Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: American Anthropological Association
Source URL: http://www.aaanet.org/edtf/final/preface.htm

Preface for

El Dorado Task Force Papers

At its February meeting, 2001, the Executive Board of the AAA established a five-member Task Force, with AAA Past President Jane Hill serving as chair, to conduct an inquiry into the allegations contained in Darkness in El Dorado by Patrick Tierney. The Task Force considered allegations concerning (1) the fieldwork practices of anthropologists, (2) representations and portrayals of the Yanomami that may have had a negative impact, (3) efforts to create organizations to represent the interests of Yanomami or efforts to contribute to Yanomami welfare that may have actually undermined their well-being, (4) activities that may have resulted in personal gain to scientists, anthropologists, and journalists while contributing harm to the Yanomami; and (5) activities by anthropologists, scientists, and journalists that may have contributed to malnutrition, disease, and disorganization.

The El Dorado Task Force Report is now available on the AAA website. It is critical to note several features of this Report.

First, readers should be aware that the papers, documents, and interviews included in this Report reflect a very wide range of perspectives, histories, and interpretations. The Task Force has taken care to identify the sources and circumstances of the included materials, and they should be read with equal care. In some cases, the collected materials bear consistent witness, making it possible to determine the truth or falsity of allegations with reasonable certainty. In other cases, agreement can be reached about the actions of certain anthropologists, but there is disagreement as to the moral standing of these actions. In still other cases, there is no agreement even as to past actions. In some cases, discordant accounts are included because they are worthy of reflection in their own right, rather than as evidence that certain events did or did not occur.

Second, earlier versions of the report were made available through the AAA website for member commentary; the final section of the report includes commentary submitted prior to April 19, 2002 and judged by the Task Force as making a substantive contribution to issues within the scope of its charge. These comments reflect the views of individuals and not of the AAA or of the El Dorado Task Force.

Substantive conclusions of the Report include the following:

First, it is clear that the Yanomami are currently in a position of great danger, with exceptionally high rates of infant mortality, African River Blindness, and malaria. Their land, livelihood, and lives are imperiled. Central to the Task Force's concerns is the future of the Yanomami and the ways through which AAA and other concerned individuals and groups might be able to help ameliorate a desperate situation.

Second, The AAA believes that the greatest value of this Report is not to find fault with or to defend the past actions of specific anthropologists, but to provide opportunities for all anthropologists to consider the ethics of several dimensions of the anthropological enterprise.

Third, Darkness in El Dorado calls attention to the dire plight of the Yanomami and other indigenous people of the Amazon and has caused anthropologists to reflect deeply upon the ways in which they conduct research. However, the book contains numerous unfounded, misrepresented, and sensationalistic accusations about the conduct of anthropology among the Yanomami. These misrepresentations fail to live up to the ethics of responsible journalism even as they pretend to question the ethical conduct of anthropology.

In response to the Report, the Executive Board has taken the following actions:

1) The Board has accepted the Report with thanks.

2) The Report with accompanying documents has been posted on the AAA website.

3) In the interests of disseminating the Report to Spanish and Portuguese-speaking readers, the Board has directed the Executive Director of the AAA to obtain estimates for translation of the substantive sections of the Report. The AAA will also make these materials available to Yanomami groups.

4) The Board calls upon appropriate bodies within the AAA to continue to consider those issues raised in the El Dorado Task Force Report relating to the current and future conditions of the Yanomami and other indigenous communities in South America, and to devise appropriate responses in collaboration with appropriate indigenous communities and South American colleagues. We look to the newly named AAA Commission on the Status of Indigenous Peoples in South America to lead these efforts.

5) The Board calls upon the membership of AAA to explore the implications of the El Dorado Task Force Report for anthropological research, practice, and training in the 21st century. We look to the Committee on Ethics to be central in these efforts.

6) The Board encourages the development of programs at the Annual Meetings of the AAA, Section meetings, and other fora to continue discussion of the major issues for anthropological theory, methods, and practice raised by the Report: collaborative research; representation of research findings; the complex relation between anthropological representations and the uses of anthropology outside the profession; the moral responsibilities inherent in accusation; health issues of vulnerable populations; the complex questions of who speaks for whom on indigenous issues; informed consent and human subject review procedures; anthropology's role and responsibilities in the field of global structures of inequality.

7) AAA will take the initiative in facilitating discussion between the Yanomami and the scientists who hold their blood or other bodily samples as to the disposition of those materials.

The Board expresses its deep appreciation to Janet Chernela, Fernando Coronil, Ray Hames, Trudy Turner, and Joe Watkins for their participation on the Task Force, to Kim Baker for providing staff support for the Task Force, to all those who participated in the inquiry and subsequent conversations, and, particularly, to Jane H. Hill for her extraordinary service as Task Force Chair.

Read Final Report - Volume One - pdf - 500kb [a copy may be found here: http://anthroniche.com/darkness_documents/0598.pdf]

Read Final Report - Volume Two - pdf - 726kb [a copy may be found here: http://anthroniche.com/darkness_documents/0599.pdf]