Canada research chair critical of U.S. senator's DNA claim to Indigenous identity

An American senator's release of a DNA test in defence of her claims to Indigenous ancestry has been met with backlash on social media from Indigenous academics and artists in Canada.

Kim Tallbear calls Elizabeth Warren's DNA test results 'another strike against tribal sovereignty'

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released the results of a DNA test of her ancestry. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

An American senator's release of a DNA test in defence of her claims to Indigenous ancestry has been met with backlash on social media from Indigenous academics and artists in Canada.

The DNA results, first reported by the Boston Globe Monday, were to provide evidence to support Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren's claims of Indigenous ancestry.

The Boston Globe said the test revealed the potential for a Native American ancestor in her family tree six to 10 generations ago. The results suggest that Warren is between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American.  

Warren's heritage has been under scrutiny since 2012 during her campaign for the Senate against Scott Brown who ran attack ads aimed at her "Cherokee" heritage. 

She has also been a target of U.S, President Donald Trump, who had said that if she could prove her ancestry with a DNA test he would donate $1 million to a charity of her choice. 

The idea that Indigenous heritage is defined by DNA was criticized Monday by many Indigenous artists, activists and scholars in Canada.

Kim TallBear, the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Environment at the University of Alberta, issued a statement saying "For Elizabeth Warren to centre 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."

Kim TallBear is Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Environment at the University of Alberta and the author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. (Submitted by Kim TallBear)

"She and much of the U.S. American public privilege the voices of (mostly white) genome scientists and implicitly cede to them the power to define Indigenous identity," the statement continued.

"As scholars of race have shown, it is one of the privileges of whiteness to define and control everyone else's identity."

Pam Palmater, a Mi'kmaq lawyer and associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University said: 

Anishinaabe podcaster @gindaanis said: 

Alicia Elliott, a Haudenosaunee writer, said: 

Robert Jago, a writer and member of the Nooksack Tribe and Kwantlen First Nation, said:

A CBC News investigation this year revealed one company's dubious DNA tests for Indigenous identity. Viaguard Accu-Metrics tested samples from two CBC employees born in India and one born in Russia and reported that all three were 12 per cent Abenaki and eight per cent Mohawk. 

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