Interview: Using DNA to determine Native ancestry

There are a number of problems with using DNA as the sole means of trying to identify Native American ancestry. While one certainly wouldn’t know this based solely on the advertisements for direct-to-consumer genetic tests, there are a number of people who have written about the reality of such testing in order to provide some much-needed clarity to consumers and researchers alike. One of those people is Dr. Kim Tallbear.

Dr. Tallbear is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe (Dakota) and a descendant of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. She is an Associate Professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta (Canada) and she has written extensively on the connection of DNA to Native identity.

She was interviewed in November of 2017 on WUNC North Carolina Public Radio about the question of Native identity and DNA. While Native identity is a different notion from simply having Native ancestry, what she has to say in this interview provides a great explanation of why using DNA as the “end-all-be-all” resource is problematic. Dr. Tallbear also addresses the misleading aspects of the advertising that accompanies the sales of the commercial DNA tests. The type of ad mentioned here only serves to raise false hopes in those who are paying for these tests and propagates misconceptions about how one identifies Native ancestors. It’s worth a listen.

Does a DNA Test Make you Native American? from WUNC

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