Politics

One Nation’s Forced Aboriginal DNA Testing Is Scientifically Inaccurate And Undeniably Racist

One Nation Mark Latham Pauline Hanson Aboriginal DNA

Mark Latham is currently promoting the latest state election promise for One Nation — a change to the federal program proving Aboriginality, which would enforce a DNA test on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in order to qualify as such in the eyes of the government.

“Australians are sick and tired of seeing people with blonde hair and blue eyes declaring themselves to be Indigenous, when clearly they have no recognisable Aboriginal background and are doing it solely to qualify for extra money,” One Nation announced in a statement yesterday. “We will tighten the eligibility rules for Aboriginal identity to require DNA evidence of at least 25 per cent indigenous — the equivalent of one fully Aboriginal grandparent.”

Appearing on Today this morning, Mark Latham said: “You put your hand up and say, ‘I’m Indigenous’ and you get a letter from a community group.”

Let us count the ways you are wrong, Mr Latham. With science. And facts.

There Is No DNA Test For Aboriginality

There are simply not enough Indigenous samples in public and private DNA databases to reliably, scientifically test for broad Aboriginal ancestry. AncestryDNA has a database of 10 million samples — the biggest in the world — and it still isn’t enough.

“Should someone with Aboriginal Australian ancestry take an AncestryDNA test, the resulting genetic ethnicity estimate is most likely to include South East Asia and Oceania,” Ancestry says.

There are two known companies that outright advertise “Aboriginality Tests”, utilising DNA data used for paternity testing and criminal forensics. This specific method of testing has been shown to be grossly inaccurate for ancestry purposes, falsely identifying people on the other side of the world as having Aboriginal ancestry.

When Rachael Hocking, Warlpiri woman and host of NITV’s The Point, undertook a DNA test from one of these two companies (DNA Tribes), the results showed no Aboriginal ancestry whatsoever.

The only way a DNA test can show you are Aboriginal is through direct connection with an Aboriginal relative. If your nan is Koori, your DNA can prove she is your nan. But when it comes to identity, there’s still more to it than that.

“The Blond-Haired, Blue-Eyed Aboriginal”

According to science, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been blonde haired and blue eyed for at least 10,000 years. But even without this evidence, the colour of your skin, your eyes, your hair does not determine your Aboriginality. “Recognisable Aboriginal background” isn’t something you can simply see.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Article 33) states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions.”

Proof of Aboriginality for government purposes — in order to qualify for identified roles (such as jobs within Indigenous organisations or Indigenous-specific scholarships and programs) — is currently determined by a three-step process even more stringent than a DNA test. In fact, DNA testing alone would in no way be enough to qualify. Considering false claims are a concern, getting past these steps and walking away with a piece of paper isn’t an easy feat.

Receiving a Confirmation of Aboriginality generally requires a trip to the Local Aboriginal Land Council. You need to self-identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, first and foremost. You must also be able to prove your family lineage — this requires a family tree, not just the results of a DNA test. You have to know who you are related to. And most importantly, you must be accepted as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander by the community in which you live — or in some cases the community in which you grew up.

You can’t just claim to be Aboriginal, as Latham states. You need to have people who can claim you back, who can say “Yes, I know this person, she’s Uncle Chicka’s niece.” If no one knows who you are, you’re tough out of luck getting your certificate.

For descendants of stolen generations, organisations like LinkUp exist first and foremost to reunite families. Still, records have been lost, falsified, destroyed, and for many people finding their way home is a long and difficult journey.

Forcing People To Take DNA Tests Is A Breach Of Privacy

It’s not just about what your DNA says about you — it’s what they can do with it in the future. This is not a conspiracy theory, DNA testing companies already have terms and conditions that allow them to share your DNA profile with third parties, including pharmaceutical companies and government agencies. Forcing people to agree to these terms and conditions in order to work in their communities, or access programs is at best, completely unethical.

In the event of a data breach, your DNA profile containing private health information about you — and by extension members of your family, even without their permission — could be accessed and used to discriminate by insurance companies, employers and corrupt government officials. Hello, Black Mirror.

Blood Quantum Does Not, And Never Will, Determine Identity 

“Anyone familiar with this nation’s history will know that colonial authorities used Aboriginality — and the extent to which anybody claimed it — as a powerful mechanism of control.” Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner told the Australian Human Rights Commission back in 2011. “In fact, from colonisation onwards, it was the privileged and the powerful that controlled the labels applied to this land’s first peoples.”

Since the early days of colonisation, laws specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander were based on “blood quantum” — describing people’s Aboriginal ancestry as a percentage using the racist “caste” system — to segregate, assimilate and regulate.

When it comes to Aboriginal identity, there are no percentages.

“People herded on the basis of their skin colour; children removed from their mothers — all as part of a legislated and unabashed policy to assimilate and, ultimately, to eliminate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity.” Gooda said. Blood quantum was used as a tool in the very-well documented government-led policy to “breed out the black.”

When it comes to Aboriginal identity, there are no percentages. If you are Aboriginal, you are Aboriginal. Your hair isn’t Aboriginal, your nose, your eyes, your skin — it is all of you. It is who you are.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up less than 3 percent of the population, so you have to wonder why exactly One Nation has decided to focus on this comparatively tiny issue at this time. Even if they won, One Nation wouldn’t be able to fulfil this state-election promise, since Confirmation of Aboriginality is a federally-run program.

Add to this the fact that there is no “extra money” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,  you have to ask yourself — who is the party appealing to with this promise, and who does this discourse really benefit?


Rae Johnston is the editor of Junkee and a proud Wiradjuri woman. Follow her on Twitter @raejohnston.