About Kim TallBear
I am a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in present day South Dakota, USA through my maternal line. I am also eligible for citizenship through my maternal grandfather in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in present day Oklahoma. I was raised on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe reservation in South Dakota where many of my maternal relatives also reside, and in St. Paul, Minnesota by my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
In August 2015, I immigrated to Canada to take up a position as Professor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. I came to the University of Alberta to work with one of the strongest groups of Indigenous Studies scholars anywhere in the world. In 2016, the Government of Canada awarded me a Tier II Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Environment. In 2021, I was awarded a Tier I CRC in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Society. Along with colleagues in my Indigenous Science, Technology, and Society (I-STS) research group, including my co-PI Dr. Jessica Kolopenuk, I am building 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 sovereignty.
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 US-based tribes and other Indigenous peoples, I returned to graduate school. In 2005, I completed 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.
For two decades, I have studied how genetic science is co-constituted with notions of race and Indigeneity. My monograph on the subject is titled Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (2013). 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 in the US 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 other Indigenous peoples resist, regulate, collaborate in, and initiate research and technology development in ways that support Indigenous governance? 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, does Indigenous governance of and through research and technology development influence the priorities, practices, and values of technoscientific fields? My research, collaborations and teaching draw on Indigenous, anti-colonial, feminist, and queer science studies analyses that enable not only critique but generative thinking about the possibilities for decolonizing science and technology. From 2010-2013, I served as an elected member of the Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). I have also served as a member of the Executive Program Committee (EPC) for the 2016 American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meeting and an organizer of the “Unsettling Science” plenary panels at the 2021 Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) annual meeting. I am a founding member of the Advisory Board for the University of Illinois’ Institute for Genomic Biology Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) USA. and have also advised the President of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) on issues related to genomics and Indigenous peoples. In 2018, I co-founded the Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) Canada.
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. Our works include This Stretch of the River (2006 and 2022), 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.
In the last decade, in addition to studying genomics and other scientific and technological disruptions and challenges to Indigenous lands, self-definitions, and governance, I have turned my attention to colonial disruptions to Indigenous sexual and kin relations. I have published and spoken widely on the role of compulsory marriage, monogamy, and heterosexuality in relation to private property in settler-colonialism in the US and Canada. In 2015, I co-founded the Edmonton-based sexy storytelling and cabaret show Tipi Confessions with co-producers Kirsten Lindquist and Dr. Tracy Bear. You can learn more about the show on our web page or by listening to this fantastic interview with Rosanna Deerchild from CBC’s Unreserved.
Finally, I am a widely-known public intellectual and commentator on Indigenous peoples, science, sexuality, and environmental topics in both global academic and popular media outlets. You can follow my latest contributions to public discourse on all of the aforementioned topics on my Substack newsletter, Unsettle: Indigenous Affairs, Cultural Politics & (De)colonization, on the podcast, Media Indigena with host Rick Harpwhere I have been a regular panelist since 2017, and on Twitter @KimTallBear.
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.
Faculty of Native Studies
2-31 Pembina Hall
University of Alberta
Canada T6G 2H8
Direct line: 780-492-9633
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 (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) (she/her) is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Society, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta. She is the author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. In addition to studying genome science disruptions to Indigenous self-definitions, Dr. TallBear studies colonial disruptions to Indigenous sexual relations. She is a regular panelist on the weekly podcast, Media Indigena. You can follow her research group at https://indigenoussts.com/. She tweets @KimTallBear. You can also follow her monthly posts on her Substack newsletter, Unsettle: Indigenous affairs, cultural politics & (de)colonization.