More than 200 vials of blood samples, collected long ago before ethical principles related to informed consent represented the norm, were returned to the Australian indigenous Galiwin’ku community that resides near the northern coast of Australia.
As it turns out, these biological samples have great spiritual meaning to this indigenous community and hence they requested they be returned to their ancestral home to ensure what they believe to be a source of peace for the deceased. The blood samples, in the indigenous world view, were connected to them and the land. Many of the samples were collected during a typhoid fever outbreak in 1968. The deceased Aboriginal’s living relatives gave permission for the researchers to extract DNA from the old samples and collect new ones before the old ones were returned.
The genetic information is stored in the biobank of the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics (NCIG), which was established by the Australian National University.
The Australian indigenous people were not treated well in years past and continue to face a range of social and economic ills–and the country’s research institutions are making efforts to show empathy and collaborate in the present moment so that tomorrow’s outcomes are better for all.