DNA: the Diaspora of Native Americans

my ongoing email campaign to unify Native America

DNA: A genetics of aesthetics: Is there any such thing?

Tracks of the little deer in San Francisco
      Following is the email I have been circulating as a conceptual performance. At its core is the right to identify with your own DNA. I do believe that Native America can use this metric to create a common ground and a common voice. If governments may use DNA testing to convict and condemn, they certainly may allow those of Native American blood to consolidate as a group using the same technology! Let me know what you think: My email address is shown below.

      I am a conceptual artist working on an essay and I need to know what you think about a certain line of thought. DNA: mine, yours, ours, and theirs is the topic. Let me explain. Some of you know my fine art photography through my gallery shows in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, others through my exhibitions at the Sacred Circle Gallery in Seattle and the Native American Community House in New York City. Not all of you know that I am an urban Indian, born in San Francisco. That was 1954. My family stories include scandalous rumors about Apaches in New Mexico where my mother was born, and more factual bits about the Aleut village where my father was born, however, I was raised without roots in these communities. I have never felt the sway of a tribal affiliation; something inside compels me to resist Eurocentric bias. The simple fact is, I am drawn to the desert and to the ocean. And I am drawn more toward Asian ways, were one to ask about foreign preferences.

      How about you? How does your blood-line shape your point of view?

      Given my fuzzy family history, I was forever wondering. A year ago the opportunity presented itself to analyze my DNA. I did not think twice about doing it; I wanted to know what story my blood might tell. The DNA analysis confirmed that I am likely 50+%, and at least 28%, Native American and East Asian as one might expect given Apache & Aleut ancestors. After a while I noticed that since the DNA test an uncertainty has vanished, allowing me to look inside myself with more clarity. Now I find myself considering the genetics of my aesthetics. Is there any such thing? When I think of myself as directed by my blood, my long held preferences make perfect sense. What do you think about this, all of it, the wisdom of genetic testing, the wisdom of an individual doing this? Not everyone thinks these tests are a good idea. I'm not sure myself. Not long ago, I mentioned having done this DNA test to several German artists who were visiting California. They freaked out. They were horrified that I should dare to define myself by any sort of measurement. It frightened them. Given European social history I can appreciate why this might make them nervous.

      Clearly, perceived differences do guide people and their policies. Native Americans have felt the sharp end of this stick for five hundred years.

      Once again, Americans are obsessed with keeping our Diaspora of Native Americans at bay. Language is made an issue when Spanish versus English seems a red herring. Our blood is the real issue. Whether we come to speak Spanish or English, we are brown before we learn any language. I submit that once the Diaspora of Native Americans embraces this genetic common ground, only then can Native People coalesce and Native Wisdom return to guide. The question is, can DNA testing allow people to better understand themselves as part of a group? Might DNA testing serve to consolidate Native American solidarity, for instance? Or is this simply too dangerous to consider? Fortunately, Wikipedia offers thoughtful discussions of Genetic Memory and other Epigenetic issues. For instance, Wikipedia states that: "In psychology, genetic memory is a memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time. It is based on the idea that common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code, not by a Lamarckian process that encodes specific memories but by a much vaguer tendency to encode a readiness to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli." Let me know what you think.

      Here's one way to look at the larger issues by considering one small aspect. Ask yourself, should a DNA test proving Native American parentage entitle an artist to equal consideration by the curators of venues currently reserved for artists with formal tribal affiliations? Yes or No? Let me know your answer.

      Please note that while I am sending this call for comments to 200+ artists, writers, curators, legal experts, and editors, many of them Native American, this will not reach everyone who might like to weigh in on these issues. Feel free to forward this email to other interested parties.

Sally Larsen,

send email to sally AT sallylarsen DOT com

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