Harvard Professor Confirms Bering Strait Theory Is Not Fact

Simon Moya-Smith

It’s not every day that you get a revered professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School to publicly confirm that the Bering Strait theory is “not a fact."

Well, today I did and later I’ll celebrate over fluffy frybread, powdered sugar and rivers of bottled honey. And why not? That’s American Indian soul food, folks. Consume in moderation? Not today.

David Reich, the aforementioned professor of genetics at Harvard, called me a few minutes ago to chat about his recently published research which promulgates that American Indians immigrated in three subsequent waves to North and South America from Asia via the Bering Strait land bridge starting about, oh, 15,000 years ago.

According to GlobalPost.com, Reich and his team of “60 experts analyzed the genetic data of more than 500 individuals from 52 Native American and 17 Siberian groups looking for similarities and differences.”

What Reich and his team found, as written in the article, is that there’s a good possibility that some American Indians are the direct descendants of—wait for it—Han Chinese.

Well, I thought, the B.S. about the B.S. just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it? Yes, and sometimes you just have to sit back and watch a brutal wreck unfold and thank your stars that you had nothing to do with the catastrophe that someone will be made to explain and take full responsibility for at some point.

OK then. Back to the call:

Reich, the lead author of the research, said he was quick to buzz me back specifically because I was the first person from an American Indian publication to contact him about the study.

“Well,” I said. “This interview’s going to be a little different. I’ve got questions that a white journalist wouldn’t ask you.”

“OK,” he said with an obvious medley of confidence and concern.

“We all know the Bering Strait theory as just that—a theory,” I said. “When did people … when did scientists elevate it to fact? Is it a fact?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t think it is considered fact. I think that it’s a hypothesis about history, but no, it’s not fact.”

Just then I leapt from my chair in a sudden jolt of joy, consequently scaring the living hell out of the blonde female coffee shop-goer to my right who was, at that very moment, slurping loudly on a cappuccino. With frightened eyes she examined the wooden planks around us for a Black Widow or Brown Recluse—anything menacing that would’ve prompted me to fly from my chair like cat out of water. Once I sat back down, tempering my excitement, the lady grabbed her things and glared at me all the way to a distant table by the window.

“There’s a chance that Indians are not from Asia,” Reich continued. “So far [the Bering Strait theory] is consistent with the data, but it’s possible that it’s wrong. … Further research may prove that it’s wrong.”

I told Mr. Reich that as American Indians we’re oft bullwhipped with the hokum of the Bering Strait theory, even as early as grade school. I know I was—and as I’ve told many people, both friend and foe, it was around the time when I discovered masturbation that my school principal began calling me an “injun” over the loudspeaker every morning just before social studies with that terse teacher who loved to celebrate Columbus Day with cheap Nina, Piñta and Santa Maria cupcakes.

I thanked Reich for his time, grabbed my things and headed for Tocabe—the American Indian eatery in north Denver—to demand that Ben, the owner, fatten me up and then trundle me out. “You’re going to have to be my ride home,” I uttered to my roommate, Juan, over the phone as I hit the gas and took hairpin turns on two wheels en route to the restaurant. “I plan on clogging arteries. Yes, I’m celebrating, you buff dwarf!”

Well, enough about food and reckless driving and short-legged roommates. Right now I’m still high from Reich’s public declaration, one that bloodies the Bering Strait theory like a schlocky shill found fleecing folks in a crowd at a seedy carnival. It’s all smoke and mirrors, bub. And I have yet to encounter a single First Nation conscientious objector who buys into what Bering Strait advocates are doling out in classrooms and university lecture halls across this land … our land.

At this point in this screed I think it’s imperative for me to state that I’m not religious, but I am heavily spiritual. And I’ll continue to have faith in the creation story that was told to me as a curious kid by my elders: We Lakota have been on this land since time immemorial, which is oodles longer than 15,000 years. We emerged from the earth, a wind cave deep in the Black Hills. That’s our creation story, slick, and until theories are made facts, I’ll stick to it … or not. I’m a stubborn creature who gorges on fry bread and brazenly questions Harvard Medical academics just for kicks.

So, here’s the scoreboard: American Indians 1, Bering Strait theory 0. Let’s keep the lead, eh? Hoka.

Simon Moya-Smith is an Oglala Lakota journalist and blogger from Denver. He’ll attend Columbia University School of Journalism in the fall.

