Advanced DNA analysis just confirmed the identity of Sitting Bull's great-grandson. Following over a decade of research into the topic matter, we officially know who the Native American leader's living relatives are. Here are all of the details.
Professor Eske Willerslev of the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology has spent the last fourteen years trying to prove Ernie Lapointe's relation to the legendary leader Tatanka Iyotake, better known as Sitting Bull. "Sitting Bull has always been my hero, ever since I was a boy. I admire his courage and his drive," Willerslev shared. So when the researcher heard that the Smithsonian Museum was returning the historical figure's hair to Ernie, who claimed to be Iyotake's great-grandson, Eske didn't hesitate in reaching out.
"I wrote to Lapointe and explained that I specialized in the analysis of ancient DNA and that I was an admirer of Sitting Bull, and I would consider it a great honor if I could be allowed to compare the DNA of Ernie and his sisters with the DNA of the Native American leader's hair when it was returned to them," Professor Willerslev recalled. And after getting the approval, he spent over a decade doing the work.
Eske and his team used a method of analyzing family relations that requires only fragments of DNA from Sitting Bull's hair. "Autosomal DNA is our non-gender-specific DNA," he detailed. "We managed to locate sufficient amounts of autosomal DNA in Sitting Bull's hair sample and compare it to the DNA sample from Ernie Lapointe and other Lakota Sioux - and were delighted to find that it matched."
For the Lapointe siblings, this confirmation ends a years-long battle over their identities, which have been doubted by strangers. "Over the years, many people have tried to question the relationship that I and my sisters have to Sitting Bull," Ernie said. The proud great-grandson hopes the DNA confirmation will aid him in his quest to rebury the late leader's bones, which are currently found in sites with no cultural connection to the Lakota Sioux community.
Ernie and his sisters aren't the only ones who will get some closure from the new DNA technology. A whole array of limited genetic data will now be up for analysis. "In principle, you could investigate whoever you want - from outlaws like Jesse James to the Russian tsar's family, the Romanovs. If there is access to old DNA - typically extracted from bones, hair, or teeth - they can be examined in the same way," said Willerslev.
You can read more about the groundbreaking work on the University of Cambridge website.