About Kim TallBear
In August 2015 I moved to the University of Alberta Faculty of Native Studies where I am an Associate Professor. I came to the University of Alberta to work with one of the strongest groups of Indigenous Studies scholars anywhere in the world. There are 1100 Aboriginal students at the university and many Native faculty and staff in multiple faculties on campus. In 2016, the Government of Canada awarded me a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Environment. “Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences. They improve our depth of knowledge and quality of life, strengthen Canada’s international competitiveness, and help train the next generation of highly skilled people through student supervision, teaching, and the coordination of other researchers’ work.”  I am excited to build a research and training program at the University of Alberta that is focused on indigenous peoples’ engagements with science and technology as those fields and projects serve Indigenous self-determination.
I am an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota. I am also descended from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. I was raised on the Flandreau Santee Sioux reservation in South Dakota and in St. Paul, Minnesota by my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I originally trained to become a community and environmental planner at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). From 1992-2001 I worked on various planning projects for national tribal organizations, tribal governments, federal agencies and in private consulting. I worked primarily on projects having to do with tribal government interests in nuclear waste management and on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded project to explore the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI,) for indigenous peoples of human genetic research. Realizing that my deeper intellectual interests were in the cultures and politics of science and technology and their implications for tribes and other indigenous peoples, I returned to graduate school. I completed in 2005 a Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Cruz in History of Consciousness. Working with Professors James Clifford and Donna Haraway, I wrote a dissertation exploring the concept of “Native American DNA” as an object of human population genetics research and as a focus of the Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) genetic ancestry testing industry. I taught for 18 months at Arizona State University in Tempe in the Department of American Indian Studies before spending one year as a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in both Gender & Women’s Studies and in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM) at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2008 I was hired as Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy in the ESPM Division of Society & Environment. During the 2012-13 academic year, I was a Donald D. Harrington Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin. In 2013 I accepted a position as Associate Professor of Anthropology and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) at Texas.
I study the ways in which genetic science is co-constituted with notions of race and indigeneity and I have a just published book on the subject, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. More broadly, I am interested in the historical and ongoing roles of science and technology (technoscience) in the colonization of indigenous peoples and others. Yet because tribes and other indigenous peoples insist on their status as sovereigns, I am also interested in the increasing role of technoscience in indigenous governance. How do U.S. tribes and others resist, regulate, collaborate in, and initiate research and technology development in ways that support self-governance and cultural sovereignty? What are the challenges for indigenous peoples related to science and technology, and what types of innovative work and thinking occur at the interface of technoscience and indigenous governance? Finally, how will indigenous governance of and through research and technology development affect the priorities, practices, and values of technoscientific fields? I bring into my research, collaborations, and teaching indigenous, postcolonial, and feminist science studies analyses that enable not only critique but generative thinking about the possibilities for democratizing science and technology.
In 2013, I finished a 3-year term (2010-2013) as an elected member of the Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). I am also an elected officer of the Society for Cultural Anthropology and a member of the Executive Program Committee (EPC) for the 2016 American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meeting. I am a founding member of the Advisory Board for the University of Illinois’ Institute for Genomic Biology Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING); and an Editorial Board member for the U.K.-based journal Science as Culture. I recently joined the SACNAS News Editorial Advisory Board, published by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. I have also advised the President of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) on issues related to genomics and indigenous peoples.
Oak Lake Writers 2015
As for knowledge production outside the academy, I am a member of the Oak Lake Writers, a group of Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota (Oceti Sakowin) writers. I am also Content Editor of our Web page: www.oaklakewriters.org. We meet annually at the Oak Lake Field Station in southeastern South Dakota. Our works include This Stretch of the River (2006), a collection of memoirs, historical and critical essays, and poems. The volume documents Oceti Sakowin relationships with Mnisose (the Missouri River) and other rivers in our historic homelands, especially in the wake of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition. Our collection, He Sapa Woihanble (Black Hills Dream), was released in August 2011 by Living Justice Press (St. Paul, MN). This volume documents Oceti Sakowin peoples’ ongoing relationships with He Sapa or the Black Hills.
