June 21, 2021

Native American DNA Test | 3 things to know before buying

If you are considering buying a Native American DNA test kit, there are some very important things you should know before you get started!
Tomohiro Takano

While DNA analysis for Native Americans differs slightly from tests that connect with other ethnicities and, sometimes, have also caused controversy, they remain the leading way for you to connect to your history. In this post, we provide you with everything that you should know before you buy these types of tests. We offer you the best recommendations in DNA testing kits and DNA upload sites to try immediately to find out if you do share Native American DNA.

1. DNA Test vs Tribe Identity

For a basic understanding of where you came from and how your ancestors migrated around the world, test kits for Native American DNA analysis are undoubtedly a powerful tool. For example, most ethnicity estimates will tell you where their family came from, how your family may have migrated over time, and if they have any living relatives they can connect with.

If those are your only goals for getting a DNA test, then congratulations! DNA test kits will be one of the most informative tools in your genetic history. Right away, they can tell you a great deal about the different ethnic groups that contribute to your DNA (i.e. 50% France, 25% Japan, and 25% Germanic Europe).

Don’t make the same mistakes others have after taking a DNA test for Native Americans. Just because you have German ancestry won’t automatically make you a German citizen.

The same caveat applies if your DNA test shows that you have Native American ancestry. It won’t automatically make you \ Native American nor make you eligible for tribal enrollment. Tribal Identity or membership to the many Native American tribes isn’t determined by your DNA. Instead, it is determined by a sovereign tribal council based on your participation in and contributions to Native American culture. A DNA test will not make you a member of any federally recognized Native American tribe.

The United States has already seen the start of this dilemma play out in its national politics. Remember the infamous Elizabeth Warren DNA testing story? If DNA tests for Native American ancestry can’t make you eligible for anything special, then why take a DNA test at all? What does a Native American DNA test actually tell you?

What a “Native American” DNA test actually tells you…

A DNA analysis for Native Americans will not tell you if you are related to the Cherokee Nation, the Apaches, the Navajo, or any other specific tribal group. The truth is, many DNA test companies will stop short at simply making the broad declaration that you share American Indian ancestry or Indigenous American ancestry, the latter which covers all Native American identities and is non-specific.

Keep in mind that while DNA matches to tribe members may be significant to help you trace your genetic ancestry, genomics alone is never enough to prove a tribal membership. The truth is most Native American DNA analysis tests currently on the market are sampled from a tiny number of Native American populations.

Since Native American groups all descended from populations that migrated out of Asia tens of thousands of years ago, a majority of groups still keep some shared genetic material. This is sometimes what ethnicity estimates report as Asian ancestry or Indian ancestry. Meanwhile, each individual tribe has likewise developed on its own course since then. As a result, when it concerns a DNA test for Native Americans, it becomes nearly impossible to narrow down your particular relationship beyond this broad, millennium-long history to specific Native American ancestors.

This is because DNA testing companies actually have very few DNA samples from members of genuine Native American tribes. As you can see, most ancestry DNA test results group Native Americans as a subpopulation that has recently expanded from Asia. Unfortunately, no matter the number of customers a company has, it remains unlikely they will ever have a good enough sample population from specific tribes. And the reason is simple.

Because of centuries of exploitation, Native Americans are understandably more than a little reluctant to give their DNA to large testing companies. By using actual Native American DNA, these companies would undoubtedly start offering “tribe-specific” Native American DNA test kits and make a great deal of money. Unfortunately, none of the money would go to the tribes. A larger consequence would be that white people all over the country could start claiming “Native American heritage” and further confuse tribal identities and complicate its process. Each tribe regulates the process of tribal membership and is absolutely independent of the federal government.

What DNA Testing Companies Say about Native American Ancestry

Despite the circumstances described above, most genetic testing companies still offer DNA analysis for Native Americans ancestry testing, but have experienced a large shift in the language they used to describe these tests.

For example, AncestryDNA tries to explain the distinction between heritage and ancestry by defining heritage as something you practice or are a part of. Meanwhile, they define ancestry as simply the genes that you’ve inherited. Specifically, the Ancestry.com website states:

“Over generations, the randomness of inheritance results in DNA from some ethnicities being passed down more than others and in some ethnicities being lost entirely.”

Likewise, 23andMe has this language on their site:

“Currently 23andMe has several features that can reveal genetic evidence of Native American ancestry, although they are not considered a confirmatory test or proof of such ancestry in a legal context.”

While most people simply want to figure out how they came to be, these sites are clearly trying to discourage users from trying to claim Native American heritage based solely on a DNA test. 

