Experts, indigenous Americans dispute DNA tests as proof of native ancestry

By Joe Simonson

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to fend off critics about her Native American ancestry might not pass the standards used by anthropologists and members of indigenous tribes.

The Massachusetts senator and potential 2020 Democratic hopeful released results Monday of a DNA test conducted by a Stanford University researcher to The Boston Globe that provided evidence that she may have a Native American ancestor dating back several generations.

Yet tests like the one Warren underwent are a subject of great controversy both from scholars and members of federally recognized tribes.

Most native communities don’t recognize DNA tests for membership. The Cherokee tribe, for example, requires that an individual identifies at least one direct ancestor in its comprehensive database.

Other tribes do require such testing, yet experts dispute their utility.

“People think that there’s a DNA test that can prove if somebody is Native American or not. There isn’t,” anthropologist Kim Tallbear told the New Scientist in a 2014 interview.

“There’s a great desire by many people in the U.S. to feel like you belong to this land. I recently moved to Texas, and many of the white people I meet say: ‘I’ve got a Cherokee ancestor,’” she said.

Others, like Kim TallBear, the Canada research chair in indigenous peoples, technoscience and environment, is suspicious of DNA tests.

“I don’t want to help them make money doing what I think is stupid science,” TallBear told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in June.

TallBear’s comments came after a DNA analysis showed that a pet chihuahua showed both the dog and owner shared an identical 20 percent native ancestry.

“Even in a credible DNA lab, there are problems with using these kinds of tests to determine Indigenous affiliation,” she said.

To some natives, the very notion of a DNA test is insensitive. Frank Dukepoo, a geneticist with indigenous heritage, told the San Francisco Chronicle that DNA is “sacred.”

“To us, any part of ourselves is sacred. Scientists say it’s just DNA. For an Indian, it is not just DNA, it’s part of a person, it is sacred, with deep religious significance,” he said. “It is part of the essence of a person.”

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6 thoughts on “Experts, indigenous Americans dispute DNA tests as proof of native ancestry

  1. Why would anyone want to prove their indigenous ancestry? Mainly because of the perks, e.g., educational, that come with it. Gee, my kids trace their Native American ancestry to their great-grandfather and they know what tribe it was. And they had to pay all of their college tuition because it wasn’t enough to claim tribal affiliation. I wonder why Warren got to do it and my kids didn’t. I’d really like to know the answer to that question. I think I’ll ask her. One of the colleges we had to shell out to was located in Massachusetts. Maybe she can help us get some of our money back.

    Because North American indigenous tribes do not contribute to the DNA database, the only samples available to test Warren were from South America (Mexico, Peru and Colombia). I doubt if any those countries care about North American college tuition assistance.

  2. Elizabeth Warren making a VERY THIN claim of being part Native American is beyond reality, and that from a Harvard professor.

    If I were her, I would keep quiet.

    She should check what the standards are for ethnicity that the NATIVE AMERIANS apply to themselves before allowing anyone to claim they are part Native American.

    The claiming by Warren is pure mockery and insult.

    By the Warren Standard, at least 20 million people are part Native American, and at least 75 million are part African Americans, etc.

    More fake news and red herrings from the Democrats
    Vote them out in November

  3. It stands to reason the Cherokee Nation would disavow Senator Warren’s claim. They recognize an axiomatic two-edged sword of unintended consequences when they see it.

    Consider the prospect that recognizing any DNA assessment of ethnic legitimacy threatens all racial and cultural special interest groups making a moral claim for proportional reparations due to a legacy of lost wealth and opportunity resulting from historic mistreatment. If every human being in America can show at least some proportion of ethnic or cultural diversity in their DNA, the value of any reparations or affirmative action, deserved or politically motivated, could be diluted to virtual worthlessness.

    For example, President Trump agreed to donate $1 Million to the charity of Warren’s choice if a DNA test showed she was a Native American. In fact, Warren’s DNA test disclosed that she is, indeed, 1/1000th+- Native American. President Trump would do well to recognize the DNA test and pay 1/1000th of $1 Million to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Warren’s charity of choice, to set this precedent.

    In the meantime, I’m holding my DNA test results close to the vest for future consideration and recommend everyone do the same. In our current bizarre everyday cartoon, ironically, our DNA could save us from the tyranny of other ‘omnipotent moral busybodies’.

  4. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to fend off critics about her Native American ancestry
    Purporting to Show 0.1 to 1.6% Native Ancestry…………Wow.

    Maybe the Senator should spend some time out west with some of the Indigenous Americans
    to see how we have treated them over the years…….It’s shameful,” Illegals ” are treated better
    she should hold her head in shame ……….. but Liberals have to shame.

    They won’t be going to Harvard Law School…….. Liz !!.

    • I have done a lot of DNA testing. 0.02% is not enough to be considered even slightly valid for anything. Most testing companies require about 50 times that amount to even list ethnicity at 1%.

      The SNP’s, (“Single nucleotide polymorphisms, frequently called SNPs (pronounced “snips”), are the most common type of genetic variation among people. Each SNP represents a difference in a single DNA building block, called a nucleotide. Most commonly, these variations are found in the DNA between genes”) probably have less than 10 reads which is also not considered reliable.

      Ethnicity passage is random and is reduced by a minimum of 50% with each generation. Mom or Dad,100%, son or daughter, 50%, grand son or daughter, 25%,12.5% and so on.

      How many generation are needed to get down to 0.02%

      The only possible statement Warren could truthfully make is perhaps a very distant grandparent was from the First people. (Native American) Not checking a block stating she is a person of color or Native American.

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