I write mostly within the confines of the academic social sciences and humanities, but my time with the Oak Lake Writers has prompted two important developments in my work. I developed a conversational method of knowledge production, the “dialogue,” that served as the basis for a multi-authored piece in This Stretch of the River. The method looped back to inform my social science work as I seek to build knowledge collaboratively with community members, scientists, and others that I might study. The Oak Lake Writers have also inspired me to take up in creative prose format my favorite academic topic, technoscientific cultural politics. That piece, Posts from en Route, is published in the Black Hills volume.
The co-constitution of human genome diversity research, concepts, and practices with concepts of race, indigeneity, and indigenous governance of science
This is my longest standing project and has resulted in a monograph, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, forthcoming in fall 2013 with the University of Minnesota Press. The book treats the politics of race and “population” that inform contemporary genome research on indigenous populations, particularly how different parties (scientists themselves, DNA test consumers, and family tree researchers) use DNA concepts to re-script concepts of Native American identity and history. The book ends with a look at how Native American tribes and Canadian Aboriginal peoples have sought to govern genome science research thus producing innovative bioethical interventions. I also advise multiple scientists and biomedical ethics centers on genomics and indigenous peoples’ governance. In addition to the forthcoming book, this research resulted in several peer reviewed publications and op-ed pieces with one more forthcoming. In addition, I’ve presented several dozen talks on this research at universities; science museums; at humanities, social science and genome science conferences; and to tribal government and program staff at locations across the U.S. and Canada, and in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.
As part of this project, I was co-principal investigator with Jenny Reardon (Sociology and the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering, UC-Santa Cruz) and Rebecca Tsosie (College of Law, Arizona State University) on a National Science Foundation-funded workshop, Genomics, Governance, and Indigenous Peoples held at Arizona State University in November, 2008. Based on that workshop, Reardon, Andrés Barragán (UC Davis Anthropology), and I are building a Web resource, also called Genomics, Governance, and Indigenous Peoples (GGIP), that draws together concerned scholars and scientists situated in various fields (science and technology studies, anthropology, environmental science and policy, gender studies, genetics, sociology) who are interested in fostering analysis and discussion about the social, political repercussions of genomic research. The GGIP site seeks to assist indigenous peoples around the world by providing critical and independent commentary and relevant information on emerging forms of biotechnology affecting their cultural specificity and rights.
Constituting knowledges across cultures of expertise and tradition: indigenous bio-scientists
Indigenous peoples respond in diverse ways to bio-science research depending on the particular questions asked, and the methods and histories of those fields. Sometimes they resist inquiry that they view as in conflict with their values. In the U.S. and Canada, our research sites, indigenous peoples also regulate research, make property claims on scientific data, and require certain benefits in return for granting researchers access to communities. Native American tribes show interest in initiating/funding genomic research in order to bolster their intellectual and governance capacities. Tribes emphasize and fund training in science and technology fields in order to build capacity that is necessary for self-governance and community flourishing. Accordingly, Native Americans and Canadian First Nation individuals train in technoscientific fields, thus potentially supporting indigenous self governance by diversifying (with bodies and ideas) the fields that impact their lives.
Joining me in this research are two of my lab members, Hekia Bodwitch and Theodore Grudin. We investigate indigenous genome scientists as agents in the democratization of genome science fields using archival and ethnographic methods. Because they facilitate or challenge indigenous genome scientists’ roles as knowledge producers at the intersection of genomics and indigenous governance, tribal regulators, cultural experts, and community members will also be a focus of research, especially as they address the intersections of genomics with both indigenous “traditional” and bureaucratized ways of knowing. Subjects are drawn from fields to which indigenous peoples and governments are connected; they include basic human population genetics research (i.e. on human migrations and evolutionary questions), biomedical research, and other areas of genetic and biological research. Indigenous scientists are still few in number and they work with non-indigenous collaborators who also broker knowledge and opportunities for scientific inquiry between the laboratory and the tribe. Thus we will also focus on non-indigenous scientists’ roles in integrating scientific practices, priorities, and values into indigenous governance.This research is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its Science, Technology, and Society Program.
