18 Feb: In Cold Blood: How Genome Science Makes Indigeneity Molecular


Tue 18 February 2020, 10am – 12pm

Deakin Burwood Corporate Centre, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood VIC

Register here (free)


Non-Indigenous peoples are increasingly turning to genome technologies to claim Indigenous belonging without other meaningful connections to Indigenous peoples. These claims work against Indigenous sovereignty by attempting to reduce Indigenous belonging to a question of shared DNA while obscuring the broader social, cultural, historical, political, and material relations through which many Indigenous peoples define themselves. Drawing from and building upon critiques of genome science and its role in anti-Indigenous formations, this talk seeks to understand the scientific processes through which Indigeneity is made molecular and how genetic claims to Indigeneity become possible. I present a reanalysis of a cryopreserved blood collection that was assembled in the 1990s for research into ancient demographic histories among Indigenous peoples in North America. Tracing the history of the collection’s assembly and analysis, I show how notions of purity shaped which samples were included and excluded in many previous studies. Working from a framework that centers Indigenous sovereignty rather than genetic purity, I analyzed DNA from samples that had been excluded from previous studies. This reanalysis not only reveals the invisibilized effects of settler colonialism on genetic variation in North America, but also serves to challenge and reconfigure the conditions of possibility through which Indigeneity is made molecular.

Rick W. A. Smith, Ph.D. is a biocultural anthropologist working as a postdoctoral fellow in the William H. Neukom Institute for Computational Science and the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. Smith is also affiliated with the Indigenous Science, Technology, and Society (STS) Lab in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. Merging genomic techniques with critiques of power from queer, feminist, and Indigenous STS, Smith’s work traces the ways in which imperialism is felt across the human and more-than-human molecular ecologies of the Americas.

This seminar is supported by the Deakin Science and Society Network.