2. Best DNA Test Kits for Native American Ancestry

Now that you have a better understanding of the ethical and legal limitations of a DNA test for Native Americans–should you still consider getting tested? Definitely! While the test might not admit you into a specific tribe and should never be taken to claim Native American DNA analysis heritage, it can still be an exciting way to explore your past and see how your family was involved in the colonization of North America.

If you decide to get tested, we highly recommend FamilyTreeDNA out of all the DNA test kits available that include Native American DNA test Ancestry. Here’s why:

FamilyTreeDNA Tests for Native American Ancestry

The top reason is FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) offers a variety of tests that can help you narrow down whether you have Native American ancestry. They’ll even assist you in finding which branch of your family tree those genes originate from.

Finding your answers begins with the basic FTDNA autosomal test to find out whether your genes can be matched up with Indigenous American populations. The autosomal test analyzes a majority of your DNA to unearth genetic variants that specifically originated in indigenous populations. While this Native American DNA test can’t yet tell you which side of your family your Native American genes came from, it will certainly be a great first step in exploring your ancestry.

Afterwards, if you want to go further, FTDNA also offers a worthwhile set of additional DNA analysis for Native Americans to help better define your Native American ancestry. For instance, the Y-DNA test directly analyzes your father’s genetic line in specific detail using the Y-chromosome. This test can tell you exactly which surnames you are related to. It will give you a much clearer picture of where Native American genes were introduced into your family tree. Since Y-DNA is just passed from father to son, we suggest if you are female to ask a male relative to take this test to bring to light your paternal lineage.

If you want to analyze your mother’s line, take FTDNA’s mtDNA test. This Native American DNA analysis examines mitochondrial DNA, the genes passed on only from mother to children. Since a mtDNA test goes back thousands of years, it can confirm how your family migrated out of Africa and which haplogroups (or ancient radiations of humans) you may be related to. Sometimes, people with Native American and European ancestry discover that they could be related to several haplogroups that had previously been separated by tens of thousands of years!

3. Best Upload Sites for Native American Ancestry

After you've already taken a DNA test for Native Americans with 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage, or FTDNA, then you should now check out the Genomelink Ancient Ancestry reports and GEDmatch for more valuable reporting..

Genomelink Ancient Ancestry Reports

Why are Genomelink Ancient Ancestry Reports so beneficial? First, these Native American DNA test reports show you exactly how you may be related to ancient Native American populations. Second, they can likewise match your genetic line to ancient populations of nomads, farmers, and migratory African populations. It instantly surprised many of our users by how many of these groups they are related to. Compared to the standard ethnicity estimates you receive from other DNA analysis for Native Americans kits, Genomelink Ancient Ancestry Reports take a deeper, more detailed analysis into your genome. In fact, these reports go back thousands of years!

How detailed does Genomelink Ancient Ancestry Reports get? They’re super detailed and include what fraction of your genome comes from these populations. They also illustrate how they migrated over time and what historical events that may have influenced your ancient family members.The Native American DNA analysis data used for the Genomelink Ancient Ancestry Reports algorithm was developed in research labs across the world that specialize in ancient DNA data analysis. The sample data was gathered from modern native Americans, including Pima, Yakut, and Eskimo, among many others. It also uses data from fossils of ancient native Americans unearthed from South America. This comprehensive DNA test for Native Americans is only $39!


If you’re an amateur genetic genealogist, you will also enjoy GEDmatch.com. This website lets you explore your family history by using powerful, professional-level tools. The good news is GEDmatch is free to use but has a significant learning curve.

Some of the commonly used tools offered include the One-to-Many match tool. Not only will it connect you with thousands of genetic matches, it will also show how closely you are related and which genetic markers you share.

You will also have access to many specialized tools to break up your Native American DNA test into a maternal line and paternal line. Now you can analyze more accurately which side of your family your Native American genes come from.

If you have a growing interest in Genetic Ancestry testing, check out our posts for more helpful research on how to use GEDmatch for DNA analysis for Native Americans.

We hope you found this “DNA Test For Native Americans: 3 Key Things to Know Before Buying” post both interesting and useful. I’d love to hear your experiences with the products and services I’ve listed above or anything else you’ve tried. Please tell us your comments and share what you’ve found by emailing us at info@genomelink.io.

If you are interested and have time to do this research yourself, check out our posts on how to use GEDmatch to parse out Native American ancestry

Tomohiro Takano
Tomohiro Takano
Co-Founder and CEO