Native American identity is fragile. Historically and culturally, our country has done severe damage to their communities and their identities. It is understandable that they want to protect it and that well-intentioned people want to help. But we can’t redefine identity according to the preferences of individual groups. Given the inevitable and ungovernable role that other people play in who we are, it’s impossible to limit our identity as we see fit. That doesn’t mean things are hopeless. People falsely claiming Indian heritage can be confronted. More can be done to educate people on Natives Americans, their culture, and experiences. Even this kerfuffle (based on the fact that Elizabeth Warren can’t choose her identity) is mildly constructive.
But telling other people that they shouldn’t consider DNA as part of their identity is a fool’s errand. Not only do people have a right to construct their own identities individually, no one can stop them from doing so. It’s not even clear to most people at this point what, if anything, their DNA actually means.
I’ll close with Brandon Scott. (He doesn’t have anything against Elizabeth Warren by the way). His criticism though is here:
She does, however, add some legitimacy to the myth that Native American heritage is tied to DNA. Heritage is not just who you are biologically. It is about your community. It is the role you play in your tribe, large or small. Propagating the notion that a DNA test is all a person needs to be Native American is damaging to tribes and the sovereignty they have earned through years of struggle and strife. It simplifies a process that was determined through lengthy courtroom battles and legal discussions.
Being Native American is an honor and privilege you are born with. It simply cannot be determined by scientific testing alone.