Your PDF has successfully downloaded.

You may be interested in finding more content on these topics:


You are not currently logged in.

Access JSTOR through your library or other institution:


Log in through your institution.

“Your DNA Is Our History”: Genomics, Anthropology, and the Construction of Whiteness as Property

Jenny Reardon and Kim TallBear
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. S5, The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations: World Histories, National Styles, and International Networks (April 2012), pp. S233-S245
DOI: 10.1086/662629
Stable URL:
Page Count: 13
  • Download PDF
  • Add to My Lists
  • Cite this Item
We're having trouble loading this content. Download PDF instead.


During the nineteenth century, the American School of Anthropology enfolded Native peoples into their histories, claiming knowledge about and artifacts of these cultures as their rightful inheritance and property. Drawing both on the Genographic Project and the recent struggles between Arizona State University and the Havasupai Tribe over the use of Havasupai DNA, in this essay we describe how similar enfoldments continue today—despite most contemporary human scientists’ explicit rejection of hierarchical ideas of race. We seek to bring greater clarity and visibility to these constitutive links between whiteness, property, and the human sciences in order that the fields of biological anthropology and population genetics might work to move toward their stated commitments to antiracism (a goal, we argue, that the fields’ antiracialism impedes). Specifically, we reflect on how these links can inform extralegal strategies to address tensions between U.S. and other indigenous peoples and genome scientists and their facilitators (ethicists, lawyers, and policy makers). We conclude by suggesting changes to scientific education and professional standards that might improve relations between indigenous peoples and those who study them, and we introduce mechanisms for networking between indigenous peoples, scholars, and policy makers concerned with expanding indigenous governance of science and technology.

Notes and References

This item contains 71 references.

