DNA tests stand on shaky ground to define Native American identity
In Walajahi’s research, she found that 11 out of the 23 companies suggest that their test is definitive in the ability to pinpoint ancestry. Some claimed they could even identify a specific tribe. Still, in all of Hull and Walajahi's work, they found that none of the companies disclosed how they evaluate genetic information in DNA to determine ancestry.
Walajahi said the test results are, “a probability and in no way definitive.” Even though the companies characterize their genetic tests as ‘recreational,’ Walajahi is concerned that the public views them as a black and white science.
“There is the notion that it is genetics so it must have a greater claim to legitimacy,” she said.
Walajahi said the test results are likely based on an algorithm determined by a reference population.
Imagine using the traits of a small group of people as the baseline for an entire nationality. What's more, that reference population may vary between different companies. That explains why earlier this year two identical twins could receive disparate results from 5 different DTC test kits. These results are uncharacteristic of twins.
The reference population is built on DNA that is voluntarily submitted to the DTC ancestry companies. Both Hull and Walajahi express concern regarding how the DTC ancestry companies are including Native American heritage in their algorithm, despite limited data. They said that many Native Americans are reluctant to participate because of a history of genetic research undermining their trust.
In , researchers at Arizona State University formed a partnership with the Havasupai Tribe to study Type II Diabetes, which is a particular health concern that the tribe identified. When the researchers used the DNA samples to study other topics, such as mental illness and migration, the tribe filed a lawsuit. They claimed the researchers misused their blood samples for topics that are stigmatizing and for which they had not explicitly given permission.
The lawsuit ended in a settlement, setting a moral (not legal) precedent for informed consent in genetic research. Other tribes also identified problems with genetic research, such as the Navajo Nation who instituted a moratorium in , banning genetic research within Navajo Nation.
Today, some of the DTC ancestry companies are starting to get their feet into research. Walajahi said that many companies have broad terms and conditions that are fraught with legalese. According to her, the forms make it nearly impossible for consumers to understand what they agree to, let alone the potential risks they face. So, many Native Americans steer clear of participation, leaving data for the reference population thin and DTC ancestry test results questionable.
Indigenous Americas Region
If you have Native American DNA, it will appear in your ethnicity results as the Indigenous Americas region. For help researching Indigenous American ancestry, see Researching Native American Ancestors.
The AncestryDNA test is not intended to be used as legal proof of Native American ethnicity.
Indigenous American ancestors and DNA
Anyone with even a single Indigenous American ancestor has Indigenous American ancestry, but not everyone with an Indigenous American ancestor has Indigenous American DNA. Only half of a person’s DNA is passed on to their child, so with each generation that passes, the potential exists for DNA from any given ancestor to be lost.
The closer an ancestor is to you, the more likely it is that their DNA has been passed on to you. If your great-grandmother is 25% Indigenous American, your original Indigenous American ancestor was your great-great-great-grandparent. Although about % of your DNA comes from your great-grandmother, you may not have inherited her Indigenous American DNA, or you may have inherited such a small amount that it doesn’t appear in a DNA test.
Though a child receives 50% of each parent’s DNA, they do not typically receive 50% of each ethnicity present in the parents. A parent with half Nigerian and half Indigenous American DNA may pass on more Nigerian DNA than Indigenous American DNA (or vice versa) to the child. Over generations, the randomness of inheritance results in DNA from some ethnicities being passed down more than others and in some ethnicities being lost entirely.
Having family members tested
If you have Indigenous American ancestors, but Indigenous American ethnicity doesn't appear in your DNA results, it may be worthwhile to test your grandparent, parent, or sibling.
Generations-wise, the further back the relative you have tested is, the more likely their DNA is to contain Indigenous American ethnicity, because your Indigenous American ancestor is a closer relative to that person than to you.
If neither a grandparent or parent is available, testing a sibling may help. Because you share only 50% of your DNA with a sibling, they may have inherited an ethnicity that you didn’t.
