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Ancestry DNA and the Manipulation of Afro-Indian Identity Arica L. Coleman, Ph.D. Post Doctoral Fellow Johns Hopkins University © 2006. All rights reserved.

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Presentation on theme: "Ancestry DNA and the Manipulation of Afro-Indian Identity Arica L. Coleman, Ph.D. Post Doctoral Fellow Johns Hopkins University © 2006. All rights reserved."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Ancestry DNA and the Manipulation of Afro-Indian Identity Arica L. Coleman, Ph.D. Post Doctoral Fellow Johns Hopkins University © All rights reserved

3 Henry Louis Gates, W.E.B. Du Bois Professor African American Studies Department, Harvard University “I ask each of my guests if they thought they had a significant amount of Native American ancestry, and to a person, they said, oh, yeah, my great grandmother, my grandmother, my cousin once removed, straight hair, high cheekbones. When we did the DNA analysis, only two of the nine had any significant amount of Native American ancestry. This is a myth.” -- Henry Louis Gates, Jr., NPR All Things Considered, Feb “I ask each of my guests if they thought they had a significant amount of Native American ancestry, and to a person, they said, oh, yeah, my great grandmother, my grandmother, my cousin once removed, straight hair, high cheekbones. When we did the DNA analysis, only two of the nine had any significant amount of Native American ancestry. This is a myth.” -- Henry Louis Gates, Jr., NPR All Things Considered, Feb.2006.

4 Carter G. Woodson, the pioneer of African American History “One of the longest unwritten chapters of the history of the United States is that treating of the relations of the Negroes and Indians.” “One of the longest unwritten chapters of the history of the United States is that treating of the relations of the Negroes and Indians.” “The Relations of Negroes and Indians in Massachusetts.” The Journal of Negro History, Journal of Negro History,

5 Jack D. Forbes (Powhatan), preeminent scholar of African – Native American Intersections “There is no denying but what the image of the ‘Great White’ Fornicator’ is a popular one, exalted (as it were) by a vast folklore and accepted as valid almost without seeking proof.” “There is no denying but what the image of the ‘Great White’ Fornicator’ is a popular one, exalted (as it were) by a vast folklore and accepted as valid almost without seeking proof.” “The Manipulation of Race, Caste and Identity: Classifying AfroAmericans, Identity: Classifying AfroAmericans, Native Americans and Red-Black People.” The Journal of Ethnic Studies 17.4, 1990.

6 Wilma Mankiller, Former Principal Chief Cherokee Nation “One of the things that struck me in going to the South... was that I saw people who appeared to be African-American, who I could absolutely look at and say ‘that person is Creek, or that person is Cherokee.’ Society tends to accept tribal people when mixed with white people, without any problem whatsoever.... But, if you find someone who says I am half black and half Oneida, Yakama, or Cherokee, people have more difficulty with that.” “One of the things that struck me in going to the South... was that I saw people who appeared to be African-American, who I could absolutely look at and say ‘that person is Creek, or that person is Cherokee.’ Society tends to accept tribal people when mixed with white people, without any problem whatsoever.... But, if you find someone who says I am half black and half Oneida, Yakama, or Cherokee, people have more difficulty with that.” “Exploring the Legacy and Future of Black/Indian Relations,” National Congress of Indians 57th Annual Conference, Transcript.

7 Lakota artist Francis Yellow titled his 2000 depiction of the first encounter between Africans and Indians in the Carolinas, “First They Made Prayers and They Sang and They Danced and Then They Made Relatives.” “[I] wanted to depict historical African-Indigenous relations from a perspective that today’s indigenous peoples and Africans and African Americans could recognize, and relate to, as our truth.” “[I] wanted to depict historical African-Indigenous relations from a perspective that today’s indigenous peoples and Africans and African Americans could recognize, and relate to, as our truth.” Quoted in Julie Harris,“The Black-Indian Quoted in Julie Harris,“The Black-Indian Connection in Art: American Portraits, Soulscapes and Spirit Works,” The International Review of African American Art 1:17, 2000.

8 Sara Lawrence Lightfoot Daughter of Charles City County, Virginia Lightfoot, who appeared as a guest on Gates’s PBS documentary, African American Lives, was told her DNA results showed that she possessed no Native American ancestry ; however, the history of Charles City tells a different story. For over three centuries peoples of African, Indian and European descent commingled, and cohabitated in Charles City. Lightfoot’s ancestral roots in Charles City date back to the American Revolution. It would be a miracle if she didn’t have Native American ancestry.

9 Genetic Testing Mitochondril DNA Traces mother’s line going back as far as we can locate the genetic material Y-Chromosome DNA Traces father’s line going back as far as we can locate the genetic material Admixture Mapping examines groups' relative sharedness of genetic markers found on the autosomes — the nonsex chromosomes inherited from both parents.