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buckwheat's picture
I agree with Ceilion. There were three major migrations from Asia with some as far back as 40-50 thousand years ago. There are three distinct linquiistics stocks here - Iroquion, Algonguion and Eskimoe. The reason European only push the date back 12 thousand is because that is when they started to come out of the caves. In other words, at the least the first two migrations here were when they were still living in the caves. Whites will not admit that, even to themselves.
forbiss's picture
Reporting evidence that theories are amiss which conjecture the Bering Strait as an indigene freeway onto Turtle Island hardly seems the real goal of this article. Instead, one can detect another oodlistic display of Moya-S's effervescent fervor to single-handedly keep the Hunter S. Thompson flame aflicker. Ergo, the editorial comments that pan style more than they salute substance. By-the-way, MoyaS, the phrase "blonde female" is rejiggerishly redundant--a usage mishap copiously committed by Juniors clearly unfit to tackle their SATs or the ACT.
tmsyr11's picture
I thought precisely the same thing! What some people say also are sometimes just general courtesies and appreciation like people holding door open for you. It isn't because your 'smart' or being a 'journalist', but certainly not being humorous. Don't take things literally....
hontasfarmer's picture
The word "fact" in science only applies to things we have observed, aka "data". Theories are testable and falsifiable explanations for why the data, "facts", are what they are and what is predicted to be found next. All theories are falsify able. The electromagnetic, and atomic theories which are the basis for the design of the computers we are using are not "facts". Yet they are true, accurate, and well tested. The same is true for the Bering straight theory. The single indisputable fact that speaks to the arrival of Amerindians over the Bering straight is this. All of the fossils of early human ancestors (Genus Homo) and pre human ancestors ( genus Australopithecus), occur in Africa, Europe and Asia. Could some bands of Homo Erectus came here on boats, as they did colonize certain islands off Asia? Sure. If they did they didn't leave much of a mark because we haven't found a shred of evidence that they lived here. We all respect the religious views of our elders and ancestors but if we are going to talk science those views have to be set aside. The fundamental truth of the idea that NDN's have been here forever is not that we have literally been here "forever", but that we were here 100X longer than anyone else. Our nations are as native to the Americas as Europeans are to Europe, or Aboriginees are to Australia.
candyo's picture
Native peoples have always been here because our homeland was paradise and we never wanted to leave it! Mother Earth gave us everything we needed to survive for years and years, as long as, we took care of it. Then, those who wanted to take what we had, came along, destroyed our food source, trespassed on our land, confiscated our resources; ie: oil, gas, waterways, timber, animals, fisheries, furs and total way of life. Took advantage of every living thing - including our people, making slaves of them. It is tragic what has happened to the Native Way of our culture. Stole our children, sending them to so-called religious schools who were run by Pedophiles and molested our children under the guise of the Vaticans domination. Some of us have survived, and we live on to tell the truth of our ancestors who were massecred at Sandcreek, sent on 1700 mile treks down the Trail of Tears to be put in stockades made for cattle. I see the destruction of Mother Earth, don't you??? Candace Mae Colbert Odom, Cheyenne/Arapaho, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache and enrolled member of a Federally, Recognized Tribe.
nightrain's picture
Anyone ever consider that the "migration" was the other way? Maybe the folk in Asian are descended from Native Americans.
darkfoxv's picture
I think it's good that people don't instantly register theory as fact, there's always room for improvement and paradigms are always being rewritten. this is about growth, & while working with a certain theory might be in favour at one time, it might not always be the case and evaluation should always be considered.
scola's picture
I have to admit that being Oglala Lakota myself (Thorpes FTW!), I was fully prepared to agree with everything Moya-Smith said…but I just can’t. Of course David Reich conceded that the Bering Strait migration is a theory. As someone mentioned before, a theory is not the same thing as a hypothesis. A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis that has been supported with repeated testing. Celebrating his "admission" as some kind of gain for Native Americans is absolutely ridiculous. I’m not the kind of person who believes that science is always right (Eugenics, anyone?), but the absolute refusal to admit that nearly EVERY ethnicity migrated to their current location is frustrating. Race is nothing but geographic variation. The first peoples of Australia most likely migrated there on boats. The first peoples of the Americas very likely walked across the Bering Strait or came down the coasts in boats. Maintaining the Lakota creation story in a world still containing other nomadic groups with similar creation stories is a beautiful thing. But it’s only part of our history. While I disagree with Reich’s timeframe (I’ve read lots of studies examining evidence that people have been in the Americas for around 30,000 years), I find his theory of subsequent migrations to the Americas very plausible. Natives have been here for a very long time. Our ties to this continent are indisputable. European Americans can’t take that away, not really. And accepting our entire history will only serve to strengthen our claim to this land. 500 years vs 30,000? That’s the real +1 in our favor.
forbiss's picture
Astonishing! In a period of 3 days, six hundred, sixty-one [661] people liked Harvard Professor Confirms Bering Strait Theory Is Not Fact. That's about 6x the number of any other ICT story this week. Guess the Bering Strait trending.
larrymoniz's picture
I'm a non-Indian author and semi-retired journalist who's frankly confused by your column. Are you saying that you refute scientific theory in favor of the Lakota religion-based theory of how Indians came to inhabit North and South America? If so, how do you reconcile the wide differences between the various nations? The Wendat believe that a sky being, similar to a human, named Aataentsic fell from the sky, was rescued by a pair of loons that deposited her on the back of a giant turtle swimming in the vast ocean that was earth. Other sea creatures scooped dirt from the sea bottom and added it to the turtle's shell eventually building a land mass on which the woman was placed where she gave birth to two sons, one evil, one good. Another woodlands nation, the Iroquois, believe in a single "Great Spirit" for their creation theory. Early Jesuit missionaries preached Roman Catholicism. With respect to the Lakota people, of which I've been a fan and enthusiast for some 60 years, isn't a scientific explanation such as the Bering Strait theory actually AT LEAST as likely as that of three American Peoples who lived less than 1,000 miles apart and had such divergent beliefs. I'm sure I could detail dozens of other differing religious beliefs. All that without even pointing out the Christian concept of Earth being created in seven days by an all powerful god who then built his faith on a Jewish virgin who underwent immaculate conception, wed a carpenter and gave birth to the son of that religion's supreme being. Then there are all the other world religions with a wide variety of differing beliefs. Essentially, I'm trying to point out that, as an aspiring journalist intent on attending a fine journalism school, you need to be impartial and not share let personal beliefs interfere with fact or disparage the beliefs of others. I suspect there are many readers of this publication who would take exception to being told the Black Hills beliefs of the Lakota are true as opposed to their traditional beliefs. As my college instructors and subsequent early editors pointed out to me: As a journalist, it's your job to report on facts and what others say about them. No one cares what your opinion is concerning the story on which you are reporting. May the god(s) of your ancestors watch over you in your future pursuits. When you move to New York to study at Columbia, please feel free to let me know. I live in Lenni Lenape country, western New Jersey, and would love to meet you for lunch and learn firsthand, more about the Lakota. Larry Moniz LarryMonizBooks.com