NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on DNA studies of Native ancestors

NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on DNA studies of Native ancestors

Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: December 22nd, 2020

Talk to focus on ancient Native remains found on Prince of Wales Island in 1990s

November 5, 2018

(Lecturer Biography) (Flyer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a lecture this week on the population histories of Indigenous communities in Northwest North America and findings from DNA studies of Shuká Káa, a Native man whose 10,000-year-old remains were found in Southeast Alaska in the 1990s.

In his lecture, Paleogenomics, Community Engagement and Evolutionary Histories of Indigenous Peoples of Northwest North America, Ripan S. Mahali, Ph.D., will also talk about his efforts to broaden participation in genomics studies and conduct scientific research in a way that complements traditional knowledge.

“Indigenous peoples are underrepresented in the genomics field and may not share the benefits of scientific research,” he wrote. “With a community-based approach, I’ve formed mutually beneficial partnerships with Indigenous communities in western North America and have addressed questions of evolutionary history using paleogenomics (DNA analysis of ancestors).”

Shuká Káa (“Man Before Us”) was discovered in a cave on Prince of Wales Island in 1996. Nearby Tlingit tribes agreed to collaborate with scientists to study his remains, as they believed Shuká Káa was an ancestor who was passing on knowledge. He also was not found at a burial site, rather it appeared he died in the cave and that scavengers scattered his remains.

Researchers were able to recover some of his DNA, and studies later proved he was a young Native man who lived about 10,300 years ago, had access to watercraft and lived on a marine diet.

SHI later sponsored DNA collection at its biennial festival, Celebration, and many tribal members submitted samples to determine if they were related to the ancient one. A study released in 2017 bolstered previous findings that Indigenous groups living today in southern Alaska and the western coast of British Columbia are descendants of the first humans to make their home in northwest North America more than 10,000 years ago. Malhi led the study, 10,000 Years of Genetic Continuity, with four other contributors, including SHI President Rosita Worl.

Malhi also will discuss a program, Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING), used to train Native community members in genomic research and to use genomics as a tool to benefit Indigenous people.

The lecture is part of SHI’s events in recognition of Native American Heritage Month. It is scheduled at noon on Thursday, Nov. 8, in the Living History Room at the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau. The event is free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome. 


Ripan S. Malhi is a Richard and Margaret Romano Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with affiliations in anthropology, the School of Integrative Biology, and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. His research interests include using DNA analysis to infer the evolutionary histories of Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Along with his research, Dr. Malhi uses his time to help broaden participation in research in STEM fields. He is director and co-director of the Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) and the Increasing Diversity in Evolutionary Anthropological Studies (IDEAS) programs, respectively. Dr. Malhi is also editor of the journal Human Biology and associate editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Prior to his position at University of Illinois, he co-founded and served as the CEO of Trace Genetics, Inc., a biotechnology company located in the greater San Francisco area. Dr. Malhi received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California at Davis.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,

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