DNA testing companies need to be aware of what it means to have Native American DNA* (2023)

By Samantha Ancona Esselmann, Ph.D., Product Scientist at 23andMe Ancestry

Ogenetic affiliation testIndustryis younger than Facebook.

Since the mid-1980s, approximately35 millionsHumans "made their DNA," and as we process our own discoveries, the industry is struggling to keep pace with the evolving understanding of identity in a genomic age. There is a lot of learning and adaptation happening in real time.

I'm still learning too.

I've learned that it's important for direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies to be clear about the differences between DNA, ancestry, and identity. And soNative American Heritage Month,I decided to share what I learned about how these concepts impact not only the lives of Native Americans, but also the sovereignty of Native nations.

Identity is complex, and the discussions in this post are intended to broaden the perspectives of Native American descendants. In Mexico, Central America, and South America, indigenous ancestry is more common than in North America, and their views on how DNA is or is not related to cultural identity differ. In addition, the adoption of indigenous children presents a number of issues related to identity and ancestry that are not explored here.

Whether or not you have "Native American DNA," it's important to understand what it means, and what it doesn't mean, to find evidence of that ancestry in your DNA.

DNA testing companies need to be aware of what it means to have Native American DNA* (1)
(Video) The Problem with DNA Testing for Native American Heritage w/Shannon O'Loughlin | Joe Rogan

Thatdisapproving gesturemean
  1. With a degree of statistical certainty, some stretches of your DNA match a limited set of Native American reference individuals better than other global reference populations.

  2. If you are new to information about a possible Native American ancestry, you can get excited about these ancestors and use them as a reference.beginA place to learn about the various indigenous histories of America in a respectful way. But your test result should be viewed with caution in the context of the limitations of the technology.

  1. You may not use these results to search for or verify affiliation with any tribe or nation. These tests simply do not provide enough information to confirm this type of affiliation. Tribal registration processes use genealogical evidence of kinship, not the results of genetic lineage tests.
  2. This does not mean that you must identify yourself as Native American based on the results of a genetic ancestry test.
  3. This does not mean that you can claim Aboriginal identity and then use genetic ancestry tests to "confirm" it.
  4. This doesn't mean you can go up to your Native American friends and say, "Hey, you know what? I took a DNA test and found out I'm an Indian too!"

DNA testing companies need to be aware of what it means to have Native American DNA* (2)

Keep in mind

If that last point is confusing, you may have a frame of reference that can help you empathize:Would it fool you if someone who never lived in your hometown said they were from there?

Being Native American does not just mean having Native American ancestry. It's being part of a culture... part of a community, with shared beliefs, stories and experiences. And no matter where you come from, biology does not ultimately determine group membership.

Just as countries outline their own procedures for obtaining citizenship, there are many Native American nations, tribes, or bands.determine enrollmentbased on many factors such as B. Documented descent from recorded ancestors. While some Native American nations have used DNA to determine close family ties (ie, paternity testing), genetic ancestry estimates, such as those made by 23andMe, are not used to determine enrollment.

DNA testing companies need to be aware of what it means to have Native American DNA* (3)

cultural connections

Today, many people of Native American genetic ancestry have no cultural connection to Native American communities.

(Video) AncestryDNA | Why Is My Native American Ancestry Not Showing Up? | Ancestry

There was a centuries-long systematic extermination of Native Americans beginning with massacre and continuing through the 20th century in the form of cultural assimilation. In North America, the governments of the United States and Canadadivided native lands, incentives for indigenous peoplesmove to cities, and forced local families to send their children there.residential schoolsfar from home, where disease spread like wildfire, abuse was widespread, and expression of indigenous culture was prohibited. For many, the psychological wounds of these institutions still linger: the last boarding school in Canada closed in the 1990s, and many boarding schools in the United States continue to operate, although attendance is no longer compulsory.


Approximately one million 23andMe survey participants, including many who do not identify as Native American, have evidence of Native American ancestry in their DNA.

In 2015, 23andMe launched alearnThis shows that more than 5% of respondents who identify asAfricanAmericans are predicted to have at least 2% of DNA that most closely matches a reference population of Native Americans (and 22% are estimated to have at least 1% of that DNA). While self-identifying European Americans are generally less likely to have Native American genetic ancestry, the numbers vary widely from state to state: As many as 8% of Louisiana European American sponsors had at least least 1% of these genetic ancestors.

DNA testing companies need to be aware of what it means to have Native American DNA* (4)

The unexpected

Many of our clients expect evidence of Native American ancestry in their DNA, but this is not the case.

