News FocusInterview: Ernie LaPointe

Honoring His Ancestor by Studying His DNA

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Science  08 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6001, pp. 172
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6001.172-b

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Ernie LaPointe is the great-grandson of famed Lakota warrior Sitting Bull, who defeated George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Although some Native Americans are wary of scientific studies of their ancestors, LaPointe has entered into an unusual partnership with geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen to analyze DNA from a lock of Sitting Bull's hair that had been kept in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. LaPointe hopes to use the genetic results to prove his heritage and to conclusively identify bones buried in a South Dakota grave in 1953 as those of Sitting Bull. His goal is then to claim the remains and move them once again, to a more private grave known only to his family. LaPointe spoke with Science's John Travis recently; this conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.