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Sorry but DNA tests cannot confirm a person's Native ancestry

Filed Under: Education | National | Technology
More on: dna, kim tallbear, nanibaa garrison, race

These vials were used as part of IAIA Blood Quantum Drive, an exhibition of works by students at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico that addressed race and blood quantum issues in Indian Country. Photo from Facebook

DNA tests are great at demonstrating genetic relationships, even some that go back tens of thousands of years, but they can't confirm whether or not someone has Native ancestors, according to experts.

Professor Kim Tallbear, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, offered a 47-tweet explanation of the issue on Tuesday after a failed Republican candidate claimed otherwise. Companies that offer genetic tests will never be able to pinpoint a person's specific or even general tribal heritage, she wrote.

"It’s unreasonable for scientists to conceive of tribe-specific markers," Tallbear wrote in one of her tweets. "'Tribes' mixed a lot, on their own & due to colonial policy."

But even if the companies refined their methods, a test still might not show whether someone has a Native ancestor, especially one in the distant past. The material that a person inherits from his or her parents boils down to a genetic lottery.

"It's all just by chance, what you inherit from your parents," Dr. Nanibaa' Garrison, a member of the Navajo Nation who studies genetics, told The Washington Post

Get the Story:
A DNA Test Won’t Explain Elizabeth Warren’s Ancestry (Slate 6/29)
Sorry, Scott Brown: A DNA test can’t tell us if Elizabeth Warren has Native American roots (The Washington Post 6/29)

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