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Native American DNA tests are a very cool way to connect to history. However, they are slightly different than tests connecting with other ethnicities and they have also caused a bit of controversy. In this post, we summarize things you should know before buying these tests, and give some recommendations of DNA testing kit and DNA upload sites to check if you share DNA with Native Americans!
1. DNA Test vs Tribe Identity
DNA test kits are a powerful tool for understanding where you came from and how your ancestors migrated around the world. For most ethnicity estimates, users are simply seeking to see where their family came from, how their family may have migrated over time, and if they have any living relatives they can connect with.
If these are your only goals when getting a DNA test, that’s great! DNA tests are one of the most informative tools when it comes to your genetic history. They can tell you a huge amount about different groups that contributed to your DNA.
But, don’t fall into the most common trap people find themselves in after taking a DNA test. Just because you have a German ancestry does not make you a German Citizen.
Likewise, even if your DNA test says that you share some genes with Native Americans, this test result does not seal your tribal enrollment. Tribal Identity - and membership to the many different Native American tribes - is not determined by a person’s DNA. It is determined by a sovereign tribal council based on your participation in and contributions to Native American culture. In other words, a DNA test cannot give you tribal membership.
However, the United States has already seen the beginnings of this conundrum play out in national politics such as the infamous Elizabeth Warren DNA testing story. So, what can Native American DNA testing actually tell you?
What a “Native American” DNA test actually tells you…
If you take a Native American DNA test, they are not going to tell you if you are related to the Cherokee Nation, the Apaches, the Navajo, or any other specific tribal group. In fact, most companies simply make the broad declaration of “American Indian” or “Indigenous American” - which cover all Native American identities and is non-specific. DNA matches to tribe members may help you trace your genetic ancestry, though genomics alone is never enough to prove a tribal membership.
Most DNA tests currently available are sampled from a very small number of Native American populations. Because Native American groups all descend from populations that expanded out of Asia tens of thousands of years ago, most groups still retain some shared genetic material (sometimes seen as "Asian ancestry" or "Indian ancestry"). However, each individual tribe has also been evolving on its own course since then. So, with a Native American DNA test, it is nearly impossible to narrow down your relationship beyond this broad, millennium-long history to specific Native American ancestors.
The main reason for this is that DNA testing companies have very few DNA samples from members of actual Native American tribes. Most ancestry DNA test results consider Native Americans as a subpopulation that has recently expanded from Asia. Further, regardless of the number of users a company has, it is unlikely to have a good sample population from specific tribes. The reason behind this is simple.
Native Americans, after centuries of exploitation, are more than a little reluctant to give their DNA to large testing companies. With this DNA, the companies would no-doubt begin offering “tribe-specific” DNA tests - and make a ton of money in the process. None of this money would go back to the tribe, and tribal identities would be greatly confused and complicated in the process as white people all over the country started claiming “Native American heritage.” Since tribal membership is regulated by each tribe and separate from the federal government, there are no federally mandated rules for tribal membership.
What DNA Testing Companies Say about Native American Ancestry
While Native American ancestry testing is still being offered by most genetic testing companies, there has been a large shift in the language they use to describe these tests.
For example, AncestryDNA tries to clarify the distinction between heritage and ancestry. Heritage is something your practice and are a part of, while your ancestry is simply the genes that you inherited. Specifically, the Ancestry.com site states:
“Over generations, the randomness of inheritance results in DNA from some ethnicities being passed down more than others and in some ethnicities being lost entirely.”
Likewise, 23andMe has this language on their site:
“Currently 23andMe has several features that can reveal genetic evidence of Native American ancestry, although they are not considered a confirmatory test or proof of such ancestry in a legal context.”
While most people simply want to figure out how they came to be, these sites are clearly trying to discourage users from trying to claim Native American heritage based solely on a DNA test.
