A historical moment, soon to be footnote, to notice

As the aspirations of those politically inclined once again seek to ride emergent currents of popular thought to positions of power, let us for a moment take a look at a single parenthetical sentence in a single obscure document from a single side of a story from the several larger dramas of culture, climate, politics, gender, privilege, heritage, ancestry, and identity. Let us consider the following.

In explaining how the author concluded that “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree” – the individual being one Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts – background information necessary to contextualize those results was presented. In the penultimate paragraph of that background information and indeed of the document itself, we are told the follow:

Smack dab in the middle of that paragraph, in parentheses no less, is quite a contextualizing statement: “It is not possible to use Native American reference sequences from inside the United States [for this analysis], since Native American groups within the US have not chosen to participate in recent population genetics studies.” There is so much bound up in that one single sentence – historical abuses of Indigenous Americans by the United States Government; desecration of environments, of remains, of resources belonging to said Indigenous Americans; continued medical establishment marginalization and mistrust; exploitation and/or further discrimination by both Native Americans and those seeking to identify as such – that to go into it all now, would, I think, perhaps, be excessive.

(Those interested are encouraged to dip their toes into these issues with a nice tidy summary of the relationships between (and the consequences of) Native American populations’ understanding of their “genetic identity” that can be read over at the Genetic Literacy Project.)

I note here, just for a moment, the irony.

A woman plainly seeking to ascend to the Presidency of the United States who at at least one critical juncture in her life claimed Native American ancestry, a man who has berated her publicly for her use of that identity to her possible benefit and openly doubted/mocked/belittled her/her claims, a scientific result contingent upon population wide genetic/genomic testing and analysis, a population of people of known Native American ancestry who have elected not to undergo genetic testing for any number of justifiable reasons, and a result that says only “yes, but…”

And so the story shall go on. History shall be written. And this little piece of it won’t get written down enough to be remembered. Still, at least we see it here.

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