responsibility to provide assistance when studying subjects experience health emergencies; (2) the level and kind of remuneration to subject population and individuals that is both appropriate and fair; (3) the impact of the material assistance provided to study populations; (4) the potentially negative impact of factual data about a study population on such population; and (5) what constitutes valid and appropriate informed consent in anthropological studies.

III - Establish an Ad Hoc Task Force of three persons (one of each will be designated as Chair) to be appointed by AAA President, charged to:

A - Summarize the current knowledge of the precarious state of native populations, as in South America;

B - Conduct a review of existing national and international regulations, standards and guidelines intended to protect such native populations and to guide contact by researchers and others with such populations;

C - Make recommendations on how such regulations, standards and guidelines can be further strengthened and how the AAA can contribute to such efforts;

D - Make recommendations on how the AAA can educate its members about the conditions of native South American populations; and,

E - Report its findings, conclusions and recommendations to the AAA Executive Board