2. Best DNA Test Kits for Native American Ancestry
If you understand the ethical and legal limitations of Native American DNA tests, you should definitely still consider getting tested. While the test will not admit you into a specific tribe and should not be used to “claim Native American heritage,” they can definitely be a great way to explore your past and see how your family was involved in the colonization of North America.
Of all the DNA test kits that include Native American Ancestry, we recommend FamilyTreeDNA!
FamilyTreeDNA Tests for Native American Ancestry
FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) has several tests that can help you narrow down if you have Native American ancestry, and can even help you find which side of your family those genes come from!
Using the basic FTDNA autosomal test, you can find out whether or not your genes can be correlated with Indigenous American populations. The autosomal test analyzes a large majority of your DNA, and can find genetic variants that originated in indigenous populations. While this test cannot tell you which side of your family the genes came from, it is a great first step to explore your ancestry.
If you want to go even further, FTDNA offers a number of tests that can help. Using the Y-DNA test, you can directly analyze your father’s genetic line in specific detail using the Y-chromosome. Not only will this test tell you exactly which surnames you are related to, but it can give you a clearer picture of where Native American genes were introduced into your family. Y-DNA is only passed from father to son, so if you are a woman you can have a male relative take this test to discover your paternal lineage.
To analyze your mother’s line, you can take the FTDNA mtDNA test. This test analyzes mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on only from a mother to her children. An mtDNA test goes back thousands of years and can show how your family expanded out of Africa and which haplogroups - or ancient radiations of humans - you are related to. People with Native American and European ancestry may find that they are related to several different haplogroups that had previously been separated by tens of thousands of years!
3. Best Upload Sites for Native American Ancestry
If you have already taken a test with 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage, or FTDNA, you should check out the Genomelink Ancient Ancestry reports and GEDmatch.
Genomelink Ancient Ancestry Reports
Not only do these reports show you how you are related to ancient Native American populations, but they can also match your genes to ancient populations of nomads, farmers, and migratory African populations. You’ll be surprised by how many of these groups you are related to. Unlike typical ethnicity estimates, these reports look much deeper into your genome - going back thousands of years!
These super detailed reports include what fraction of your genome comes from these populations, as well as detailed information about these populations, how they migrated over time, and historical events that may have affected your ancient family members.
The data used for the report algorithm came from research labs across the world that focus on ancient DNA data analysis. In general, sample data are obtained from some modern native Americans like Pima, Yakut, Eskimo, plus data from fossils of ancient native Americans unearthed from South America! Plus, the test is only $39!
GEDmatch.com is a website for amateur genetic genealogists to explore their family history using powerful, professional-level tools. GEDmatch is free to use, though there is a significant learning curve involved.
Some commonly used tools are the One-to-Many match tool, which will connect you with thousands of genetic matches and tell you how closely you are related and which genetic markers you share. You can also use specialized tools to parse your DNA into a maternal line and paternal line and see exactly which side of your family your Native American genes come from!
If you are interested and have time to do this research yourself, check out our posts on how to use GEDmatch to parse out Native American ancestry!
Genetic Testing and Tribal Identity
Why many Native Americans have concerns about DNA kits like 23andme
By Rose Eveleth
The genetic sequencing company 23andMe recently tapped into its vast bank of data to release a study on genetic origins, producing the biggest genetic profile of the United States ever conducted—big, but nowhere near complete.
Out of more than , genomes, only 3 percent of 23andMe customers who authorized their data for the study were black, compared with the approximately 14 percent of the United States population who identifies as such. And while the paper traced what percent of white, black, and Latino customers’ ancestry led back to Native Americans, there were few users, as far as the paper reported, who self-identified as native people.*
There are a lot of reasons for this. The service isn’t free, and not everyone wants—or can afford—to shell out $99 to learn about their ancestry. But when it comes to Native Americans, the question of genetic testing, and particularly genetic testing to determine ancestral origins, is controversial.
