Proving Native American ancestry is more complicated than a DNA test

Many people have family lore that suggests they have Native American ancestry. The first step to confirming or denying these claims is to take an autosomal DNA test, which will tell you definitively whether you have any Native American ancestry. These tests are available through companies such as 23andMeFamilyTreeDNA and Ancestry.com.

It is important to note that genetics will not legally establish your Native ancestry, since most Native communities do not accept DNA tests for enrollment in the tribe. Testing can help determine the possibility of a connection so that you’ll know whether legal recognition is worth pursuing. If your DNA results reveal that you do not have Native American ancestry, you can save yourself the time and energy of trying to locate a Native American ancestor who does not exist.

DNA is a complicated matter in tribal enrollment. Some nations are open to accepting results as additional proof of membership. In other instances, DNA is being used by some Native nations as a way to disenroll members, such as the case of Cherokee Nation v. Raymond Nash, in which some members of the Cherokee Nation are fighting to disenroll descendants of black Cherokee Freedmen. Cherokee Freedmen were formerly enslaved by the Cherokee, after which they received Cherokee citizenship following the American Civil War. The Cherokee were one of the so-called Civilized Tribes, each of which kept black slaves. The others were the Creek, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw and the Seminole. Each of these tribes and their slaves were victims of the dreaded Trail of Tears in the 1830s.

Some people now argue that since DNA testing reveals low percentages of Native American ancestry in Cherokee Freedmen’s descendants, they should not be enrolled members of the tribe. Why all the fuss? The same reasons that individuals may seek tribal membership, such as access to health services or education, are often the motivation for tribes to establish strict requirements for membership. This is why DNA is a controversial issue and may or may not be accepted by a tribal nation as proof of lineage. For more information about DNA testing and tribal enrollment, visit the Native American & Alaska Native Genetics Resource Center.

Read full, original article: How Do I Legally Prove Native American Ancestry?

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