The Money-Making Machine Known as DNA Testing

Genealogy sites thrive on the human curiosity, but Native DNA is better traced through family stories and tribal connections.

What if you thought you were practically full-blood Native and took a DNA test and found out you were 34 percent white and/or 15 percent black? Would it be demoralizing? Would you demand a re-test and plop down another 100 bucks? DNA/ancestry testing is a gigantic money-making machine. It’s based on our own curiosity to find out who we are and where we come from – it’s an interesting thing.

My mother was my When I was younger, she was always telling stories about who was part of our family tree (and who wasn’t), and how we were related to this family and who my great grandparents were – and just on and on and on. I always wondered “why is she telling me all this? What good is this going to do me?”

I look at all the advertisements for these DNA testing/ancestry/genealogy sites and now I know why mom told me all those stories – she was instilling in me a sense of identity and purpose. I did absorb everything she was telling me, at least subconsciously. Therefore, I don’t have any questions about who I am and where I come from, and who my ancestors are; although there are gaps in the equation.


“I had no idea (that I was Native American). I absolutely want to know more about my Native American heritage. It’s opened up a whole new world for me,” says the spokeswoman in the commercial, who states that after her DNA test she found out she was 26 percent Native American. How in the heck do you get to be 26 percent of anything? I know it’s mathematically possible, but that just goes to show you something about these tests.

They’re not that accurate. They are based on what they have in their database, which are massive, and they look for similarities from you with people who are already in their database. Let me quote the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), who have developed their own American Indian and Alaska Native Genetics Resource Center:

“Genetic information (i.e., DNA) collected from individuals, families, and communities can be used in many different ways and it is becoming more of a discussion topic in tribal communities. While research is one possible use of genetic information, this information can also be used to examine how people are related to one another by comparing the similarity of their DNA sequences. In almost all genetic testing, information is expressed in terms of probability or a chance of something.

“However, no DNA testing can prove an individual is American Indian and/or Alaska Native, or has ancestry from a specific tribe. Genetic testing can provide evidence for the biological relationship between two individuals (e.g., paternity testing), but there are no unique genes for individual tribes or American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) ancestry in general. While research scientists have found that some genetic markers are found mostly only in AI/ANs, these markers are neither unique to AI/ANs nor predictive of AI/AN identity.”

I’ve always wanted to find out that I was part white and had a big inheritance from my European ancestors that needed to be claimed. I haven’t found a relative in Europe yet (I haven’t looked) but I’m pretty sure I’m either 1/32 or 1/64 French. Maybe I can become a citizen of France if I can authenticate my French bloodline.

Natives are strong and we are proud. Other people want to be part of that – they want to think they are justified for what happened to the Indigenous Peoples here in the so-called Americas. And there are many people who are looking to prove their Native American ancestry so they can become enrolled tribal members who are looking to cash in on our casino per capita (good luck with that). I was very proud of Snoop Dogg when he found out he was something like 28 percent Native American.

From what I’ve discovered, he never tried to enroll in a tribe. Why would he? Why should he? Now I know there are those Natives who were adopted by non-Native parents who didn’t hear the stories growing up. That’s the exception to the rule. If you want to find out the truth about who you are and where you come from don’t take a DNA test; don’t go to an ancestral lineage website. Do your research and find out what is your most likely tribe. Seek out one of the elders of the tribe. They know the story and they may know the real history of your family.

Harlan McKosato is a citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. He is the Director of NDN Productions, an independent media production company based in Albuquerque.