Indigenous, feminist, and queer theory approaches to critical “animal studies” and new materialisms
I have also recently begun to theorize in the area of indigenous, feminist, and queer theory approaches to animal studies and new materialisms. Last year, I co-organized with the Science, Technology, and Society Center at UC Berkeley a symposium on indigenous and other new approaches to animal studies. I was also part of another UC Berkeley symposium last year on New Materialisms where I did a talk on the role of indigenous thought. Both symposia helped mark a space for the role of indigenous thought in these related and burgeoning areas of contemporary social theory and new ethnographic practices.The recent move to “multi-species ethnography” applies anthropological approaches to studying humans and their relations with nonhumans–beings such as dogs, bears, cattle, monkeys, bees, mushrooms, and microorganisms. Such work is both methodologically and ethically innovative in that it highlights how organisms’ livelihoods are co-constituted with cultural, political, and economic forces.
But the field has starting points that only partially contain indigenous standpoints. Indigenous peoples have never forgotten that nonhumans are agential beings engaged in social relations that profoundly shape human lives. In addition, for many indigenous peoples, their nonhuman others may not be understood in even critical western frameworks as living. “Objects” and “forces” such as stones, thunder, or stars are known within our ontologies to be sentient and knowing persons (this is where new materialisms intersects animal studies). Indigenous approaches also critique settler colonialism and its management of nonhuman others. These and other newer approaches clearly link violence against animals to violence against particular humans who have historically been linked to a less-than-human or animal status. I hope to do fieldwork in summer 2013 at the Pipestone National Monument to investigate Dakota and other indigenous peoples’ relations with and practices related to quarrying and carving pipestone. The monument in southwest Minnesota is the world’s primary location for quarrying this soft red stone that is used to make ceremonial pipes, a central object for the Oceti Sakowin (Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota) religion. In addition to being an ethnographic and theoretical project that casts an indigenous ontological frame onto the concept of “new materialisms,” I will also engage issues and literature related to climate change and its implications for the integrity of this sacred and internationally important site.
Indigenous thought and the politics of nature and sexuality
Following conversations with critical animal studies and new materialisms scholarly communities, I have most recently become interested in the overlap between constructions of “nature” and “sexuality.” This includes a foray into “queer ecologies” literature (which will increasingly inform my graduate teaching) that queers environmental scholarship, and conversely, greens queer theory. I throw into the mix a greening of indigenous queer theory. As I challenge Western politics of nature, it has become clear that I cannot avoid a similar analysis of sexuality. Nature and sex have both been defined according to a nature/culture divide. With the rise of scientific authority and management approaches, both sex and nature were rendered as discrete, coherent, troublesome, yet manageable objects. Both are at the heart of struggles involving ideas of purity and contamination, life and death, but which only scientifically trained experts or rational subjects (read historically white, Western men) have been seen as fit to name, manage, and to set the terms of legitimate encounter. There are common challenges to democratizing the science and representations surrounding both concepts. As with the growing academic conversation about new materialisms, indigenous thought has something to offer theoretical discussions of the politics of sex and nature.
