Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science – By Kim TallBear

Goodreads Synopsis: 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.

Find on Goodreads and Amazon.

I found out about Kim Tallbear after listening to her on All My Relations Podcast, which was about Decolonizing Sex. The interview is fascinating and I knew I had to read more by her. This was the first book I was able to find at my school’s library.

So what can I really say to review this book? I’m not really sure because I’m not the intended audience for this book. I’m not a scientist, I’m not interested in genetics and I’m not Native American. But despite all of that I really enjoyed reading this book. Tallbear is an amazing writer. This book easily could have been dense and hard to read but it wasn’t. I understood more about genetics reading Tallbear than I did reading my Physical Anthropology textbook. What’s more I also learned a lot about tribal sovereignty and how genetics play into it.

I think this is a very important book in the discussion about genetics, especially with the current trend of getting DNA testing. I would highly recommend it to you all and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

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