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Improving identification of unknown American Indians and Hispanic/Latinx Americans

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $532,833)

American Indians (AI) are disproportionately affected by the crisis of unidentified decedents; there are more than 4.5 times more missing AI reported than human remains that have been found and estimated to be AI. One reason for the large number of missing AI may be the misclassification of their remains as some group other than AI. Misclassification greatly reduces the likelihood that a missing person can be matched with human remains that have been recovered. Here, we propose development research using up-to-date methods coupled with a new research resource, the New Mexico Decedent Image Database, to improve the accuracy of population affinity estimation for AI. In accomplishing this goal, we will improve population affinity estimation for other groups, especially Hispanic/Latinx Americans (HLA). Furthermore, we will develop equations for stature estimation specific to these two groups. As means toward these ends, methods will be developed to improve the speed, accuracy, and precision of measurement using virtual osteology samples, share our virtual specimens with other researchers, and provide a simple way for other researchers to share virtual specimens using a pre-existing data resource. Important to this work, we will form and work with and advisory group of community members to ensure that we conduct this research in a respectful manner and address questions of importance to AI today.

A primary deliverable for this project will be 3D and 2D data transferred to the Forensic Data Bank for use in a future release of Fordisc software for the estimation of population affinity and stature. Additional deliverables include software packages to improve the processing of virtual osteological specimens, shared 3D images of skeletal elements, and publications. While the samples we will draw upon are from o the American Southwest, they will allow for a greater understanding of intra-group variation in this region and likely improve biological profiles for AI and HLA on other regions of the U.S. This work will improve criminal justice goals by assisting law enforcement and medicolegal investigators in making accurate identification of remains, to obtain timely evidence, and render appropriate justice. As importantly, this work will make a difference in relieving family and community pain and suffering related to the resolution of missing persons cases.

Date Created: December 10, 2021