I am in the preliminary stages of developing a plan to conduct humanities-based and ethnographic inquiry around this topic. I am interested in how indigenous stories speak of social relations with nonhumans, and how such relations, although they sometimes approach what we in the West would call “sex,” are not cohered into “sexuality” as we know it in Western modernity. Traditional stories also portray nonhuman persons in ways that do not adhere to another meaningful modern category, the “animal.” They feature relationships in which human and nonhuman persons, and nonhuman persons between themselves, harass and trick one another; save one another from injury or death; prey upon, kill, and sometimes eat one another; or collaborate with one another. Indigenous traditional stories avoid the hierarchical nature/culture and animal/human split that has enabled domineering human management, naming, controlling, and “saving” of nature. I expect that such theoretical work in indigenous environmental and sexuality studies will link back to support applied thinking about how to democratize environmental science practices and regulation, as I believe my social theoretical work around the genome sciences has helped construct new bioethical frameworks that incorporate indigenous thought, both “traditional” and “modern.”
Native American DNA
Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science
How identifying Native Americans is vastly more complicated than matching DNA
Because today’s DNA testing seems so compelling and powerful, increasing numbers of Native Americans have begun to believe their own metaphors: “in our blood” is giving way to “in our DNA.” In Native American DNA, Kim TallBear shows how Native American claims to land, resources, and sovereignty that have taken generations to ratify may be seriously—and permanently—undermined.
Reporters, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to interview me, or for recommendations for others to interview. Also below are links to select news and magazine articles, television and radio shows, and podcasts for which I’ve been interviewed and that relate to my areas of research. I write, blog, tweet, and speak on/to topics including:
- genetics and Native Americans
- genetics and race
- genetic research ethics
- science, technology, and Indigenous culture
- Indigenous peoples and race
- Indigenous feminism & science
- Indigenous & (de)colonial sexualities
- Colonialism, marriage, and (non)monogamy
Photos for use by media and for other publicity
Kim TallBear is an Associate Professor, Faculty of Native Studies and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience & Environment, University of Alberta. She is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor TallBear is the author of one monograph, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), which won the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association First Book Prize. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays published by the Oak Lake Writers, a Dakota and Lakota tribal writers’ society in the USA. Professor TallBear has written nearly two-dozen academic articles and chapters published in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Sweden. She also writes for the popular press and has published in venues such as BuzzFeed, Indian Country Today, and GeneWatch. She is a frequent blogger on issues related to Indigenous peoples, science, and technology. Professor TallBear is a frequent commentator in the media on issues related to Indigenous peoples and genomics including interviews in New Scientist, New York Times, Native America Calling, National Geographic, Scientific American, The Atlantic, and on NPR, CBC News and BBC World Service. Professor TallBear has advised science museums across the United States on issues related to race and science. She also advised the former President of the American Society for Human Genetics on issues related to genetic research ethics with Indigenous populations. She is a founding ethics faculty member in the Summer internship for INdigenous Peoples in Genomics (SING), and has served as an advisor to programs at genome ethics centers at Duke University and Stanford University. She is also an advisory board member of the Science & Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Professor TallBear was an elected council member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) from 2010-2013. She is co-producer of an Edmonton sexy storytelling show, Tipi Confessions, which serves as a research-creation laboratory at the University of Alberta on issues related to decolonization and Indigenous sexualities. She is a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota and is also descended from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
TallBear, Kim. “Dear Indigenous Studies, It’s Not Me, It’s You. Why I Left and What Needs to Change.” In Aileen Moreton-Robinson, ed. Critical Indigenous Studies: Engagements in First World Locations. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016: 69-82.
TallBear, Kim. “Dossier: Theorizing Queer Inhumanisms: An Indigenous Reflection on Working Beyond the Human/Not Human,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol. 21(2-3), 2015: 230-235.
TallBear, Kim. “Indigenous Scientists Constitute Knowledge across Cultures of Expertise and Tradition: An Indigenous Standpoint Research Project.” RE: MINDINGS: Co-Constituting Indigenous/Academic/Artistic Knowledges, edited by Johan Gärdebo, May-Britt Öhman, and Hiroshi Maryuama. Uppsala Multiethnic Papers 55. The Hugo Valentin Centre, Uppsala University, Uppsala, 2014: 173-191.