In the past decade, questions of how a person's genetic material gets used have become more and more common. Researchers and ethicists are still figuring how how to balance scientific goals with the need to respect individual and cultural privacy. And for Native Americans, the question of how to do that, like nearly everything, is bound up in a long history of racism and colonialism.
* * *
In many ways, the concerns that Native Americans have with genetic testing are the ones most people have: Who will be using this data, and for what?
Today, DNA can tell us a little about a lot of things, from disease risks to ancestral history. But ultimately it’s pretty limited. In fact, 23andMe was recently chastised by the FDA, which claimed the company was overselling the predictive power of their test for medical use. But in the future, that same little sample of DNA could be used for purposes that haven't even been dreamed up yet. People might be okay with their DNA being used to research cures for cancer, or to explore their own genetic history, but balk at it being used to develop biological weapons or justify genocide.
These are questions that anyone who gives their genetic material to scientists has to think about. And for Native Americans, who have witnessed their artifacts, remains, and land taken away, shared, and discussed among academics for centuries, concerns about genetic appropriation carry ominous reminders about the past. “I might trust this guy, but years from now who is going to get the information? What are people going to do with that information? How can they twist it? Because that’s one thing that seems to happen a lot,” says Nick Tipon, the vice-chairman of the Sacred Sites Committee of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, an organization that represents people of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo descent.
Another reason many tribes struggle with a scientist asking for a DNA sample involves the DNA collection process. Namely, that it requires removal of some piece of the body. In the living, this may seem simple: a swab of the cheek or a quick blood sample. But for scientists who want to study historical DNA, they have to remove a piece of the dead body. It’s a small piece, but DNA analysis is almost always destructive. This, again, isn’t a specifically tribal issue, as Tipon points out. “How would current people feel if their great-great-grandfathers were dug up and their bones were destroyed during testing to prove a theory?” he asked. “Rest in peace means forever, not to be disturbed, not to be studied, unless they consented to that.”
Some of the questions geneticists seek to answer are also provocative among Native Americans. The first is the issue of migration: Where did different people come from? Who colonized the United States first? Where did they go once they arrived? These are questions that archaeologists and geneticists are really interested in because they help paint a picture of how migrations patterns occurred in the United States before white settlers arrived, and how European settlement changed things.“We don’t want destructive testing, but is dental plaque technically or spiritually part of that person?”
But figuring out where your ancestors came from becomes complicated when it entails a legacy of exclusion of displacement. Tribes each have important cultural histories, that include their origin stories. Many of their histories say that the tribe came from the land, that they arose there and have always lived there. And many of them have more modern histories that include white settlers challenging their right to live where they did. So to many tribal people, having a scientist come in from the outside looking to tell them where they’re “really” from is not only uninteresting, but threatening. “We know who we are as a people, as an indigenous people, why would we be so interested in where scientists think our genetic ancestors came from?” asks Kim Tallbear, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, the author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, and a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe.
Tallbear says that from her perspective, researchers offering to tell tribes where they’re from doesn’t look any different than the Christians who came in to tell them what their religion should be. “Those look like very similarly invasive projects to us,” she said. Tribes haven’t forgotten the history of scientists who gathered native skulls to prove that native people were less intelligent, and thus less entitled to the land they lived on than the white settlers. To them, these genetic questions of origin look pretty similar.
Not all tribes are against genetic testing, though. Dennis O’Rourke is a researcher at the University of Utah. His work focuses on ancient DNA and migration. In other words, it is exactly the kind of research that many indigenous people object to. But O’Rourke works collaboratively with tribes who are interested in what he’s doing. He told me that he brings up the possible issues with ancestral DNA at the very beginning when he starts working with tribes. He calls it a “cultural risk,” the fact that what he finds in his work about where the tribe came from might be at odds with their history. Some tribes, he says, worry about it, while others don’t. “It’s important to be very clear about what my interest in the research questions are,” he said, “so if they’re not of interest to the communities they can make that judgment very early and I don’t waste their time in trying to pursue things that aren’t acceptable.”
