Can DNA Testing Tell If You’re Native American?
September 29, 2017 / Mark A.
Particularly throughout the 19th century, America saw a huge divide between the Native Americans and the white settlers, with several battles commenced concerning the lands that both parties had reserved. Native Americans were treated badly by the American Government throughout the 1800s; several property declaration promises were broken by the government, which left the natives landless and almost slaves to the privileged white American’s. These people have such a culturally rich heritage, which is why people can often be eager to find out whether they have Native American roots in their blood. If that’s something you’re interested in, all you need to do is read on to find out about DNA testing and how it can be used to tell if you’re distantly related to this amazing community.
Tribal Issues Behind Native American DNA Testing
Before we go in depth about DNA testing for Native American heritage, there are a couple of things that you should be aware of. It’s hardly surprising that many people are eager to find out about Native American tribes that they might belong to, with the Cherokee and Cheyenne tribes making a huge impact many decades ago, with a presence in the United States remaining to this day.
Tribes within the US fall into two main categories – federally recognised tribes and non-federally recognised tribes. As you might expect, federally recognised tribes are tribes that have had some form of continuity with their existence, whether that be in the past or even still to this day, remaining on tribal lands that the federal government recognises. Therefore, these tribes qualify for government programmes, which is a big factor as to why so many people are eager to participate in DNA testing and join the tribes.
Non-federally recognised tribes are usually ran as non-profit entities, and will thus help people research and document their genealogy and will be more open-minded about tribal membership to those who have received a DNA test in order to connect with the tribe. So, it’s crucial to bear in mind that receiving a DNA test to find out if you have Native American heritage doesn’t necessarily mean that you can barge your way into a Native American tribe – in fact, very rarely does a tribe accept somebody based on their DNA results. Research suggests that federally recognised tribes have never endorsed or participated in DNA testing. So, whilst DNA testing might not buy you acceptance into a tribe, it might still educate you about any ancestors that you share blood with.
Is Using Genealogy Useful?
Now that we’ve got that little disclaimer out of the way, it’s time to identify just how we’re able to begin finding DNA testing results. Because of the detailed membership requirements of federally recognised tribes, traditional genealogy methods are the only way to obtain the relevant information needed to begin your DNA testing adventure. For example, if your family history includes an authentic tribal name, you could attempt to contact members of these tribes and inquire about membership requirements – this isn’t as easy as it sounds. At the very least, you may be required to have 25% blood quantum, as well as physically living on the land reservation. Looking for an ancestor, though? That’s a totally different story… So, whilst genealogy is considered as a useful method, it’s unlikely that it will ever allow you to gallivant off into a Native American tribe. Instead, we would recommend going down a DNA testing route out of curiosity, to find out whether you share your blood with a distant Native American ancestor instead.
DNA Testing To Prove Native Ancestryr
So, we’ve already established that getting a DNA test is a much better way to connect to any fellow Native Americans, but how exactly should you go about this? Well, there isn’t one set way – in fact there are three different DNA tests that you could take depending on your reason for the test.
Y-Line DNA (Paternal Line Testing For Males): As the name of this DNA test suggests, this revolves around the Y chromosome which is passed from father to son – no females ever carry a Y chromosome, so this DNA test is irrelevant for females. From taking a Y-line DNA test, you’ll be able to see whether or not you descend from a male ancestor genealogically when compared to another testing participant. The wonders of this DNA test don’t end there though, as the Y-line DNA test can also tell you this information by identifying your deep ancestral clan, also known as a haplogroup, and whether you descend from the early Native Americans who existed before any contact with the Europeans was made.
It’s already become apparent by scientists today that there are 2 primary haplogroups that indicate a deep ancestral connection among Native American males who existed prior to Indo-Europeans – the C and Q3 groups. Whilst this information isn’t 100% accurate, it certainly indicates that the American Native population resides in these groups, and research into this particular field is becoming better every day.
However, if you’ve already tried DNA testing for Native American heritage, you may have come across the R1b haplogroup, which relates to the famous Cherokee tribe – why is this? Well, there are several theories behind this, including the fact that the tribe may have adopted a European male into their tribe, or that a European male has fathered a child that was raised as a Cherokee. Because of the unique haplogroup, a Y-line DNA test is the only way to properly confirm whether or not you descend from this particular Native American bloodline. Of course, in the event that your haplogroup doesn’t fall under the C or Q category, you might want to look into possible reasons as to why. The main thing that you could do is invest in another DNA test, as the following two are made for both sexes.
Mitochondrial DNA (Material Line Testing For Both Sexes): This type of DNA is inherited by all children, as this DNA is passed down directly from the mother with no involvement from the father. The mitochondrial DNA in women is obtained from their mother continuously up the line of generations. Similar to Y-line DNA, mitochondrial DNA is passed down generations without fail, unless there is an unexpected mutation that allows scientists to identify family members and family lines.
Following the surname is a great stepping stone to identifying whether or not you’re related to a Native American ancestor, however this isn’t possible with mitochondrial DNA testing, as the surname of women changes upon marriage. This makes this form of genealogy slightly more difficult to work with, but this doesn’t make it impossible. Similar to Y-line DNA testing, haplogroups are identified in order to identify Native American heritage. Maternal haplogroups that would indicate a relation to Native Americans include A, B, C, D and X, however these aren’t exclusive to Native Americans, so a full sequence level test will be required to completely confirm Native American relations.
Recommended tests include the likes of mtDNA and mtDNAPlus tests, as they both test approximately 10% of your mitochondrial DNA, which you can then compare with others who have taken any one of the tests. However, these types of testing aren’t as popular as Y-line, simply because of the genealogical difficulties attached. For example, you might find a match after conducting an mtDNA test, however without a similar last name, you have no idea whether you’re legitimately related to this person.
Autosomal Testing (For Both Sexes): For those of you unsure about how DNA and chromosomes work, we’ll give you a quick overview on how we inherit them. Basically, you inherit 23 pairs of chromosomes from each parent, giving you a grand total of 46. So, each time you move up a generation, you can halve the amount of DNA you’ve inherited from that person – e.g. 50% from your mother, 25% from your grandmother and so on. When it comes to Native American ancestors, the inherited DNA percentage will be as little as 0.78%, but autosomal testing is able to identify relationships 6-7 generations back, and sporadically beyond that if you’re lucky. When an autosomal DNA test is conducted, you will be presented with both cousin matches and ethnicity percentages, and it’s the latter which is the most important for proving Native American origins.
Creating A Pedigree Chart
Digging deep into your Native American heritage can be a long and difficult process, but you could make it much easier by simply creating a pedigree chart, outlining all of your Native American lines. Let’s say that both your Y-line and mitochondrial DNA tests have come back unsuccessful – this doesn’t mean that the rest of your lines aren’t linked to Native American culture.
So, throughout the journey of learning about your Native American heritage, we strongly suggest drawing up a pedigree chart to guide you through your progress and the data that you’ve obtained so far. This chart should be drawn up just like a family tree, outlining each member’s role in the family line (mother, grandfather etc). Next to each member, it’ll be worth noting down their haplogroup category, as this will help you to see who falls into the same line as Native Americans. If you find that there are some blank and/or grey areas on your pedigree chart, this would be a great opportunity to invest in autosomal DNA testing.
Hopefully, after reading all of this information regarding DNA testing for Native American heritage, you will understand the options out there available to you. Simply, when opting for a DNA test, it’s paramount that you consider the reason for your test, as acceptance into a Native American tribe is almost impossible with a DNA test alone. Instead, view this journey as a way of identifying any possible relations to Native American ancestors, and if your results come back positive, you’ll know that you’re heading in the right direction.