My little Time Immemorial Genome
So I guess you’ve heard by now about African American celebrities getting their DNA tested to find out where in Africa they come from. It turns out they were doing it in a sort of publicity kick off for the Genographic Project, a mass collection of DNA samples to chart human migration throughout history. For $100 American you’ll be sent a scientific Q-Tip with which to swab the inner cheek. After sending it back they’ll delve into the mysteries of your DNA and tell you where you come from. As research progresses you can periodically log into National Geographic and find out more about what your genes tell them.
Cool! I thought. A chance for me to do some CSI roleplay, AND find out about my migratory history. And so I was all set to start a genome testing piggy bank for my own “Participation Kit” when I found out that there are Aboriginals here in North America who are very against having our genomes tested in this project. They’re calling it Biocolonialism, dear god, something out of Bladerunner. They’ve called for a total ban on any north american Indigenous person submitting their DNA for testing.
Nearly 3/4 of my DNA is Cree, which means I’m not supposed to submit to a cheek swab. Oh no!!! But I really want to!
The rationale for this is kind of interesting. Basically, in an attempt to win land claims rights, we’re really pressured by the courts to prove we’ve been here since “Time Immemorial.” And it’s kind of true that if white people hear we’ve been here for 10 000 years rather than since the first fish grew legs, then they kind of dismiss us being First Nations and having rights to the land. Well we’re still First Nations in that we were here first!! Gah! So a lot of activists have shot down all kind of migratory theories, like the Bering Strait, out of sheer terror that to admit we haven’t been here since before the dinosaurs then we’ll lose more land rights.
So a lot of stuff about who we are has been covered up by how political my little genome is. And people still think the land grab of what is now Manhattan was a funny thing, which is REALLY dumb because all of Manhattan is cursed because of that land grab. I’m not sure why white people think the colonization of a people is funny. Anyway, my point is we have crap land rights right now anyway, and personally I don’t really think disavowing scientific study of our history, within ethical limits, is a useful political strategy. Yeah, fucking around with people’s remains is creepy, things should be respected, but my DNA, really, has been spinning around in blood tests on a routine basis for four years anyway.
If I hear the phrase “since time immemorial” one more time I’m going to vomit.
All that phrase really means is “We’ve been here longer than we can remember.” But somehow it’s been translated in political thought into “Yeah, my kookum’s kookum’s kookum used to cook trilobites with Saskatoon berries out by where they’re building the new Walmart.” Unreal!
Truth be told, from my understanding North American Indigenous people include refugees from various continents who just got here a really long time ago. Some theories suggest Olmecs were descendents of refugees from the Shang Dynasty. There are rumours of Egyptian artifacts found in the Grand Canyon area.
Like, take, for example, the Mongolian Spot. Why did I have it? What does it mean that certain groups get mongolian spots at birth? Do we all come from one area a really long time ago? I’m curious. Is there any truth to the Bering Strait theory? Are we Asian? I mean, I have the same eyes as Asian people, I’ve been mistaken for Asian by Asian friends. People in Chinatown used to be friendly to me because they thought I was Asian. I know I’m not Asian, at least, not in any “Yes, my grandmother was from the Phillipines” kind of way. What does it mean that the really old Cree men have brown eyes rimmed with blue?
And so I still want to get the kit. And then I wonder, am I betraying the current political wishes of my people? But what right do they have over what I can do with my genome? And what will it mean to have my DNA sitting in some lab at the National Geographic? I can only test either one parent or the other, so now I also have to decide between my mom and dad, and that’s just awkward. I might do both.
Which also brings in the issue of my mom and dad also being tracked in the National Geographic database, not officially, but that’s their genetic history. So non-consensual. But then it’s my genome.
My genome’s nobody’s genome but mine.
God it’s a wild and woolly ethical problem. The thing is, I don’t trust over half of the Indigenous leadership anyway. They have a tendency to continue colonizing us. Not all of them, but enough of them that I’m a rather suspicious person. So in the end it really is my own private DNA, but now it’s being held hostage in a time immemorial land rights show down. Goddammit!
Barbara Kruger was right, my body is a battlefield!
And now for a fun distraction from Margaret Cho:
My Puss – Margaret Cho
update: I can only test my mom’s line. Maybe my father is relieved now.
Oh yeah, and here’s a link to an article about some people in China trying to find out if they really are Romans.