Sitting Bull’s hair DNA confirms his kinship with living relatives
Tatanka Iyotake, better known as Sitting bull, was the leader of the sioux Hunkpapa lakota. He was born in 1831 and was shot to death by the Native American police when they tried to arrest him in 1890. A few years earlier he had led the epic battle of Little Big Horn, known as Greasy Grass, defeating General Custer.
Sitting Bull’s lock of hair was cut without permission before his burial by the surgeon at Fort Yates, who also took a souvenir cloth leggings.
Become a symbol of struggle for Native Americans, Sitting Bull was buried in the Fort Yates in North Dakota, the current Standing Rock Indian Reservation, but the actual whereabouts of his remains have so far been unclear.
His bones could be in Fort Yates or in Mobridge, in South Dakota, where his relatives possibly transferred his remains in 1953. His relatives, including Ernie LaPointe, they think it could be in this second place. But to determine the official tomb and thus protect it, LaPointe had to prove with genetic tests that the Sioux chief was his family.
Thanks to the DNA analysis of the lock of hair pulled from the scalp of the legendary indigenous – cut without permission Before his burial by the surgeon at Fort Yates, who also took a souvenir cloth leggings, a study has now succeeded in establishing the Native American’s family ties to LaPointe. The results are published in the journal Science Advances.
It is the first time that ancient DNA has been used to confirm a family relationship between living and historical people. In other cases, existing technology has been unsuccessfully applied.
“What happens is that in the remains that have been tried, such as the famous mummified head that could belong to the French King Henry IV or the presumed blood of Louis XVI, the result has been negative. In other words, it is the first time that a historical forensic genetics work has been positive, ”he tells SINC Carles Lalueza-Fox, an expert in ancient DNA from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF) and an independent scientist in this research.
For years, both the lock and the leggings were in the Instituto Smithsoniano where surgeon Deeble deposited them in 1896. The museum returned the objects to LaPointe and his three sisters and other close relatives of the Native American leader in 2007.
The study thus shows that LaPointe and his sisters were the rightful recipients of the objects repatriated from the Smithsonian Institution.
The study thus shows that LaPointe and his sisters “were the legitimate recipients of the objects repatriated from the Smithsonian Institution,” say the authors in the research.
Sitting Bull, in 1885, on the left and his great-grandson, LaPointe, on the right. / Smithsonian Institution / Ernie LaPointe
Uniting relatives in time
Unlike previous genetic analyzes, based on uniparental markers, the confirmation of kinship has been possible thanks to a new method of family lineage analysis using fragments of ancient DNA.
The technique has been developed by a team of scientists led by Eske Willerslev, from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), and the Geogenetics Center of the Lundbeck Foundation (Denmark), which took 14 years to find a way to extract DNA from a piece of about six centimeters of hair.
Until now, the family relationship between LaPointe and Sitting Bull was based on birth and death certificates, a family tree, and a review of historical records.
The method, which can be used with very limited and even deteriorated genetic data as in this case (after taking a century at room temperature in the museum), focuses on the Autosomal DNA –Inherited to 50% of the father and mother and that allows to check the genetic coincidences whether the ancestor is from the paternal or maternal side– that incorporate the genetic fragments extracted from the body sample.
By comparing it with DNA samples from Ernie LaPointe and other Lakota Sioux, the scientists were able to determine that LaPointe is Sitting Bull’s great-grandson and his closest living descendant. “Autosomal DNA is our non-gender specific DNA. We have managed to locate sufficient amounts of this DNA in the Sitting Bull hair sample and compared it with the DNA sample of Ernie Lapointe and other Lakota Sioux, and we are glad it matched, ”emphasizes Willerslev, a Sioux leader admirer.
Until this study, the family relationship between LaPointe and Toro Sentado was based on birth and death certificates, a family tree, and a review of historical records. This new genetic analysis provides an additional line of evidence to reinforce your kinship.
Now the great-grandson, concerned about the possible commercialization and care of the grave, hopes to bury the bones of Sitting Bull in their rightful place. According to him, the current site at Mobridge has no significant connection to the Sioux leader or the culture he represented. But before their possible transfer, the remains of the cemetery will have to be analyzed in a similar way to the hair sample to guarantee the genetic match with Sitting Bull.
This work can be criticized from an ethical point of view for the use of supposed relics obtained in an illegitimate way in people from indigenous groups, regardless of the result of the investigation
According to the authors, the work paves the way for similar DNA tests on the kinship of many other long-deceased historical figures and their possible living descendants.
But to carry them out, the ethical limits in the study of ancient DNA should be taken into account, some experts warn, such as the group that signed an article on this matter last week in Nature.
In fact, “this specific work can be criticized from an ethical point of view for the use of alleged relics obtained in an illegitimate way in people from indigenous groups, regardless of the result of the investigation,” concludes Carles Lalueza-Fox to SINC.
Ida Moltke et al. “Identifying a living great-grandson of the Lakota Sioux leader Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull)” Science Advances.
Rights: Creative Commons.