And here is where it’s important to remember that Native Americans are not monolithic in their feelings about genetic testing. Different tribes have different opinions, and within tribes each individual can make their own decisions about what is and isn’t okay with them. Tipon recalls a recent case in which a scientist wanted to look at the plaque built up on the teeth of certain remains to tell what people were eating at the time. “We stopped and we thought a minute,” Tipon said. “We don’t want destructive testing, but is dental plaque technically or spiritually part of that person? We had to think about that, and what the benefits of the research might be.” Ultimately, the tribe decided not to go forward with the project, deciding that the plaque was indeed part of the body, and that for it to be scraped off and destroyed wasn’t appropriate.
* * *
It’s hard to talk about genetics and tribal relations without talking about one particular case. In , Theresa Markow, then a researcher at Arizona State University, collected some genetic samples from the Havasupai, who live near the Grand Canyon, in order to research the high rates of diabetes among the tribe. At some point many years later, the tribe learned that their samples were being used in studies beyond the original diabetes work. But unlike previous cases, in which tribes dealt with these kinds of revelations internally, the Havasupai went to court. They closed their borders to any ASU researchers. In , they settled with the University of Arizona for $,, and the return of the samples to the tribe.
The Havasupai case got a lot of media attention when it was settled, and comes up as an example of everything from blatant disrespect toward Native people, to miscommunication, to a witch hunt against scientists, depending on whom you ask. Markow, who now works at the University of California in San Diego, directed me to her lawyer Mick Rusing, who maintains that his client did nothing wrong. Rusing argues that it was clear from consent forms that other research, beyond the study on diabetes, may be conducted from the samples. In the years following the settlement, researchers and ethicists have looked at the lawsuit for lessons, trying to understand what went wrong and what they might learn from the situation.
So what should a geneticist do, if she’s interested in exploring a question that might involve gathering Native American DNA? It depends. Tallbear says that long before any research questions are formulated and samples are taken, the researcher should actually have a relationship with the tribe. “I think people who want to do genetic research on Native American topics really shouldn’t be doing it unless they’ve got a really considerable history of contact with native communities.”
Tallbear explains that to be able to do ethical genetic research on native people in the United States, you need to understand their history. “You have to know something about the history, and about 20th century Native American policy, and how the U.S. as a colonial power dispersed native people from their historic homelands into urban areas and into reservations, how different groups have put tribes together on reservations who never lived together before. You have to know about about relocation and post-World War II politics. If you don’t understand that you can’t begin to ask informed questions about the genetics of Native Americans.”
O’Rourke says that researchers interested in working with Native Americans have to be honest and upfront about their intentions. And be ready to truly work with tribes, and listen to them. Michael Newland, an archaeologist at Sonoma State University says that ultimately, it’s about respect. “To come into a community, any community, any family in the U.S., and say, ‘I know you think you’re from these guys, you’re not, you’re actually from these guys over there,’ is disrespectful, especially if they didn’t ask for it.” Newland has worked with tribal communities on the West Coast for years, and he says that it’s not something that everybody is cut out for. “Bedside manner here counts for a lot,” he said. “It’s not just about scientific research, it requires a whole other skill set that they may not have.”“We don’t want to change what our ancestors believed in, we don’t have the right to say that.”
For some, all this may seem antithetical to true science, a field that often seems to think it is above culture. When the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed in , requiring archaeologists to return artifacts and remains to Native Americans, the field of archaeology had a heated debate over whether they were destroying their own field. An archaeologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, likened the decision to "the equivalent of the historian burning documents after he has studied them.”
But O’Rourke says that he doesn’t feel that way at all. He says he never feels like he’s being kept from doing research. It just changes how and where he does it. “I’ve never changed my research interest or the questions I was interested in. I might pursue them in a different place or with different communities, but if something that I’m particularly interested in is not deemed as appropriate, that seems not problematic to me, I will quite likely find a different avenue to pursue that research interest.”
