Native American Professor: Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Test a ‘Strike Against Tribal Sovereignty’

Casts of Native American heads from the 19th century that are part of the phrenology colle
Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Kim TallBear, an associate professor in native studies at the University of Alberta, released a statement on Twitter on Monday after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released the results of a DNA test she claims proves her Native American heritage, calling it a “strike against tribal sovereignty.”

“For Elizabeth Warren to center a Native American ancestry test as the next move in her fight with Republicans is to make yet another strike — even if unintended — against tribal sovereignty,” TallBear, who is “descended from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma,” said in the statement.

TallBear said Warren has declined to meet with the Cherokee Nation – Native Americans who have challenged her claim.

“This shows that she focuses on and actually privileges DNA company definitions of this debate, which are ultimately settler-colonial definition of who is Indigenous,” TallBear said in the statement. “She and much of the US. American public privilege the voices of (mostly white) genome scientists and implicitly cede them the power to define Indigenous identity.”

TallBear makes her own claims, including that ancestry tests, are “one of the privileges of whiteness to define and control everyone else’s identity.”

TallBear’s statement said that tribal governments do not use DNA tests to confirm who is and who is not Native American or Indigenous.

Tribal governments establish regulations that do not use genetic ancestry tests but other forms of biological and political relationships to define our citizenries. Indigenous definitions of who we are continue to be background noise in Democrat vs. Republican party warring. Warren’t attention continues to be focused on settler state electoral politics and not good relationships with Indigenous communities.

Whether Elizabeth Warren or Donald Trump or 23andMe’s Carlos Bustamente know it or not, they are making settler -colonial claims to our cultural and biological patrimony yet again.

Breitbart News reported:

According to Warren’s own DNA test, she has, at best, 1/64th Native American ancestry, but it could also be as low as 1/1,024. Percentage-wise, she can claim somewhere between 0.1 percent to 1.56 percent Native lineage.

The minimum requirement to claim membership in most Native American tribes ranges from 1/8 (12.5 percent) to 1/2 (50 percent). A few tribes have a minimum requirement of 1/16 (six percent).

In her tweet, TallBear includes a link to an analysis she wrote two years ago about Warren and her Native American claims and another to the book she wrote entitled, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science.

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.