arizona’s broken arrow
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Arizona’s Broken Arrow
November, 2008, Page 134
Havasupai vice chairman Matthew Putesoy is leading the fight to get justice for the tribe.
Just as troubling are fears for the tribal members who have died since giving their blood – they’re seen as being doomed and prevented from traveling to the Spirit World because their blood is lost. (Since filing the suit, five plaintiffs have died of diabetes-related complications.)
“In our tribe, when someone dies, we bury all their possessions – sometimes even their favorite horse,” says Matthew Putesoy, whose mother died of complications stemming from diabetes this summer. “That frees them to travel to the Spirit World and doesn’t keep them trapped here. But what do we do now? If we got their blood back, how would we bury it? We’d have to consult our elders. We’ve never had anything like this before.”
He adds this issue would never have arisen had the research project gone as expected, for the blood would have been tested and returned to the tribe long ago.
The tribe says it was left out of any benefits from its “sacred blood”: Eight graduate students earned advanced degrees because of these blood samples; about two dozen research papers were published (about 15 of them on schizophrenia); professors received tens of thousands of dollars in research grants; and academic careers were greatly advanced. “Everybody benefited from this except us,” Chairman Watahomigie says.
“We so much want to resolve this,” says Nancy Tribbensee, general counsel for the state’s university system and a former ASU lawyer who has been involved in this issue since 1997. Although she says the ongoing lawsuit prevents her from talking about the merits of the case, she did want to say this: “We are working very hard to come to a mutual agreement.”
Tribal attorneys say it’s hard to resolve an issue when one side refuses to admit it did anything wrong. Tribal attorney Robert Rosette says he’s been a part of mediation meetings in which ASU officials have told him, “There’s no broken bones – you haven’t been harmed.” He’s also heard them say the scant publicity this case originally received was “all the damage this will bring us” and, therefore, they were going to contest everything. He says someone at ASU (he won’t say who) has told him the tribe will never get a “red nickel.” And indeed, a March 22, 2004, article on ASU’s
(a student-driven news Web site) states: “The University disputes the allegations and will ‘vigorously defend itself.’”
The scientist whom the tribe believes is most at fault has dismissed its claims with one word: “hysterical.”
Yet, an independent investigation into this research project – jointly sponsored by ASU and the tribe and funded by ASU – basically proves every charge. The Hart Report shows how the project went off track almost immediately; it documents how strict rules on consent and record-keeping were ignored; it reveals the voices that tried to alert the university to the brewing storm; and it unmasks fabrications that could sink important careers.
It does it with careful language and, at times, sidestepping language, but the meat of the report – some 400 pages of narrative, including 34 interviews and 319 exhibits, plus about 4,000 pages of attachments – tells a story that is hard to dispute.
Tribal attorney Robert Lyttle, a former adjunct professor of law at ASU, says tribal officials weren’t initially thrilled that ASU chose Stephen Hart as its independent investigator. Hart had been executive director of the Arizona Department of Gaming under former Governor Jane Hull and had negotiated state compacts on Indian gaming with various tribes. The government and the tribes were often at odds.
“We weren’t surprised he tried to subtlety soft-peddle the report [to benefit the university], but we were surprised how the professors’ stories contradicted one another, and there’s no way you can spin that; no one can hide that,” Lyttle says.
He notes that one of the most devastating documents discovered during the investigation – a frantic memo to ASU President Michael Crow from the founder of the Havasupai project, stating, “I believe the charges to be true” – wasn’t even mentioned in the Hart Report, but was found among the 4,000 pages of attachments.
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