And it’s not always the “no” he expects. Once he was asking a tribe to do two studies: one on migration patterns and one on diabetes. He expected they might reject his work on their history, but instead they said no to the health study. Apparently a nearby tribe had cooperated with a researcher looking into a health question, and the results of the study hadn’t been all that complimentary to the community. “‘We’d rather not go down that path,’ they said.” So O’Rourke and his colleague didn’t. “We did a population history thing and had a very good relationship with the community.”
* * *
Tribal people face some of the same tough ethical questions as any individual faces in matters of medicine, death, and ancestry. What happens to your body after you die? What are you willing to give to science in exchange for the possibility of a cure, or just for better future knowledge? These are questions people across the world are asking themselves. And that freedom to ask, to consider, and to decide, is important.
Tipon, for example, is an organ donor. He wants to be cremated when he dies. But he says the key is that he is the one making those decisions. “As a living person, I can give consent for people to do testing on me. Going to the doctor, giving blood, we all do that in this society,” he said. But his ancestors likely wouldn’t make the same decisions. “Our ancestors didn’t traditionally do any of that, they just reburied everything that was spiritually connected. We don’t want to change what our ancestors believed in, we don’t have the right to say that.”
Tipon says that most tribes are struggling to balance what good might come with what harm they might be doing to tradition and their ancestors. “If someone could come to us and say ‘yes, if we destroy this ancestor of yours, maybe we’d find a cure to cancer,’ would we still have the same feeling? We’re still struggling with that. Our traditional cultural feeling is you’re buried, that’s where you rest in peace, but all societies change. We talk about it. We wonder where the right answers are.”
* An earlier version of this story said there were no Native Americans who contributed to 23andme's genetic profile of the United States. In fact, some respondents self-identified as Native American, 23andme said, but they accounted for less than 1 percent of total respondents; this represented a number too statistically small to factor into the larger study. We regret the error.
Results 23andme native american
Do you want to understand what Native American on your 23andMe results means? In this post, you’ll find out how to tell if these results are accurate, and how far back to look in your family tree for your indigenous American ancestor.
More than ten million people have tested their DNA with 23andMe, and a surprising number have discovered at least a small percentage of Native American ancestry in their results.
For example, 1 out of every 23andMe customers has the Q-M3 Y-DNA haplogroup.
This means that 1 out of every people who have tested their DNA with 23andMe can trace their direct paternal line back to the earliest populations of North America, as long as 15,, years ago by many estimates.
How to understand your Native American DNA on 23andMe
Most people who have Native American in their 23andMe results will likely see it in their Ancestry Composition report. This report is sometimes referred to as an ethnicity estimate.
There is a wide range of what people can expect to see as far as percentages of Native American seen on their results.
For this post, I will show you two examples of individuals who tested with 23andMe and got Native American in their Ancestry Composition report. We will use these examples to learn more about how to understand your own Native American DNA results.
Our first example shows % Native American DNA on his results:
Chances are good that if you also received a percentage as high as this on your results, you were not surprised. You may even know the origin of your indigenous American DNA.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have someone who received .1% Broadly East Asian and Native American on their results. Based on his known ancestry, this person was very surprised to see this region reported.
Why is East Asian included with Native American on 23andMe?
People who have indigenous ancestry in North and South America have a common shared ancestry with the people of East Asia.
Around 60, years ago, populations began to migrate from Central Asia to Southern Asia. The descendants of these populations then began to move north to populate the rest of the eastern regions of Asia and Siberia.
We now understand that Native Americans, or indigenous Americans, were direct descendants of smaller groups of East Asians who crossed from Siberia to Alaska over a period of a few thousand years via the Bering Land Bridge.
There are still traces of this common Central Asian ancestry detectable in modern DNA testing. On 23andMe, it shows up as “Broadly East Asian and Native American”.
