Who is a Native American? And who gets to decide? From
genealogists searching online for their ancestors to fortune
hunters hoping for a slice of casino profits from wealthy tribes,
the answers to these seemingly straightforward questions have
profound ramifications. The rise of DNA testing has further
complicated the issues and raised the stakes.
In Native American DNA, Kim TallBear shows how DNA
testing is a powerful-and problematic-scientific process that is
useful in determining close biological relatives. But tribal
membership is a legal category that has developed in dependence on
certain social understandings and historical contexts, a set of
concepts that entangles genetic information in a web of family
relations, reservation histories, tribal rules, and government
regulations. At a larger level, TallBear asserts, the "markers"
that are identified and applied to specific groups such as Native
American tribes bear the imprints of the cultural, racial, ethnic,
national, and even tribal misinterpretations of the humans who
TallBear notes that ideas about racial science, which informed
white definitions of tribes in the nineteenth century, are
unfortunately being revived in twenty-first-century laboratories.
Because today's science seems so compelling, increasing numbers of
Native Americans have begun to believe their own metaphors: "in our
blood" is giving way to "in our DNA." This rhetorical drift, she
argues, has significant consequences, and ultimately she shows how
Native American claims to land, resources, and sovereignty that
have taken generations to ratify may be seriously-and
Subjects: History of Science & Technology, Anthropology, Sociology
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