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Ancient DNA Analysis Could Return Aboriginal Remains to Native Peoples

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Ayers rock is important landmark for aboriginal tribes

Aboriginal people hold Ayers Rock, or Uluru, as a sacred site. (Credit: Uwe Aranas/shutterstock)

Scores of Aboriginal Australians were taken from their homelands when Europeans colonized Australia. And today, native peoples and their ancestors’ remains are scattered throughout the country and at museums around the world. Now, new research shows DNA analysis can identify where to repatriate the ancestral remains.

“Our findings show that DNA can be used to help determine the origin of ancient Aboriginal Australian remains that have [otherwise] been impossible to provenance,” said Joanne Wright, a human evolutionary biologist at Griffith University in Australia, who led the new research. The approach could return indigenous people’s remains to their homelands and kin around the world, the researchers say.

Lost Spirits

Beginning in 1788, when the British First Fleet arrived to Australia, European colonizers gathered up the remains of Aboriginal Australians for scientific research or museum collections. For decades now, native communities have been asking museums to return their ancestors. Many Aboriginal people believe their ancestors’ spirits cannot rest until their remains return to their relatives and ancestral lands. But the homelands of many Aboriginal remains are unknown.

“One of the major challenges … is the unknown [origin] of many remains, which were simply labeled ‘Aboriginal’ in many cases, without further detail on the region or community,” said Martin Sikora, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who co-led the new work with Wright.

“We did not know how much ancient … Aboriginal Australians had moved around,” added Wright. “It was possible that people had migrated very long distances.”

Return Home

A number of Aboriginal Australian communities approached the researchers asking if they could help return their ancestors. In collaboration with Aboriginal Australian researchers, Wright, Sikora and colleagues tested an idea. They isolated DNA from 27 sets of ancestral remains from Aboriginal burial sites and previously repatriated remains. Then they compared this ancient DNA of known origin to DNA from contemporary communities. The team used the data to match the remains to their respective homelands, the researchers report today in the journal Science Advances.

The “DNA analyses successfully identified the closest match to a contemporary individual from the same geographic area from which the ancient remains had originated in 100 percent of cases,” Wright said.

The research shows DNA analysis of ancient genetic material is a feasible approach for identifying where indigenous ancestral remains belong.

“We hope that this will help return Aboriginal Australian ancestral remains to their kin and Country,” Wright said.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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