The findings are reported in the journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers compared the complete mitochondrial genomes of four ancient and three living individuals from the north coast of British Columbia, Canada. This region is home to the indigenous Tsimshian, Haida and Nisga'a people, all of whom have oral traditions and some written histories indicating that they have lived in the region for uncounted generations. Archaeological sites, some with human remains, date back several millennia. But until the current study, nothing definitively tied the current inhabitants of the area to the ancient human remains found there, some of which are 5,000 to 6,000 years old.

"Having a DNA link showing direct maternal ancestry dating back at least 5,000 years is huge as far as helping the Metlakatla prove that this territory was theirs over the millennia," said Barbara Petzelt, an author and participant in the study and liaison to the Tsimshian-speaking Metlakatla community, one of the First Nations groups that participated in the study.