Book, Native American DNA:|
Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science
by Kim TallBear
Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science
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.
About the Author: Kim TallBear, author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (2013),
is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta. She studies the racial politics of “gene talk” in science
and popular culture. A former environmental planner, she has become interested in the similarities between Western constructions of
"nature" and "sexuality” as they are defined and sanctioned historically by those in power. TallBear is interested in how sex and
nature can be understood differently in indigenous worldviews. She draws on indigenous, feminist, and queer theory in her teaching
and research that focus on undermining the nature/culture split in Western society and its role in colonialism, racism, sexism,
homophobia, and environmental degradation. TallBear has published research, policy, review, and opinion articles on a variety
of issues related to science, technology, environment, and culture. She is a tribal citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate
in South Dakota, U.S.A. and is also descended from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.