L. Noel, D. C. Hamilton, A. Rodriguez, A. James, N. Rich, D.S. Edmunds, and K. TallBear. “Bitter Medicine is Stronger: A Recipe for Acorn Mush and the Recovery of Pomo Peoples of Northern California.” The Multispecies Salon, edited by Eben Kirksey. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014: 154-163.
TallBear, Kim. “Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry [Research note].” Journal of Research Practice, 10(2), 2014.
TallBear, Kim. “The Emergence, Politics, and Marketplace of Native American DNA.” The Routledge Handbook of Science, Technology, and Society, eds. Daniel Lee Kleinman and Kelly Moore. London: Routledge, 2014: 21-37.
Edmunds, David S., Ryan Shelby, Angela James, Lenora Steele, Michelle Baker, Yael Valerie Perez, and Kim TallBear. “Tribal Housing, Co-Design & Cultural Sovereignty.” Science, Technology & Human Values 38 (6) (2013): 801-828.
TallBear, Kim. “Genomic Articulations of Indigeneity.” Social Studies of Science 43(4) (August 2013): 509-534.
Reardon, Jenny and Kim TallBear. “Your DNA is Our History.” Genomics, Anthropology, and the Construction of Whiteness as Property.” Current Anthropology53(S12) (April 2012): S233-S245.
TallBear, Kimberly. “Commentary” (on Decoding Implications of the Genographic Project for Archaeology and Cultural Heritage). International Journal of Cultural Property 16 (2009): 189-192.
TallBear, Kimberly. “DNA and Native American Identity.” In indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas, ed. Gabrielle Tayac. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, 2009: 69-75.
Lee, S. S-J., D. Bolnick, T. Duster, P. Ossorio, and K. TallBear. The Illusive Gold Standard in Genetic Ancestry Testing. Science 325 (5943) (July 3, 2009): 38-39.
TallBear, Kimberly. “Native-American-DNA.coms: In Search of Native American Race and Tribe,” Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age, edited by Barbara Koenig, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, and Sarah Richardson. Rutgers University Press, 2008.
Bolnick, Deborah A., Duana Fullwiley, Troy Duster, Richard S. Cooper, Joan H. Fujimura, Jonathan Kahn, Jay Kaufman, Jonathan Marks, Ann Morning, Alondra Nelson, Pilar Ossorio, Jenny Reardon, Susan M. Reverby, and Kimberly TallBear. “The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry,” Science, 318(5849) (October 19, 2007): 399-400.
TallBear, Kimberly. “Narratives of Race and Indigeneity in the Genographic Project,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Vol. 35(3) (Fall 2007): 412-424.
TallBear, Kimberly. “DNA, Blood and Racializing the Tribe,” In ‘Mixed Race’ Studies: A Reader, edited by Jayne O. Ifekwunige. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. First published in Wicazo Sá Review Vol. 18(1) (2003): 81-107.
TallBear, Kim. “Beyond the Life/Not Life Binary: A Feminist-Indigenous Reading of Cryopreservation, Interspecies Thinking and the New Materialisms.” In Joanna Radin and Emma Kowal, eds., Cryopolitics. Cambridge: MIT Press, forthcoming. 2017.
TallBear, Kim. “Beyond the Life/Not Life Binary: A Feminist-Indigenous Reading of Cryopreservation, Interspecies Thinking and the New Materialisms.” In Joanna Radin and Emma Kowal, eds., Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017: 179-202.
TallBear, Kim. “Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry.” In Chris Andersen and Jean O’Brien. Methods in Indigenous Studies. University of Minnesota Press, 2017: 78-85.
Banu Subramaniam, Laura Foster, Sandra Harding, Deboleena Roy, and Kim TallBear. “Feminism, Postcolonialism, Technoscience.” In Ulrike Felt, Rayvon Fouché, Clark A. Miller and Laurel Smith-Doerr, eds. The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Fourth Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017: 407-433.