The Vanishing Indian Speaks Back: Race, Genomics, and Indigenous Rights

When:  Jun 30, 2021 from 13:00 to 14:00 (ET)
Part of the Microsoft Lecture Series on Race & Technology


Dr. Kim TallBear

Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Environment., Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta

Central to US history is the idea that Indigenous peoples were destined to vanish. It is a cherished national myth that the “red” race simply faded away, leaving empty land for inevitable occupation and development by white civilization. The classic image of “the Vanishing American” illustrates this myth; it graced early twentieth-century novels and movie posters, including a film by the same name. In that image, a stereotypical, nineteenth-century plains “Indian” sits on horseback, facing west into the sun that sets on his epoch. The Indian’s otherwise copper-colored body fades to white or disappears; these are the same outcome. After the Indian wars, white society assumed the Indian would finally die out and politicians tried to hurry things along. The US government mandated assimilation through education, child adoption, employment, and urban relocation programs designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” US policy also defined the Indian out of existence by implementing the racial idea of diminishing “Indian blood quantum.” Such ideas continue to shape American thought, including the genome sciences.

Join University of Alberta Indigenous Science and Technology Studies scholar, Kim TallBear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate), as she examines: 1) how older notions of race continue to influence genome scientists who study Indigenous populations today; and 2) the cultural politics involved in the marketing since the early 2000s of “Native American DNA” tests to an American public searching to appropriate Indigenous “identity.”

Together, you’ll explore:

  • How human population genetics (re)defines “Indigenous” for sampling and study
  • The risks to Indigenous rights posed by racial, including genomic, definitions of Indigeneity
  • Indigenous frameworks that challenge dominant scientific populational/race ideas