This is one of the most common customer complaints we receive and there are a few reasons why this could happen. As a result of genetic recombination, the process by which DNA is shuffled randomly between generations, the further back in your family history, the less likely it is that you inherited your DNA directly from each of your ancestors. For example, there are about 5%Chancewho inherited zero DNA from a fifth great grandparent.

DNA testing companies need to be aware of what it means to have Native American DNA* (5)

This means that you can be a direct descendant of a Native American without having DNA proof of that ancestry.

(Video) Ways Your Native American Ancestry Could Be Represented!

family stories

But there's another reason someone might not have "Native American DNA": In North America in the 19th and 20th centuries, white settlers or their descendants sometimes mistakenly attributed an ancestor as Native American. This may have been to justify or encourage a more native "Americanness".absolve the family of guiltto colonialism, and these stories are passed down in families to this day.

If your family has a story like this but there's no documentation, that doesn't necessarily mean those stories aren't true and it certainly doesn't make you a bad person.

take it

Whether or not you have "Native American DNA," your genetic ancestry may not align with your cultural identity. He can celebrate and reflect on what his results might say about his genetic ancestry, but understand that he is falsely claiming that he is an idealized native.identitybased on this evidence alone can be deeply offensive to people whose identities, experiences, worldviews, and cultures are shaped by their Native American affiliations. It's cultural appropriation and all.comes from colonialism.

DNA testing companies need to be aware of what it means to have Native American DNA* (6)

I leave it to you: indigenous peoples are modern peoples

It is a simple but important point.

While it is easy for you to imagine tribal people living in the past, or simply to picture them in their ceremonial attire adorned with intricate beads or wearing intricately feathered hats, this perception of them does not capture the full picture of who they are and how they feel about of themselves today.§

Discover the indigenous culture

There are numerous respectful ways to engage with indigenous cultures and these are just a few:

(Video) The Dark Side of DNA Testing | Genealogy, Ancestry and My Heritage | America Uncovered

  • Experiencepatria– a resource that “creates spaces where non-indigenous people can be invited and challenged to learn more about the lands they inhabit, the history of those lands, and how they can actively participate in a better common future.”
  • Follow Indigenous creators on Instagram or TikTok (explore the #Indigenous or #Native hashtags first).
  • For Native American Heritage Month, Amazon Video and PBS present films and documentaries featuring Native American voices.
  • Read the work of the current United States Poet Laureate,Feliz Harjo, a registered member of the Muskogee tribe.
  • look foronline exhibitsim Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
  • Consult the yearbook of the year 45American Indian Film Festival, which ran from November 6 to 14, 2020, or visit theLocal cinema showNovember 18 to 27, 2020

If you want to go deeper into this topic, I recommend reading “Native American DNA: Tribalism and the False Promise of Genetic Sciencede Kim TallBear.

Do you have other resources? Share them in the comments below.

Thank you to everyone who continues to grow and learn with us, and thank you for beingpassionatecurious about the world and the various stories of people near and far.

*Did you notice that "Native American DNA" is in quotes in the title of this article? Krystal Tsosie, a Navajo (Diné) geneticist and bioethicist at Vanderbilt University, explains why the term is problematic: "Biologically it supports the idea that DNA may be inherent to an ethnic group." themselves as such) and the term has its roots in colonialism: "America" ​​comes from Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator and merchant. For these and other reasons, Tsosie emphasizes, "We as indigenous scholars use the term 'Native American DNA' to emphasize these limitations, but we do not consider it a legitimate phrase." 'Indigenous' is used interchangeably, and 'Native American' is the name 23andMe previously used for its reference panel for the United States.

In 2007, 23andMe became the first autosomal genetic parentage test available to consumers. However, prior to 2007, limited mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome testing was available to consumers.

Native American Heritage Month is celebrated in the United States in November. Canada celebrates National Indian History Month in June.

• The concept of indigenous is also a modern category and it is possible that people do not understand it that way. For example, modern "indigenous" Europeans would likely identify as "Europeans" rather than "indigenous Europeans". Colonialism imposed such distinctions between indigenous and colonizing peoples.


1. DNA and Ethnicity: How accurate are commercial DNA tests? | DNA Demystified | Alan McHughen
(Oxford Academic (Oxford University Press))
2. What You NEED to Know About DNA Testing for Genealogy
(Genealogy with Amy Johnson Crow)
3. What can DNA tests really tell us about our ancestry? - Prosanta Chakrabarty
4. Is DNA Testing Safe From a Genetic Genealogy Company?
(Family History Fanatics)
5. Why Your Native American DNA Does Not Show Up + More DNA Questions
(Family History Fanatics)
6. I Took 5 DNA Tests and Compared Them | Which One Is Best?
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