References Cited
  • ['ABOR (Arizona Board of Regents). 2010. Havasupai Tribe and Arizona Board of Regents resolve lawsuit, announce future collaborations, April 21.']
  • ['American Indian Law Center. 1999. Model tribal research code (with materials for tribal regulation for research and checklist for Indian Health Boards). 3rd edition. Albuquerque, NM: American Indian Law Center.']
  • ['Arbour, Laura, and Doris Cook. 2006. DNA on loan: issues to consider when carrying out genetic research with aboriginal families and communities. Community Genetics 9:153–160.']
  • ['Ben-zvi, Yael. 2007. Where did red go? Lewis Henry Morgan’s evolutionary inheritance and U.S. racial imagination. New Centennial Review 7(2):201–229.']
  • ['Bieder, Robert E. 1986. Science encounters the Indian, 1820–1880: the early years of American ethnology. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.']
  • ['Bommersbach, Jana. 2008. Arizona’s broken arrow. Phoenix Magazine. (accessed June 9, 2011).']
  • ['Callegari-Jacques, Sidia M., Francisco M. Salzano, J. Constans, and P. Maurieres. 1993. Gm haplotype distribution in Amerindians: relationship with geography and language. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 90:427–444.']
  • ['Cavalli-Sforza, L. Luca, Paolo Menozzi, and Alberto Piazza. 1994. The history and geography of human genes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.']
  • ['CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). 2009. Fiscal year 2009 tribal consultation report. (accessed June 9, 2011).']
  • ['Conley, John, and Dan Vorhaus. 2010. Pigs fly: federal court invalidates Myriad’s patent claims. Genomics Law Reporter, March 30. (accessed June 9, 2011).']
  • ['Couzin-Frankel, Jennifer. 2010. Researchers to return blood samples to Yanomamö. Science 328:1218.']
  • ['Crawford, Michael H. 1998. The origins of Native Americans: evidence from anthropological genetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Dalton, Rex. 2004. When two tribes go to war. Nature 430:500–502.']
  • ['Deloria, Vine. 1988 (1969). Anthropologists and other friends. In Custer died for your sins: an Indian manifesto. Pp. 78–100. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.']
  • ['Dippie, Brian W. 1982. The vanishing American. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.']
  • ['Dobzhansky, Theodosius. 1973. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher 35:125–129.']
  • ['Dua, Enaksi, Narda Razack, and Jody Nyasha Warner. 2005. Race, racism, and empire: reflections on Canada. Social Justice 32(4). (accessed June 9, 2011).']
  • ['Foner, Eric. 1999. The story of American freedom. New York: Norton.']
  • ['Genographic Project. 2005. The Genographic Project: anthropological genetic analyses of indigenous human populations. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.']
  • ['Goldberg, David Theo. 1993. Racist culture: philosophy and the politics of meaning. Malden, MA: Blackwell.']
  • ['———. 2009. The threat of race: reflections on racial neoliberalism. Malden, MA: Blackwell.']
  • ['Goonatilake, Susantha. 1998. Toward a global science: mining civilizational knowledge. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.']
  • ['Hammer, Michael, Tatiana Karafet, A. Rasanayagam, E. T. Wook, T. K. Altheide, T. Jenkins, R. C. Griffiths, A. R. Templeton, and Stephen L. Zegura. 1998. Out of Africa and back again: nested cladistic analysis of human Y chromosome variation. Molecular Biological Evolution 15(4):427–441.']
  • ['Harding, Sandra. 2008. Sciences from below: feminisms, postcolonialities, and modernities. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.']
  • ['Harmon, Amy. 2010. Indian tribe wins fight to limit research of its DNA. New York Times, April 21.']
  • ['Harris, Cheryl. 1993. Whiteness as property. Harvard Law Review 106(8):1707–1791.']
  • ['Hart, Stephen, and Keith A. Sobraske. 2003. Investigative report concerning the medical genetics project at Havasupai. December 23. Photocopy of investigative report available at the Arizona State University Ross-Blakey Law Library, Reserves.']
  • ['Human Genome Diversity Project. 1993. Summary document incorporating the HGD project outline and development, proposed guidelines, and report of the international planning workshop held in Porto Conte, Sardinia (Italy), September 9–12. (accessed June 9, 2011).']
  • ['IPCB (Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism). 2000. Indigenous research protection act. Wadsworth, NV: IPCB.']
  • ['Jasanoff, Sheila. 2005. Designs on nature: science and democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.']
  • ['Kaestle, Frederika A. 2000. Chapter 2: report on DNA analysis of the remains of “Kennewick Man” from Columbia Park, Washington. In Report on the DNA testing results of the Kennewick human remains from Columbia Park, Kennewick, Washington. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Archeology Program. (accessed June 9, 2011).']
  • ['Karafet, Tatiana, Stephen L. Zegura, O. Posukh, L. Osipova, A. Bergen, J. Long, D. Goldman, et al. 1999. Ancestral Asian source(s) of New World Y-chromosome founder haplotypes. American Journal of Human Genetics 64:817–831.']
  • ['Karafet, Tatiana, Stephen L. Zegura, J. Vutoro-Brady, O. Posukh, L. Osipova, V. Wiebe, F. Romero, et al. 1997. Y chromosome markers and trans–Bering Strait dispersals. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 102(3):301–314.']
  • ['Kempf, Wolfgang. 2002. The politics of incorporation: masculinity, spatiality and modernity among the Ngaing of Papua New Guinea. Oceania 73:56–77.']
  • ['Kiefer, Michael. 2010. Havasupai tribe ends regents lawsuit with burial. Arizona Republic, April 22. (accessed June 9, 2011).']
  • ['Lipsitz, George. 2006. The possessive investment in whiteness: how white people profit from identity politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.']
  • ['Lorenz, Joseph G., and David G. Smith. 1994. Distribution of the 9-bp mitochondrial DNA region V deletion among North American Indians. Human Biology 66(5):777–788.']
