Monday, October 6, 2014

DNA: Geneticists vs. Anthropologists

American's are competitive  Android  users vs. iPhone users for instance. In the academic community surrounding the human population field of study it's Geneticists vs. Social Scientists. These studies should be interdisciplinary, but the personalities of these researchers tend to clash. Does cultural identity make you a member of an ethnic group or is it genetics? It's a very interesting question. I had been identifying with Jewish community based on the perceived origin of my surname. Genetic testing isn't supporting that connection. Actually I might be Sephardic Jewish, but that's difficult to prove through DNA.

I listened to this UC Berkley lecture "From Blood to DNA, From "Tribe" to "Race": Science, Whiteness & Property."A very interesting discussion. The differences in approaching  the subject of ethnic group membership are apparent in this lecture.  I'm in the Social Sciences camp because that was my undergraduate major. Social Scientists feel cultural identity is as important as Genetic inheritance. I believe Social Scientists feel like this view point isn't shared by the Geneticists. Spencer Wells came under some criticism because Prof. Tallbear felt some of his remarks were culturally insensitive. She also questioned the scientific methods employed by the Genographic project? "Skip Gates" came under even more criticism in this lecture than Spencer Wells. The lecturers felt the results of the consumer DNA tests were questionable.

Prof. Tallbear stated that in the past land had been the commodity that was sought after by the European Americans, now it's Native American DNA. She questioned whether modern Native American DNA would be useful? It's impossible to find unmixed North American Native American populations.

Another aspect of DNA that was discussed is how some Tribes are using it to determine Tribal membership. In the past they used the blood rule of 1/4 Native American to admit someone into a tribe. This was solely based on tracing the family tree. With casino money in play the casino tribes want to limit membership. Casino tribes tend to use DNA tests for membership because this keeps the tribal membership numbers low, and payments to current members high. I thought Prof. Tallbear said the Casino tribes were using parentage DNA testing and ethnicity testing, not sure if they use the ethnicity tests? The non Casino tribes sometimes use parentage testing, but don't always require it.

The 1 drop rule and 1/4 rule were strange categorizations. Why would 1/4 Native American legally make you native American; yet one drop of African blood make you African? Racism and the need to limit the number of Native Americans created these categories.

The Lecturers also brought up a court case involving African Americans who were Naturalized as Cherokee but weren't genetically Native American. This has brought up the question of whether Cherokee membership should be based on Naturalization or genetics?

As they stated in the video they are Social Scientists and not Geneticists, so some of their statements about what can be discovered using DNA were wrong. Full sequencing individuals with large amounts of Native American ancestry would be helpful. They're right about DNA testing helping those with mainly European ancestry; and Tribes worry about the US Federal Government using the results to determine Tribal recognition. The Natives American have little to gain and potentially could lose land and benefits, but their results would help identify Native America admixture. Will those Europeans ever stop pestering the Native Americans because they need something from them? I'm feeling a little selfish now.

I'm definitely going to add Kim Tallbear's book to my reading list

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