Are Native American results on 23andMe accurate?
The best way to figure out how accurate your Native American results are on 23andMe is to adjust the confidence level in your Ancestry Report. The default confidence level display is “speculative”.
The “speculative” confidence level means that the software algorithm that 23andMe uses to estimate where your ancestors were from was is about 50% confident in the accuracy of the regions and percentages reported.
How to adjust the confidence level on Ancestry Composition in 23andMe
We can adjust the confidence level on our 23andMe results in order to see how confident 23andMe is about a particular region appearing in our DNA.
To do this on your own results, scroll all the way down to the last section on your 23andMe Ancestry Composition Report. Then, click the little down “carrot” next to “Change Confidence Level” to expand the confidence level options, as shown in the image below:
Below, I will show you what happens when we adjust confidence levels for the two Native American DNA results that I showed you above in this post.
A very tiny amount of a region could disappear when you adjust the confidence level. For example, our DNA tester who received a .1% Broadly East Asian and Native American (shown above) finds that their Native American DNA completely disappears when I adjust the confidence level to 60%:
What happens to the DNA that they take from one region as you adjust the confidence level up or down? It depends on what they know about that particular area of your DNA.
In the case of this person who received only tiny trace amounts of possibly Native American DNA, we can see where it went by looking at the chromosome painting visual that appears next to the ancestry percentages.
To do this on your own results, simply click on the Native American region you would like to learn more about (on the percentage list) and you will see the corresponding DNA segments highlighted on your chromosome painting visual.
The first image below shows the Broadly East Asian and Native American segment, which was located on Chromosome 8. If you have higher percentages in your own results, you might find that you have multiple segments corresponding to Native American regions:
After I adjust the confidence level to 60%, I see that this region on Chromosome 8 is now grayed out, which I can see matches the “Undefined” region on the Ancestry report:
In other words, there a 50% confidence level that this small segment is a Native American segment. However, if it isn’t, there is no further information on which region of the world it does match.
What happens when you adjust the confidence level with a high percentage of Native American ancestry?
When experimenting with the confidence level on someone’s results who showed a very high percentage of indigenous American ancestry, we see a higher overall confidence that the DNA segments correspond to Native American regions.
You may recall our DNA tester who received % Native American or East Asian on his results that we discussed at the top of this post. If we adjust his confidence level up to the highest level or 90%, this is what happens:
We find that the DNA tester still shows a very high percentage of Native American DNA, coming in at at least % East Asian and Native American. % of that total is very confidently reported as Native American.
As we adjust the confidence level up and the Native American DNA decreases, we do see the DNA re-assigned to the “Unassigned” category, just like we saw with the person who received only trace amounts in their results.
Once you have experimented with the confidence level in your results, you will get a better idea about how confident 23andMe is in your Native American results.
It is important to note that we do not inherit DNA from all of our ancestors. If you are confident that you have an ancestor in your family tree who had Native American heritage, you simply may have not inherited DNA from their Native American ancestors.
How far back to look in your family tree for Native American ancestors?
While DNA is very helpful providing clues about which regions of the world our ancestors may have called home, it is not a substitute for building a family tree.
Our 23andMe results do provide some insight as to how far back we may have to look in our family tree to find ancestors from the regions reported on our results.
If you scroll down to your Ancestry Timeline, which is located about half-way down the Ancestry Composition Report page, you will find a chart with a historical timeline that estimates where we might be able to find our ancestor.
Our DNA tester with high Native American ancestry sees on his report that he likely has a parent or grandparent born between with % Native American ancestry:
We can see that this person will have to look much further back in his family tree to find his Jewish, Spanish, and Mongolian ancestors.
I hope that this post has helped you understand more about your Native American results on 23andMe, as well as how you can use this information to help build your family tree to learn more about your heritage.
If you have any questions about something that you read in this post, or if you got Native American DNA in your 23andMe results and you have a question, please join us in the discussion below.
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