Best DNA Test For Native American Ancestry

April 6, 2017

There are numerous reasons why someone would want to take a DNA test to confirm Native American ancestry. Most commonly, people expect to receive some sort of financial assistance after they prove their Native American heritage. Other reasons include wanting to find and join an ancestral tribe or honor hidden and persecuted ancestors. Some people simply want to know the truth or undo some of the wrongs from the past. Regardless of specific reasons, people are willing to tap into their DNA in order to find lost information and complete the puzzle of their genetic origins. Our today’s blog will start off by providing a list of our top DNA ancestry testing solutions for your genetic exploration. Then, we’ll disperse some popular myths and misconceptions associated with Native American origins and DNA testing. Finally, we’ll talk about the types of DNA tests and ultimately go over the potential scope and limits of DNA testing.

The DNA tests offered by the companies recommended in this article cannot be used to legally establish Native American ancestry. The tests can be used to confirm Native American ancestry and determine the validity of the decision to pursue tribal enrollment.
Ancestry-Best DNA Test For Native American

Our Recommendations 

Here’s our list of your top options for a successful and reliable confirmation of your Native American ancestry:

  • AncestryDNA is still more focused on genealogical research than genetic analysis. We would recommend it as an excellent tool to complement your genetic exploration but not as a stand-alone test to prove Native American heritage.
  • Family Tree DNA– Apart from the standard autosomal, Y-chromosome, and mitochondrial DNA testing, Family Tree DNA also runs a project specifically dedicated to uncovering Native American heritage.
  • 23andMe This company offers traditional autosomal testing with admixture percentages. You can also receive health-related results for an extra fee. Their paternal and maternal haplogroups, however, are less accurate than the ones offered by Family Tree DNA or National Geographic’s Genographic Project.
  • National Geographic’s Genographic Project 2.0 – This is the youngest test in this group but goes deeper into the past than other tests. You’ll be able to check Native American heritage on both sides of your family and even get anthropological results.

Dispersing The Myths

There are many enticing myths regarding Native Americans and DNA testing and here are some of the most popular ones:

Native Americans Get Free College

This is not true by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes, individual tribes might offer scholarships and grants for their official members. There isn’t any law granting college financial relief to particular Native American tribes.

Joining A Tribe Is Easy

Even if your ancestors belonged to a certain tribe, you cannot join that tribe automatically. Native American tribes are sovereign nations and they have full discretion in determining their membership criteria. They usually set a so-called “blood quantum,” which represents the required percentage of native blood. You may also have to document your connection to a certain tribal member, which adds a genealogical note to this endeavor.

DNA Testing Also Reveals My Tribe

Ancestry DNA tests will be able to show your Native American origins and even isolate your direct paternal or maternal lines if you perform Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA testing as opposed to autosomal. On the other hand, DNA tests will only be able to infer your specific tribe in some cases. Tribes have changed their names and locations over the years and science has a tough time trying to catch up. Furthermore, the database of Native Americans who have performed ancestry DNA tests still remains rather small and scattered across different DNA testing companies

Testing Types Of Native American DNA

Types Of Native American DNA Testing

There are no specific subgroups of DNA tests designed for Native American ancestry. Similar to Jewish or any other origins, you have the following tests at our disposal:

  • Autosomal testing – This type of testing checks your “autosomal chromosomes,” meaning pairs 1-22. It will confirm or negate Native American genetic heritage, but it will not pinpoint the family line with Native American genes.
  • Y-chromosome testing (direct paternal line) – This test, which is used to explore your paternal line, is only available to males since females don’t have the Y chromosome.
  • Mitochondrial testing (direct maternal line) – Mitochondrial DNA is used to explore potential Native American heritage in your maternal family tree.

The Reach Of DNA Testing

It is essential to be perfectly aware of the overall reach of DNA testing when it comes to practical applications like tribal membership or obtaining certain certificates. If your family lore suggests Native American heritage, performing an autosomal DNA test is just the first step in discovering your family history and obtaining legal proof of your findings.

Most tribes do not accept DNA testing as viable proof of heritage, which means you’ll definitely have to complement your biological results with a substantial amount of genealogical evidence. In other words, DNA test results will only reveal potential Native American heritage and tell you whether you should pursue legal recognition or not.

If your personal report connects you to a Native American ancestor, you can start collecting genealogical sources to document that connection. A good place to begin your quest is the US Department of the Interior’s “A Guide to Tracing American Indian & Alaska Native Ancestry,” which explains the overall process of documenting your Native American lineage and tells you where to start looking.

On the other hand, if you’re performing the test solely to satisfy your personal curiosity, you won’t have to complement your final report with any additional data. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to pinpoint your exact Native American progenitor without establishing a clear genealogical path. 

Common Misconceptions

There are two common misconceptions when it comes to Native American DNA testing. One of them erroneously points out the “frequent false positives and negatives” while the other claims that DNA testing limits the sovereign authority of the tribe leaders to accept or deny membership to potential applicants.

When it comes to the alleged false positives and negatives, we have to understand how DNA is passed from ancestors to later generations. Namely, every person with even a single Native American ancestor in their family tree will have Native American ancestry. However, they might not have Native American DNA.

Only half of our DNA signature is passed down to our children, which creates the possibility of losing DNA from any given ancestor at any given point. Consequently, the closer the ancestors, the more likely it is that we still have some of their DNA. For example, if your great-grandmother has 25% of Native American DNA, your original Native American progenitor was your great-great-great-grandparent. In this scenario when 12.5% of your DNA signature comes from your great-grandmother, there’s still a chance that you may have inherited some of her Native American DNA. Note that the amount can be so small that modern DNA tests won’t even register it. However, technically, you’re not losing much in a practical sense since no tribe would accept you as a member anyway with such a low percentage of Native American DNA.

When it comes to limiting the sovereign authority of tribal leaders, this is definitely a fallacy since most of them can deny you membership even if you establish a direct connection to one or more tribal ancestors. On the other hand, we don’t see any reasons why tribal chiefs wouldn’t accept a proven descendant of their tribe so this argument falls flat on numerous fronts. 


After going over some of the best DNA tests for native American ancestry, dispersing the most common myths and misconceptions about these tests, and explaining the overall reach of these solutions, we believe it is quite clear that DNA testing is the necessary first step in discovering your potential Native American heritage and establishing a reliable path to your ancestors.

As long as you are aware of their limitations, at-home DNA tests are excellent tools that’ll save you a lot of time and money you would generally waste on following paper trails that lead nowhere. Bottom line, a genetic examination is a precursor to genealogical research that tells you whether there’s something to find in the first place.

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