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Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science [Paperback]

Kim TallBear
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

September 1, 2013 0816665869 978-0816665860

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.

Frequently Bought Together

Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science + The Seeds We Planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School (First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies) + Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples
Price for all three: $66.69

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Editorial Reviews


Native American DNA is a book of far wider scope than its title, establishing the author as a leading authority on the topic. The politics of tribal DNA is but the starting point of a complex analysis that encompasses the whole framework in which DNA is appropriated in the study of human populations. Molecular geneticists, science studies researchers, legal scholars—and of course Native Americans—will find their horizons considerably broadened and newly engaged.

—Troy Duster, New York University

Native American DNA is a gracefully written, powerfully argued, and urgently needed examination of indigenous identity and politics after the genomic turn. This is pathbreaking work.

—Alondra Nelson, Columbia University

About the Author

Kim TallBear is associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (September 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816665869
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816665860
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Creator save us from Anthropologists! February 12, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I had such high hopes for this book but this is obviously written by an anthropologist for other anthropologists and the "academic elite". It uses terribly complex language that will drive away anyone who is not a member of that elite. I have a Ph.D. in chemistry and have taught Biochemistry and Forensic Science--I know DNA and I was struggling at times to wade through the academic jargon that "social scientists" substitute for clear communication. Are there good parts to this book? Yes and a rewrite in plain English could make this a valuable addition to the topic but the language in this book is too dense to make this anything but a hard slog for anyone outside of a small academic community.
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