10 Limitations of Ancestry DNA Mitochondrial and Y Chromosome DNA represents less than one percent of your entire genetic make up. When tracing one’s ancestry back six generations, one must obtain genetic material for all sixty-four relatives who equally contributed to one’s DNA make up. The current technology only allows for two of those sixty- four to be traced. Admixture DNA attempts to identify Ancestry Information Markers which frequently appear in designated populations to demonstrate group affiliation such as Native American, Sub-Sahara African, etc. However, patterns which scientists identify as Native American or African, can be found in peoples all over the globe. Hence a person from Sweden may possess the same genetic pattern as a Native American or Sub-Sahara African, yet have no direct ancestral link to either. Admixture DNA attempts to identify Ancestry Information Markers which frequently appear in designated populations to demonstrate group affiliation such as Native American, Sub-Sahara African, etc. However, patterns which scientists identify as Native American or African, can be found in peoples all over the globe. Hence a person from Sweden may possess the same genetic pattern as a Native American or Sub-Sahara African, yet have no direct ancestral link to either. The guess work involved in the ancestry DNA enterprise is enormous in that a contemporary small sample population is used to stand in for a tribal or ethnic group which may or may not have existed centuries before. Also, in order to declare someone to be 50 % sub-Saharan African, 40% Native American and 10% European, one must assume he/she knows who is 100% African, Native American or European. Such a conclusion can not be based on scientific fact, but on assumptions based on social constructions on race. The guess work involved in the ancestry DNA enterprise is enormous in that a contemporary small sample population is used to stand in for a tribal or ethnic group which may or may not have existed centuries before. Also, in order to declare someone to be 50 % sub-Saharan African, 40% Native American and 10% European, one must assume he/she knows who is 100% African, Native American or European. Such a conclusion can not be based on scientific fact, but on assumptions based on social constructions on race.

11 Troy Duster Professor of Sociology “Instead of asserting that someone has no Native American ancestry, the most truthful statement would be: ‘It is possible that while the Native American groups we sampled did not share your pattern of markers, others might since these markers do not exclusively belong to any one group of our existing racial, ethnic, linguistic, or tribal typologies.’ “ “Instead of asserting that someone has no Native American ancestry, the most truthful statement would be: ‘It is possible that while the Native American groups we sampled did not share your pattern of markers, others might since these markers do not exclusively belong to any one group of our existing racial, ethnic, linguistic, or tribal typologies.’ “ “Deep Roots Tangled Branches.” The Chronicle Review Online. 3 February 2006.

12 Patricia Williams Professor of Law “It behooves us to be less romantic about what all of this DNA swabbing reveals. I worry about the cravings to ‘go back to Africa,’ to ‘connect with our Yiddishness’ or to feel like new doors have been opened if we have an Asian ancestor. The craving, the connection, the newness of those doors is in our heads, not in our mitochondria. Rather, it is the process of superimposing the identities with which we were raised upon the culturally embedded, socially constructed imaginings about ‘the Other’ we could be. The fabulous nature of what is imagined can be liberating, invigorating- but it is fable. If we read the story into eternity of our bloodlines, if we biologize our history, we will forever be less than we can be.” “It behooves us to be less romantic about what all of this DNA swabbing reveals. I worry about the cravings to ‘go back to Africa,’ to ‘connect with our Yiddishness’ or to feel like new doors have been opened if we have an Asian ancestor. The craving, the connection, the newness of those doors is in our heads, not in our mitochondria. Rather, it is the process of superimposing the identities with which we were raised upon the culturally embedded, socially constructed imaginings about ‘the Other’ we could be. The fabulous nature of what is imagined can be liberating, invigorating- but it is fable. If we read the story into eternity of our bloodlines, if we biologize our history, we will forever be less than we can be.” “Emotional Truth.” The Nation, March 2006.

13 Tiya Miles Assistant Professor of African American Studies and American Culture DNA should not be used “as a foolproof kind of ‘truth’ that trumps oral histories, origin stories, cultural connections etc.. about self and family [that] obscures other kinds of knowledge.... “ DNA should not be used “as a foolproof kind of ‘truth’ that trumps oral histories, origin stories, cultural connections etc.. about self and family [that] obscures other kinds of knowledge.... “ “Re: Ship Gates and Red/Black People.” to the author. 19 February to the author. 19 February 2006.

14 Peter N. Jones Molecular Anthropologist Due to its [ancestry DNA] “serious limitations” it should be “used with caution.... these studies should be viewed as inchoate and requiring further investigation and support from other fields....Because of the claimed authoritative validity of these studies there is a great danger that they will convince non-specialists of the hypothesized associations [or disassociations] between American Indian groups [and African Americans].... DNA analysis should “offer a discourse among our often disparate fields offering a greater understanding of American Indian [and African American] cultural, affiliation and demographic history.” Due to its [ancestry DNA] “serious limitations” it should be “used with caution.... these studies should be viewed as inchoate and requiring further investigation and support from other fields....Because of the claimed authoritative validity of these studies there is a great danger that they will convince non-specialists of the hypothesized associations [or disassociations] between American Indian groups [and African Americans].... DNA analysis should “offer a discourse among our often disparate fields offering a greater understanding of American Indian [and African American] cultural, affiliation and demographic history.” “American Indian Demographic History and Cultural Affiliation: A Discussion of Certain Limitation on the Use of mtDNA and Y Chromosome Testing.” AnthroGlobe Journal, 2002.

15 The End For questions or Comments about this presentation, you may contact the author, Dr. Arica L. Coleman at L. Coleman at Ulali. “All My Relations.” Mahk Johi. CD. Thrush, 1997.


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