Webinar – Race and ancestry in forensic anthropology: an ethical question for us all
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Marianna Cervantes, MSc., Ph.D. Student, Simon Fraser University
The concept of ancestry is familiar to everyone, though rarely clearly defined. It can be associated with consumer genetic testing, a line on your census form, discussion parentage, describing oneself or another person. It is ubiquitous. Anyone involved in identifying human remains will be acquainted with the idea that forensic anthropologists may provide ancestry estimation of skeletal remains. It is even emulated and discussed in crime dramas, forensic shows and “true crime” podcasts. What is less familiar, and possibly less evident to non-anthropologists is the connection between ancestry estimation and race and the repercussions of these being construed as biological truths.
Recently there has been much debate and discussion in anthropology about the usefulness of ancestry estimation and whether the practise should continue. Forensic anthropology, however, does not exist in a vacuum, nor do our results. As members of the forensic community, whether forensic anthropologists or other specialties, we have a responsibility to the deceased whose identity we seek, their families and the rest of the public to understand what that means when we do this. The various meanings of ancestry will be discussed, but the outcome of this presentation will not be a standardized definition or an answer to any ethical question. Instead, the result will be a question for us all to move forward with and be mindful of in our practice: Is it ethical to use or request ancestry estimation?