  • ['Mack, Steve. 1996. Molecular evolution of mitochondrial control region sequences and class II HLA loci in Native American populations. PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.']
  • ['Manolio, Teri A. 2010. Genomewide association studies and assessment of the risk of disease. New England Journal of Medicine 363(2):166–176.']
  • ['Mariella, Patricia, Eddie Brown, Michael Carter, and Vanessa Verri. 2009. Tribally-driven participatory research: state of the practice and potential strategies for the future. Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice 3(2):41–58.']
  • ['Markow, Therese A., and John F. Martin. 1993. Inbreeding and developmental stability in a small human population. Annals of Human Biology 20(4):389–394.']
  • ['McCulloch, Anne Merline, and David E. Wilkins. 1995. “Constructing” nations within states: the quest for federal recognition by the Catawba and Lumbee tribes. American Indian Quarterly 19(3):361–388.']
  • ['Mead, Aroha Te Pareake, and Steven Ratuva, eds. 2007. Pacific genes and life patents: Pacific indigenous experiences and analysis of the commodification and ownership of life. Wellington: Call of the Earth Llamado de la Tierra and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies.']
  • ['Mello, Michelle M., and Leslie E. Wolf. 2010. The Havasupai Indian Tribe case: lessons for research involving stored biologic samples. New England Journal of Medicine 363:204–207.']
  • ['Morgan, Lewis Henry. 1909 (1877). Ancient society; or, researches in the lines of human progress from savagery, through barbarism to civilization. Chicago: Kerr.']
  • ['———. 1965 (1881). Houses and house-life of the American aborigines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.']
  • ['Neel, James V. 1978. Rare variants, private polymorphisms, and locus heterozygosity in Amerindian populations. American Journal of Human Genetics 30:465–490.']
  • ['Puar, Jasbir Kaur. 2001. Transnational configurations of desire: the nation and its white closets. In The making and unmaking of whiteness. Birgit Brander Rasmussen, ed. Pp. 167–183. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.']
  • ['Reardon, Jenny. 2005. Race to the finish: identity and governance in an age of genomics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.']
  • ['———. 2009. Anti-colonial genomic practice? learning from Chacmool and the Genographic Project. International Journal of Cultural Property 16(2):199–204.']
  • ['———. 2011. The democratic anti-racist genome? technoscience at the limits of liberalism. Science as Culture, April 18.']
  • ['Relethford, John H. 2003. Reflections of our past: how human history is revealed in our genes. Cambridge, MA: Westview.']
  • ['Said, Edward W. 1979 (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage.']
  • ['Santos, Fabrício, Arpita Pandya, Chris Tyler-Smith, Sérgio D. J. Pena, Moses Schanfield, William R. Leonard, Ludmila Osipova, Michael H. Crawford, and R. John Mitchell. 1999. The central Siberian origin for Native American Y chromosomes. American Journal of Human Genetics 64:619–628.']
  • ['Shaffer, Mark. 2004. Havasupai blood samples misused. (accessed February 15, 2012).']
  • ['Subramaniam, Banu. 2001. Snow Brown and the Seven Detergents: a metanarrative on science and the scientific method. In Women, science, and technology: a reader in feminist science studies. Mary Wyer, ed. Pp. 40–45. New York: Routledge.']
  • ['TallBear, Kimberly. 2007. Narratives of race and indigeneity in the Genographic Project. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 35(3):412–424.']
  • ['———. 2013. Native American DNA: origins, race and governance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Forthcoming.']
  • ['Torroni, A., T. G. Schurr, M. F. Cabell, M. D. Brown, J. V. Neel, M. Larsen, D. G. Smith, C. M. Vullo, and D. C. Wallace. 1993a. Asian affinities and continental radiation of the four founding Native American mtDNAs. American Journal of Human Genetics 53:563–590']
  • ['Torroni, A., T. G. Schurr, C. C. Yang, E. J. Szathmary, R. C. Williams, M. S. Schanfield, G. A. Troup, et al. 1992. Native American mitochondrial DNA analysis indicates that the Amerind and the Nadene populations were founded by two independent migrations. Genetics 130:153–162.']
  • ['Torroni, A., R. I. Sukernik, T. G. Schurr, Y. B. Starikorskaya, M. F. Cabell, M. H. Crawford, A. G. Comuzzie, and D. C. Wallace. 1993b. mtDNA variation of aboriginal Siberians reveals distinct genetic affinities with Native Americans. American Journal of Human Genetics 53:591–608.']
  • ['Tsosie, Rebecca. 2007. Cultural challenges to biotechnology: Native American genetic resources and the concept of cultural harm. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 35(3):396–411.']
  • ['UNESCO. 1952. What is race? Paris: UNESCO.']
  • ['United Nations. 2007. United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. New York: United Nations. (accessed February 15, 2012).']
  • ['Wade, Nicholas. 2009. Genes show limited value in predicting disease. New York Times, April 15.']
  • ['Wald, Priscilla. 2006. Blood and stories: how genomics is rewriting race, medicine and human history. Patterns of Prejudice 40(4–5):303–333.']
  • ['Wallace, Douglas C., and Antonio Torroni. 1992. American Indian prehistory as written in the mitochondrial DNA: a review. Human Biology 64(3):403–416.']
  • ['Wells, Spencer. 2002. The journey of man: a genetic odyssey. London: Penguin.']
  • ['———. 2003. Journey of man: the story of the human species. DVD. Directed by Clive Maltby. Arlington, VA: Tigress Productions, PBS Video.']
  • ['———. 2007. Deep ancestry: inside the Genographic Project. Washington, DC: National Geographic Books.']
  • ['Zhadanov, Sergey I., M. C. Dulik, M. Markley, G. W. Jennings, J. B. Gaieski, G. Elias, T. G. Schurr, and the Genographic Project Consortium. Genetic heritage and Native identity of the Seaconke Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 142(4):579–587.']