Life in Possum Holler

Saline County, Arkansas, United States
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18 October 2007

Can DNA Determine Indian Ancestry?

Manataka American Indian Council
by By Kim TallBear, Phd., Associate, Red Nation Consulting

Kim TallBear is an associate with Red Nation Consulting and a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota. She specializes in tribal program development and strategic planning and has worked with many U.S. tribes, tribal organizations, and federal agencies. She is a Ph.D. student in the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on racial formation among American Indians, specifically how DNA and blood influence identity and community belonging. She is a 2003 recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.


Excerpts (first and last paragraphs):

There is talk in Indian country about how DNA can decide tribal enrollment and prove American Indian ancestry. Some of this is coming from DNA testing companies anxious to sell costly services to tribes. . . .

Self-determined tribes struggling to control identities and resources must make decisions about the risks and benefits of DNA testing. Some tribal decision-makers display healthy skepticism as they talk about the complicated nature of identity, family, and community. Biological connection is not the sole important factor in determining who belongs. Cultural knowledge and connection to a land base are also valued. Many Indian people are also concerned about loss of privacy and control if outsiders hold biological samples. Other tribal decision-makers have expressed interest in DNA testing and still others need more information.

Unfortunately, there is no single source for information on DNA technologies and tribes. Nonprofit organizations and academic resources used in conjunction are a good start. The Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG) located in Cambridge, Mass. can provide general information about genetics ( The Genetics and Identity Project at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics has on-line information on genetics and American Indian Identity available at Gentics and Identity. IPCB’s paper on DNA and Native American identity and other documents on genetics are available at Identity. IPCB is well-networked on genetics issues affecting indigenous peoples and can help tribes find technical assistance.