Research has found that up to 8.5 million Americans of mixed-race ethnicity claim to have “Native American” blood. This may seem like a harmless statistic, and in a country the size of the US, 8.5m may not seem like many– yet this number actually reveals a cause for concern.
Native American activists have long felt the burden of people claiming Native American ancestry. The recent popularity of DNA testing has lead many people who long considered themselves to be white discovering they have a Native American ancestor somewhere in their bloodline, undoubtedly contributing to the 8.5 million figure.
Yet for those in the Native American community, this number is particularly troubling.
DNA blood tests are too vague
A DNA blood test may be able to reveal if a person has Native American ancestry, but it’s important to understand that this is an incredibly vague term. As DNA Explained points out, while a blood test can identify Native American ancestry, it can’t identify to which nation the person belongs. That makes these tests about as useful as saying someone is “European”, rather than Spanish, French, English, Irish, etc– so further research is vital for someone who discovers a Native American link.
Knowledge alone is largely useless
Due to the horrific history that has been experienced by the Native American nations, a person knowing they have Native American ancestry is not particularly noteworthy. It might be beneficial to that person, but it doesn’t represent much to the larger Native American community.
The Native American nations have long sought to uphold their traditions via strong community work. This ranges from beneficial community projects such as these planned gifts to the modern-day activism that takes place on social media. The need for this community work is fairly obvious; Native Americans taking it upon themselves to reestablish the bonds and history that has been taken from them over the past two centuries.
Being Native SO MUCH MORE than DNA. Enrollment in a tribe is a good verification of identity but Indigenous identity extends beyond that; many Native people have been left behind by the enrollment process but maintain connections to their community. @KayaJones has nothing. https://t.co/YLBE6Ru98n
— Mariah Gladstone (@mariahgladstone) January 2, 2018
As this essay points out, there is a long history of people claiming Native American ancestry but not participating in the community. Ultimately, these claims do little to address the myriad needs facing Native Americans alive today.
So what if you do believe yourself to be of Native American ancestry?
If you do discover, or learn from family, that you have Native American ancestry, it’s worth taking the time to research further. There’s a great guide at here to your next steps that can help you further your process of discovery and, ultimately, assist the community and become involved in the activism and political voice the native community so dearly needs.