April 21, 2024

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DNA proves the identity of Sitting Bull’s great-grandson

Scientists have confirmed that a man from South Dakota is Sitting Bull’s great-grandson thanks to a sample of his hair from the famed 19th century Native American leader.

Scientists extracted DNA from a sliver of Sitting Bull’s hair housed in Washington, DC. Ernie LaPointe, 73, was identified as his great-grandson. The new technology uses DNA fragments from long-dead people to analyse family lineages.

It offers up the possibility of connecting other historical personalities with their contemporary descendants.

“I feel this DNA research is another method of identifying my lineal tie to my great-grandfather,” Mr. LaPointe, who has three sisters, told Reuters.

People have questioned our connection to our ancestors for as long as I can remember. These people are a pain in the neck – and they’ll probably doubt your findings as well. 

Scientists led by Eske Willerslev, director of the Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre at the University of Cambridge, created the novel technology.

The new method is based on autosomal DNA, which is found in genetic pieces collected from hair. The process took 14 years to perfect.

Mr. Willerslev said he’d been interested in Sitting Bull since he was a child and had volunteered his talents to Mr. LaPointe a decade ago. In 2007, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, returned Sitting Bull’s scalp lock to Mr. LaPointe.

Before giving up the lock, however, Mr LaPointe requested that Mr Willerslev participate in a ritual that included a medicine man, drummers, and chanting, during which Sitting Bull’s ghost granted his blessing to the study, according to the scientist.

Mr. LaPointe followed the spirit’s directions and burned the majority of the lock, leaving the researchers with only 4 cm, which Mr. Willerslev thought was disastrous at the time. However, he claims that this spurred the team to invent their novel new way.

At the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, Sitting Bull, whose real name was Tatanka-Iyotanka, famously led 1,500 Native American warriors, wiping out US General Custer and five companies of men. In 1890, he was assassinated by “Indian Police” working for the US government.