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Harvard Professor Confirms Bering Strait Theory Is Not Fact

Simon Moya-Smith
7/31/12

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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larrymoniz's picture
Nightrain apparently doesn't understand that familial traditions and customs evolve over time and as differing products become available. I can't imagine any native American sewing with a bone needle and sinew (unless for Powwow attire, rather than a good steel needle and strong thread. :-)
larrymoniz
larrymoniz's picture
He's young and eager. Admirable traits, but he still has a lot to learn about journalism. Columbia will be a fine start. I just hope that by the time he graduates there are still true journalism jobs out there. I never became rich as a journalist, but after more than 45 years as a writer, I can think of few more intellectually rewarding fields for anyone to follow as their life's work.
larrymoniz
larrymoniz's picture
Some of us do. But generally speaking, you are correct.
larrymoniz
larrymoniz's picture
Wow, some sweeping generalizations there including some that are quite accurate. Europeans came to the North American continent in search of riches. They found them beyond their wildest beliefs in the forms of abundant natural resources and vast spaces on which to displace native Americans and settle. But, and this may be my own ignorance on the topic, I've never heard of the religious schools of the 1800s and 1900s being accused of pedophilia activities. Attempts at wiping out knowledge of their tribal cultures? Absolutely. Slavery? Few if any native Americans were ever held as slaves, to my knowledge, but various tribes DID enslave those from other tribes for the same reasons as did whites in the various states -- economics.
larrymoniz
larrymoniz's picture
That's a scary thought. From a personal viewpoint, the various cultures from the Inuit to the Aztec are far more interesting than those of East Asia. :-)
larrymoniz
skinu's picture
YES IN MY PEOPLES CREATION STORIES ALL PEOPLE AND LIFE STARTED HERE,IF PEOPLE WOULD DROP THAT EUROPEAN THINKING THAT IF ITS NOT WROTE DOWN THEN IT CAN'T BE TRUE!!!I TEACH THROUGHOUT SKIN COUNTRY AND WILL SAY THIS THE ONLY ONES EVER COME UP AND SAY IM A EXPERT ON YOU PEOPLE HAVE BLOND/BLUE.SOUNDS LIKE MOST "INDIANS" WHO COMMENT ARE ABOUT TO FALL INTO THE GREAT AMERICAN SLOP POT.A WHITEMAN EDUCATION IS A PLUS BUT CANT EVEN TOUCH WHAT THE OLD FOLKS TAUGHT ME...HOW COULD IT THEIR ED. IS ALL ASSUMED BUT NOT LIVED FROM DAY ONE!!!
skinu
larrymoniz's picture
Actually, the American Indians' claim to the land by right of possession can be as simple as the admissions by Champlain and his Jesuit Missionaries that the various native American tribes were all here and in place before the European explorers arrived.
larrymoniz
marklaroux's picture
Larry Moniz, (ref your earlier comment) Plenty of native Americans were slaves over the years. In fact, some of my ancestors were Lipan Apache slaves that were 'brought east' to escape what Texas was doing to them.
marklaroux
mdsal's picture
It appears most of the commentators to this article are simply missing the point. I think what Moya-Smith's article, quite adeptly I would argue, is referring to is the simple fact that scientific knowledge, and its institutionalized presence within the educational system, has often become a form of dominance. Michel Foucault famously characterized this process of knowledge implantation as a distributive one. When I was in high school in the 90s I can remember a lengthy discussion, alongside a detailed description in the front of my text book, during Biology class about the nature of theory and its underlining, always present but not always acknowledged, uncertainties. This was particularly brought up in reference to evolution, since the parents in my town were concerned that a full endorsement would undermine their own religious beliefs. The same sort of deference and acknowledged positionality of science's role in politics should be given to the non-dominant communities. No child should be berated for holding a worldview, whether Bering Strait or Evolution, that are contrary to what science's best guess is at the moment. Is Bering Strait possible? Sure. Is it certain? No, and no one should be hailed as a heretic for stating otherwise. Our societies violent history that has always traveled alongside scientific discovery has implications for our current ways of interpreting and sanctioning knowledge.
mdsal
larrymoniz's picture
Mark, Your Lipan ancestors were slaves in Texas? Were the slave owners white or Native American? It was not something I was familiar with except for tribes that would make war and enslave captives, but I recently acquired an eBook (still unread) that asserts some Southern U.S. Indians "owned" other native Americans as slaves and signed a compact with the Confederacy to help fight against the Union in the Civil War. I've not pursued that line of inquiry because It's not germaine to my research on the Wendat. But it would make an interesting research premise for a future book. (Provided I live long enough.)
larrymoniz

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