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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larrymoniz's picture
Mdsal Based on his closing comment, tend to think it's more. He said: "American Indians 1, Bering Strait theory 0. Let’s keep the lead, eh?" Sounds more like a young man who's having a problem resolving traditions/religion upbringing with the possibilities that earlier teachings were wrong and, in this case, science is correct. Not an uncommon situation in which a high school graduate about to go off to college can find himself. I know I certain did, many, many moons ago. :-)
Anonymous's picture
I was raised Christian and thought that the mythology I was brought to believe was true. However after many years of studying I learned to accept science as the authority on many things that happened in the PHYSICAL world. Please don't be a fundamentalist.
Anonymous's picture
Do you not want to understand the truth about the origins of your people? what does time immemorial mean? That american indians evolved in situ, isolated from all other humans? Also you misunderstand the use of the word theory. There are good (strong) and bad theories -strong theories are where all the available data fits that theory. Weak theories have little supporting data. As more data becomes available (more genetic profiles are obtained), better understandings develop and theories are fine tuned to fit the evidence. The available data shows an origin for native americana via arrivals (seevral) of peoples across the Bering straits around 15,000 years ago. The fine details are still being worked out. Let the data speak.
carpinteyroapb's picture
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Anonymous's picture
Well we do know that native americans share similar dna to asians. So maybe they came a different way but it doesn't seem to me the professor has anything to back up saying that it didn't happened either. Everything is a theory until it can be proven other wise
Sam Harris's picture
This is nothing new, please tell me something new to hear!
Sam Harris
kellya's picture
You never knew that the "Bering Strait THEORY" was just a theory? Hmm that's weird.
RyanRittenhouse's picture
Sorry, but you don't understand science. I partially blame our deplorable education system for failing you, but you sound no better than a Christian creationist in this article. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/just-a-theory-7-misused-science-words/
Lee Hester's picture
I don't understand the big deal, everyone knows it is a theory.... additionally, it is not incompatible with my ancestors having come out of a hole in the Earth any more than the theory of evolution is incompatible with Christianity. There are scientific truths and there are mythic truths... each no less true or important. I honor the truths of my people but I also accept science.
Lee Hester
Kelly Abram's picture
..And this is what Journalism is about, these days?...Kid, ya might as well work for TMZ, and leave journalism to the pro's!
Kelly Abram