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Native American DNA

Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science

Kim TallBear
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
  • Book Info
    Native American DNA
    Book Description:

    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 study them. 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 permanently-undermined.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8577-6
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-30)

    Scientists and the public alike are on the hunt for “Native American DNA.”¹ Hi-tech genomics labs at universities around the world search for answers to questions about human origins and ancient global migrations. In the glossy world of made-for-television science, celebrity geneticist Spencer Wells travels in jet planes and Land Rovers to far-flung deserts and ice fields. Clad in North Face® gear, he goes in search of indigenous DNA that will provide a clearer window into our collective human past.

    Others—housewives, retirees, professionals in their spare time—search for faded faces and long-ago names, proof that their grandmothers’ stories...

    (pp. 31-66)

    The phenomenon of Native American DNA can be understood in all of its richness only if it is understood as co-constituted with U.S. race categories, which themselves are coproduced with Euro-American colonial practices, including eighteenth-through twentieth-century U.S. race laws, policy, and programs. The meanings of Native American DNA and the practices that in part produce it must also be articulated with older meanings of “blood” as the substance of inheritance in pregenomic eras. There are very particular articulations of blood and gene metaphors, politics, and materialities with respect to Native American race identity and tribal citizenship. This chapter presents “genealogies”...

  6. 2 THE DNA DOT-COM: Selling Ancestry
    (pp. 67-104)

    In the early 1960s, researchers began applying new genetic techniques to traditional anthropological questions.¹ The new science was coined “molecular anthropology.” Today, researchers around the world use a growing arsenal of techniques to study ancient human migrations and the biological and cultural relationships between human groups in different geographic locations. Researchers draw blood and in other ways capture DNA from human bodies, both living and dead, the world over. “Native American,” or “Amerindian,” populations and bodies are popular objects of study. Researchers search in specific locations of an individual’s genome for certain molecular sequences, those “genetic signatures” of ancient peoples...

    (pp. 105-142)

    Genealogy research is perhaps the most popular U.S. American pastime.¹ This chapter explores the practice of “genetic genealogy,” or genealogical (“family tree”) research that makes use of ancestry-DNA tests to fill in documentary gaps. Often called an obsession, genealogy research had an estimated forty million practitioners in the United States alone by 2004.² Today, boasts more than thirty thousand genealogical mailing lists.³ During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the genetic-testing phenomenon grew quickly among genealogists.⁴ Between 2001 and 2006, we know that nearly five hundred thousand people purchased tests.⁵ At an estimated rate of growth of 80,000...

  8. 4 THE GENOGRAPHIC PROJECT: The Business of Research and Representation
    (pp. 143-176)

    In April 2005, the National Geographic Society and IBM, with funding from the Waitt Family Foundation (established by a cofounder of Gateway, Inc.), launched the Genographic Project as a five-year “research partnership”¹ that aims to “trace the migratory history of the human species” and “map how the Earth was populated.”²

    The Genographic Project, a “landmark study of the human journey,”³ has been frequently compared to the failed Human Genome Diversity Project (the Diversity Project) in both scope and methodological approach.⁴ In the early 1990s, a group of scientists proposed a global survey of human genome diversity. They would draw blood...

    (pp. 177-204)

    “Native American DNA” fascinated me from the first moment that I heard it uttered. Not having taken a genetics or biological anthropology class, that first utterance struck my ears at a meeting having to do with a grant that my employer had won from the U.S. Department of Energy’s program in the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of genetic research. The three-year grant would enable us to convene tribal representatives together in facilitated sessions to discuss the implications for tribes of mapping of the human genome. I had worked for nearly a decade in the field of tribal environmental...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 205-236)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 237-253)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 254-254)