Dan Vorhaus pointed me to this review of the recent PBS series Faces of America. I haven’t seen the series myself, but I found this segment of the review hilarious:
The element of the last PBS episode I found most intriguing was Gates’ interview with novelist Louise Erdrich, who declined to have her DNA tested because her identity as a descendant of the Chippewa Native American tribe is so important to her. She said that she felt her tribe and family were what made her who she was. And, as she explained to Gates, she “didn’t want to add any confusion to it.”
Erdrich, in other words, didn’t want cold, scientific facts to confuse her cherished notion of who she was, based on her assumed heritage.
As for the section above, Louise Erdrich also added that she had spoken with her family members and they did not want her to find her genetic ancestry either. Gates then said something about how it’s not just her own personal information to find out.
I just checked the video online (the entire series is on the PBS website) and she said she checked with her “extended family” and was told “it’s not yours to give, Louise.”
If each person’s decision were independent, that would be one thing. But what do these companies know about Chippewa ancestry? They know the genotypes of some other people who self-identify as Native American, and they’d like very much to add more self-reported people to their databanks so that they can improve their interpretive abilities. Fair enough.
But that means that every self-identified Chippewa who gives a sample helps to build the genetic picture of identity in that tribal unit. So that every person who contributes may help to *take away* the status of *other people* who self-identify and are genotyped in the *future*.
Individuals should be tested or not as they choose, my viewpoint is personal rights, not collective rights. But the effect of your test on the collective identity is a possibly negative externality of testing — your genes help to identify others who share distant ancestry with you.