Spring 2018

Genetic Ancestry Testing with Tribes: Ethics, Identity & Health Implications

Nanibaa’ A. Garrison
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Genetic ancestry tests have gained in popularity across the United States as more Americans seek answers about their ancestral past. The tests have been used to verify or dispute family stories about ancestors or to allow people to seek a sense of belonging with a particular tribe or community. They can also be useful in medical research to identify genetic variants across populations. At the same time, assumptions about genetic testing – and the very idea of a “genetic” identity – pose challenges for communities that are defined in terms of political, social, and cultural identities. This essay explores a range of uses of ancestry tests and their potential implications for Native American tribes and communities. It concludes that the scientific and recreational use of genetic ancestry testing continues to increase over time, but limitations of the consistency of results across platforms and the generalizability of knowledge remain.

NANIBAA' A. GARRISON is Assistant Professor at the Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics at Seattle Children's Hospital and Research Institute, and at the Department of Pediatrics in the Division of Bioethics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.