Basic American Indian DNA Test Explodes Old, Tired Theories

George Catlin

Allegedly a sketch from life of Nancy Ward attributed to George Catlin, this portrait of a Cherokee woman exhibits oddities like gray-streaked hair, Caucasian nose and other features that fit better with a Spanish ideal of beauty. Nancy Ward’s peculiar haplotype C1 is extremely common among Mexicans. Twenty percent of them carry haplogroup C. Did Nancy descend from the Mexican wife of a Spanish colonial from a time when Spaniards (often Sephardic Jewish in ancestry) mined the mountains and built villages and missions as far north as Virginia? Or was the line Cherokee all the way back? In other words, was the precise haplotype brought from Mexico in the 17th or 18th century or had it traveled previously south of the border and after leaving a minor trace in the Appalachians expanded widely there. The former scenario seems more likely on balance.

“The haplogroups found in unbroken Native American maternal lineages include branches of haplogroups A2, B2, C1 and C4, D1 and X2a.” So says 23&me. But DNA Consultants’ studies reveal that T and J are important Native American haplogroups among certain tribes like the Cherokee and Lumbee. Haplogroups H, I, K, L, N, R, U, V and W have also been found with long pedigrees in the Southern Highlands tribes.

“Haplogroup C is found in eastern Eurasia and throughout the Americas. This haplogroup was present in the populations that initially colonized the pre-Columbian Americas, and dates to at least 40,000 years ago.” That’s how Family Tree DNA describes one of the defining haplogroups for Native Americans. Haplogroups other than A, B, C, D and sometimes X are the only ones the company pronounces to be Native American. Research from DNA Consultants and others paints a very different history of Eastern U.S. tribes, with multiple entries and complex movements of groups across the centuries. dodges the question of Native American ancestry: “The AncestryDNA test may predict if you are at least partly Native American, which includes some tribes that are indigenous to North America, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The results do not currently provide a specific tribal affiliation.” DNA Consultants’ method includes forensic data for over 60 tribes in North and South America.

DNA Diagnostics Center is the oldest and most trusted source for Native American ethnicity. The company is the only one that fits testing needs with tribal requirements. It uses forensic and relationship testing, not genomic claims based on autosomal ancestry analysis. DNA Consultants also uses pure forensics.

If you match, for instance, the population named U.S. Chippewa Indians (n=22), it’s because your Short Tandem Repeat profile is very similar to a sample of 22 research subjects in northern Minnesota in 2015 who raised their hands and said, “Yep, I’m Chippewa and here’s my DNA.” All matches are to the published data of living people, not theoretical ancestors reconstructed in company client databases.

“We do not say genomic results suggesting Native American percentages are wrong,” said Donald N. Yates, principal investigator. “But they are problematic and very politicized.” He argues they should be combined with other methods, including detailed genealogy records research and new scientific findings that take a fresh look at ethnicities and population change over time.

“Clients come to us all the time and say, ‘23&me or Ancestry or one of the other companies didn’t find my Native American,’” said Yates. “I have to tell them the company didn’t find their Native American because they don’t have the data: you can’t check a book out of the library if the library doesn’t have that book.”

As the recently published results of Phase III in the Cherokee DNA Project demonstrate, consumers and geneticists alike are blinkered in their notions of who is American Indian and what American Indian DNA consists of. Ten years ago, the famous Mal’ta Boy fossil was proved to be a link between Europeans and Native Americans, but the ancient skeleton’s haplogroups—U2 and R1b—are not officially classified as being even remotely possible Native American lineages today.

“I was laughed off genealogy lists for having mitochondrial haplogroup U2,” said Yates. “U’s were considered European, even though my mother was descended from Cherokee chiefs like Black Fox and her maternal line went directly back to Martha Jordan (born 1795), the daughter of an unknown Cherokee Indian woman in North Georgia and a well-documented Jewish Indian trader named Enoch Jordan (1768-1830).”

At 22%, U emerges as the most common haplogroup of the 175 participants who signed on as early as 2003 to “prove the geneticists wrong.” The book Cherokee DNA Studies was published in 2014, recapping Phase I and II data to date. A new volume will address the 56 participants in Phase III. Its subtitle: More Real People Who Proved the Geneticists Wrong. A long paper published in DNA Consultants’ blog, “Revisiting Haplogroups” (Dec. 28, 2019), explores the evidence and compares haplogroup frequencies of the Southern Highlands with other studies.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence is the relatively low frequency of haplogroup H. This lineage accounts for over 50% of Europeans and white Americans but only 17% of Cherokee descendants as represented in the sample. If these participants carried the same frequencies and distribution as settlers and pioneers, and all was an effect of admixture, such a paradox would not be the case. Additionally, many of the exact haplotypes in the study, although classified as Old World, could only be matched in New World instances. They had apparently died out in their places of origin and expansion. This seems to be true of a T cluster and several W’s discussed in the new paper.

Included are haplogroup frequency comparisons with U.S. whites, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Hispanic Americans, Central Band of Cherokee members, Lumbee, Mohawk, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians, as well as Melungeons and other world populations, including Europe, Egypt, the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. The Cherokee frequencies do not resemble any the world populations as a whole but do closely mirror the Central Band of Cherokee and Lumbee results in key aspects.

The Central Band of Cherokee data going back to 2000 were destroyed by Family Tree DNA in 2009 after complaints from the Cherokee Nation that the Tennessee band was distorting Cherokee history and finding anomalous Jewish ancestry. The federally recognized Cherokee group said in their national newspaper they were embarrassed by the Tennessee group’s claims. A copy was retained by the tribe, however.

The same fate overtook the Family Tree DNA projects on Melungeon DNA, one of the first ever organized, long under the administration of Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman; Mothers of Acadia; and Blue Jacket Shawnee. The reasons for throwing out all that data and reorganizing the projects? No one really knows, though one might speculate it was because the commercial sponsor did not like what the results were “saying.” Now all those raw findings are gone. Researchers claiming that Melungeons have a lot of Jewish DNA, or that the “Daughters of the King” were Native women, not European, cannot cite evidence from those projects. Those disputing such interpretations cannot cite them either.

Is this the way citizen science and user generated content are supposed to work?

“It’s all the more reason to publish independent data when you have it, and pursue alternative testing when it is available,” said Yates, who is co-authoring More People Who Proved the Geneticists Wrong with his wife Teresa and hopes to publish the sequel in 2020.

“The Basic American Indian DNA Test represents a quantum leap in the field, and it fills a void where other companies are failing the consumer,” he said. “It doesn’t claim to be the end-all-and-be-all of Native American testing, but forensic STR comparisons are definitely the wave of the future.”


Basic American Indian DNA Test (reg. $159.00)

Tribal Populations Doubled, Enrolled Cherokee among Them (news item, Jul. 27, 2018)

Was Sequoyah Even Cherokee (blog post, Nov. 26, 2019)

Armenians in America (Mar. 29, 2019)

“Old World Roots of the Cherokee” with host Pete Ferrand, Episode 9 of The Time Traveler’s Suitcase podcast, Aug. 14, 2019