Shootin' the Breeze

and random targets

D.N.A. Does Not Define Ethnicity

Elizabeth Warren proudly referred to the results of her recent D.N.A. test that revealed she had an ancestor who lived six to ten generations ago and who might have been from North America or South America or Asia and passed to Senator Warren between 1/64 to 1/1024 of her genetic make up.  Consequently, she believes that proves wrong those who question her claim to be Cherokee.  Those law schools who hired her and bragged of their diversity based on Senator Warren’s heritage have similarly been vindicated, I suppose, even though they did not hire her because of her Indian heritage.  They just listed her as being a Native American faculty member.

Of course, the senator never met that ancestor, so sharing some genes is not the same as being family.  Nor is it the same as being raised in a particular culture.

My wife, Sugar, recently did a D.N.A. test.  She too expected that she might be “part-Indian.”  In particular, she had heard that some relative in the 1800s was Shoshone.    We still do not know whether that is true.   The test is so vague that it cannot specify Shoshone.  It imprecisely indicates a tiny percentage of unknown D.N.A. that could be Peruvian or Asian or Native North American.    Just like Elizabeth Warren.  They could be related.

Sugar found out something that disturbed her father, who is, he believed, 100% Italian.  He actually knew all four of his grandparents, who were each, he believed, 100% Italian.  So, one might expect that  his daughter would be 50% Italian.  The test results showed that she is merely 39% Italian and 11% “Iberian,” which must refer to the Iberian Peninsula, occupied by Spanish and Portuguese people.  (For purposes of this post, I will not describe the other 50% attributed to Sugar’s mother except to say it did not confirm the Shoshone theory,)  My point is that my father-in-law, regardless of the D.N.A. test, is indeed Italian.  He was raised in an Italian family by Italian people who, by the way, were all born in America, so by definition of citizenship, were Americans who identified as Italian-Americans.

Elizabeth Warren did not, as far as I know, grow up in a Native American culture, nor is she a member of the Cherokee Nation or any other particular tribe or tribes.  Tribal groups have their own rules for enrolling as a member of a tribe.  I doubt 1/64 is enough and I am even more certain that 1/1024 is not sufficient for membership in the Cherokee Nation.

Now let’s talk about me.  I am affiliated with the Omaha tribe.  My Grampa, who was a rural mail carrier on the reservation shared by the Omaha and Winnebago tribes in Nebraska, was the son of Swedish immigrants, yet he took me to the Macy Pow Wow, where I played with little boys who lived there.   One of them wrote to me after he read my blog about the pow wow.  He remembered.  We would play under the bleachers and out in the woods.  The boys there treated me like a friend, despite my lack of tribal enrollment.  Grampa and I learned a little about the Omaha culture by having friends on the reservation.  That is more of a connection than high cheek bones.

To the best of my recollection, I did not see Elizabeth Warren at the Macy Pow Wow.  That proves that I am more American Indian than she is.


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6 thoughts on “D.N.A. Does Not Define Ethnicity

  1. I LOVE IT! Best post of the year! This concept that you can “self identify” as something your biology disproves is fantasy. I feel like I have been riding on “it’s a small world” at Disneyland for a decade…. I keep telling my husband that the next form I fill in I will “self identify as an Asian man with African mother and Irish father”. I live near the Lenapes, (Southern Delaware) so maybe I can also be of native ancestry, even though I was not born on this side of the country. Surely some of their nativeness has rubbed off on me, when I sat on the bench downtown that was dedicated to their tribe!

  2. Excellent post.

    But according to Martínez decision of I believe 1976, tribes have the right to determine who can be a member and who cannot. The Pequots have a very open policy, others do not. (I believe at one time it was 1/64th or something close).

    Fred Martinez was rejected on that case (my grad school officemate — of the Martinez decision) and he was 1/2.

    • Thanks for your kind words. There was a song by the Temptations in the 60s, titled Cloud Nine, which included the lyrics: “You can be what you want to be….” Of course, it was about psychedelic drugs.

      • Indeed well before my time. 😉

        True thing. And non Indians are adopted into tribes. It is all about culture and reciprocity.

  3. My last name according to the Japanese means my dad’s ancestors came from Korea. My DNA results stipulate my ancestors came “from Asia”. So I guess I am 1/bazzionth Korean. I also love Kim Chee – just not too tomatoey… but I do not drive Hyundais. Just Ford Mustangs. I guess I’m American… down to my love of Barbara Eden. 🙂

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