Eagle and Raven-themed totems in Anchorage, Alaska.

Eagle and Raven-themed totems in Anchorage, Alaska.

What Came First, the Raven or the Eagle?

Many have heard the question: What came first, the chicken or the egg? But what about the Raven or the Eagle? Alaska Natives in Juneau this week for the Celebration gathering are being asked to participate in a DNA study to help find out.

Southeast Alaska tribes are members of one of two moieties, or clans, named after the two birds, reports Anchorage Daily News. Children assume the clan of their mother and people typically don’t marry within their clan.

The DNA drive is sponsored by Sealaska Heritage Institute, a nonprofit founded to advance the cultures of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska.

“By and large, our people have been supportive,” Rosita Worl, president of the institute and an anthropologist, told Anchorage Daily News. Her work, including studying oral histories and the art of the two clans, indicates that Ravens settled the coast of Alaska before Eagles arrived.

“I’m an Eagle, and the Eagles weren’t happy with me,” she told Anchorage Daily News. “But the Ravens liked it.”

Worl has enlisted the help of Theodore Schurr, principal investigator for a University of Pennsylvania study titled “The Genographic Project: Molecular Genetic Analyses of Indigenous Populations of North America,” which hopes to determine migration patterns across the globe. Worl said Schurr was collecting DNA samples and oral histories for this study at Celebration in 2008.

Schurr will be collecting data through the end of Celebration on Saturday, June 9. He hopes information gathered will help better define relationships between Alaska Native groups, which vary widely. For instance, the Tlinglit and Haida groups are similar culturally but their languages are completely unconnected.

“Hopefully it will let us see a bigger picture,” he told Anchorage Daily News.

Many oppose this kind of study though, including the Indigenous People’s Council on Biocolonialism, which was formed to protect genetic resources and indigenous knowledge.

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What Came First, the Raven or the Eagle?

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