DNA Innovation Could Bring Resolution for Families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

MASKWACIS, Alberta – The heartbreaking story of Shirley Soosay’s disappearance and her eventual identification through Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) highlights the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women in North America. This case sheds light on the struggles of Indigenous families to find closure and justice for their loved ones. Violet Soosay, Shirley’s niece, expressed the devastating impact of her aunt’s disappearance, as well as the complications and ethical concerns surrounding the use of genetic genealogy for law enforcement purposes.

Shirley’s story began when she moved to Edmonton in the late 1960s, seeking work and a new life. Her life took a tragic turn as she lost custody of her children, which descended her into a spiral of drinking and drug abuse. Eventually, Shirley vanished and her family spent 40 years searching for her. This journey came to a bittersweet end when Shirley became one of the first North American Indigenous Jane Does to be identified through IGG, providing some closure for her family.

However, while IGG offers hope for solving cases of missing Indigenous people, it also raises concerns about privacy, consent, and potential risks to Indigenous communities. The lack of oversight and regulation of private DNA databases could lead to violations of constitutional rights and further exploitation of Indigenous populations. These issues highlight the urgent need for legal and ethical considerations regarding the use of genetic genealogy in law enforcement.

The complexities surrounding the use of IGG extend beyond the technical and scientific realm, delving into ethical and societal implications. Indigenous communities are rightfully concerned about the potential exploitation and misuse of their genetic data, highlighting the importance of Indigenous sovereignty over genetic information. It is essential to engage in meaningful conversations about genetic data governance to ensure the protection and respect of Indigenous rights and cultural practices.

In light of these complexities, the use of IGG raises ethical questions that require careful consideration and respect for the concerns and rights of Indigenous communities. As technology continues to advance, it is crucial to prioritize ethical and legal frameworks that safeguard the privacy and sovereignty of genetic data, particularly for Indigenous peoples.

The case of Shirley Soosay provides a poignant example of the challenges and ethical dilemmas surrounding the use of genetic genealogy, especially in the context of Indigenous communities. As discussions and debates continue, it is essential to prioritize the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples in the development and regulation of genetic genealogy practices.