Why Kamala Harris Could Be Native American

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

Vice President Kamala Harris is credited with being the first woman of Asian-American descent and black American descent (though black is a skin tone and African-American is the proper racial term) to be elected Vice President in US history. But what few know about Kamala Harris, and what next to few media sources have pointed out, is that she could very well be Native American.

Here are a few reasons why Kamala Harris could be Native American.

kamala harris has indian ancestry; so do native americans

Let’s get the obvious right out in the open. Kamala Harris is Asian-American, with roots planted in South India. I also have South Indian ancestry, according to the testing company 23andme. And yet, the Southern Indian ancestry I have is in the country of India. Native American ancestry for American-born citizens goes back to India, where it is said the first Native Americans crossed by way of the Bering Strait to arrive in the United States.

23andme says that “Native American” ancestry is found in “southeast Asia,” but there’s little in the way of confirmation that this particular region on the Asian continent is the only region of Native American descent. Ancestry DNA, a company whose service I find to be lacking in some ways compared to 23andme, doesn’t equate Native American and southeast Asian ancestry. Ancestry also distinguishes “Northern India” from “Southern India,” for example, as though Native American is something other than these specific regions. 23andme and Ancestry seem to have an all-over-the-place view when it comes to deciding who has Native American descent and who doesn’t. It’s most likely the case (though there’s little proof) that all Asian ancestry for Americans without direct Asian ties (by this, I mean, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents being from) is Native American ancestry.

And even with direct ties to Asia or India, one could still have Native American cousins. So, even if Kamala does a few DNA tests and discovers she isn’t Native American, she may still discover she has Native American cousins. I discovered so many thousands of Native American cousins at Ancestry that I knew the company’s claim I have no Native American DNA was false. A test with 23andme confirmed my own Native American ancestry and also revealed that I was a double Native with Native American ancestry on both sides of my family.

We know that the earliest Natives crossed the Bering Strait over into Alaska and then the lower 48 states together, but where did they come from? Did they all come from Southeast Asia? How would we know this when we don’t even know their names? The earliest Natives to cross over into the US could very well have met up together or even lived together, but their own ancestral roots could have come from all regions of India. There’s no evidence to tell, but one just can’t assume they were all from Southeast Asia. So how can we assume that only those with southeast Asian descent are Native Americans while those with other Indian ancestry from other regions are not? Why is it that one person is labeled “Native American” in the US but another is labeled “Southeast Asian” or “South Indian” instead? And how can we distinguish these for Americans who have no direct Asian ties in their family history for hundreds of years?

Even with her direct tie to India through her mother, Kamala Harris could still be Native American. Though her mother’s family stayed in India for generations, she could have Asian cousins who became part of the earliest Americans in the US. Similarly, Jamaicans can be African-American because some of their ancestors could have been brought by boat over to the United States. As I’ve said it time and time again, “ancestry” comes from “ancestor story,” referring to the paths of those before you — not you directly. You can be American-born but have Asian ancestry because those before you came from somewhere else.

Kamala has roots in india; so do i and thousands of cousins

Image source: Getty Images (Tom Williams) via ABC News

As a tried and true Native American whose DNA tells the story (despite the absence of a paper trail), I have found that I too, like Kamala, have Indian ancestry from the country of India. My ancestry hails from South India, which is distinguished at 23andme from my Native American ancestry. How 23andme or any other DNA company can tell the difference is a mystery, but the distinction is there nonetheless. Additionally, thousands of cousins I have gotten to know in the past year also have ancestry from the country of India. In fact, in doing a family tree, I’ve discovered a cousin whose father hails from the Weavers. The Weavers were from East India, and they came to the East Coast from India when they migrated to the United States. A cousin of mine listed himself as “colored” when he came to this country — not because he believed he was black, but because he believed himself to be Native American. His mother was Native American and his father was from East India. So with that said, I’m not shocked now when I see designations of “Native American” and “Southeast Asia” in cousin ancestral analyses. Both are present for a reason.

If that isn’t enough, a number of cousins have discovered that their maternal haplogroups (that is, the number 23andme assigns them regarding when their mother’s mother’s mother’s family on back migrated out of Africa thousands of years ago) date back to India. Many of my cousins have the M18 maternal haplogroup, which is India-specific. If Kamala Harris does her own 23andme test, she’ll discover her maternal haplogroup is also M18, which means she hails from India. This isn’t surprising for her, but what is surprising is that a number of my cousins share the same haplogroup as Kamala — and their families have been in the United States for hundreds of years. This isn’t coincidental. And mind you, these same cousins with the India-specific haplogroup are also more Native American than I am.

Remember, when Christopher Columbus came to America in 1492, he discovered a group (the Native Americans) that he called “Indians” because to him, they resembled people in India. Some say today that it was a misnomer and that it was incorrect labeling, but DNA companies seem to agree with his conclusion: so many Native Americans who live in the US have ancestry that goes back to the country of India. Columbus couldn’t distinguish these earliest Natives in 1492; how then, can DNA companies distinguish them so easily today? How can we distinguish “Native American” from “Asian” DNA? I agree with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the show Finding Your Roots when he says that Asian DNA is Native American DNA. That alone shows that the differences aren’t so clear. They won’t be as distinct and clear for Kamala, either.

If these cousins share an India-specific maternal haplogroup number with Kamala (I’m assuming Kamala’s mother is really from India), then it’s quite likely she also shares Native American ancestry with them and with me.

kamala harris’s surname is in the family

Last but not least, in addition to Kamala’s South Indian ancestry, which I and a number of cousins share, and a maternal haplogroup that Kamala likely shares with my close cousins, Kamala’s surname is also a huge surname in my family. That’s right, folks: “Harris” is a large surname in my family. In fact, I’ve met Harris cousins who are close cousins to me (second cousins, in fact). So if these Harris cousins are closely related, who’s to say Kamala herself isn’t? The Harris surname is also turning up Native American for cousins who possess it, so again, Kamala Harris isn’t all that distinct from my family.

summing it all up

Vice President Kamala Harris is referred to as a black American and Asian-American when the media reports on her rise to the nation’s second-highest political office, but they do not refer to her as Native American in any context. On one hand, I can understand why: they want to respect her self-identification. She identifies as black and Asian, and that’s how she wants to be seen in the eyes of the public.

But on the other hand, there are a number of my cousins who have never stepped foot in Asia before, yet they share what is likely her own maternal haplogroup (M18, a specific haplogroup from India). How can they share this group with her and be Native American, yet she have no trace of Native ancestry? And how can she be excluded from Native American ancestry because she comes from South India, when we don’t know where the earliest Natives came from? Just because they traveled from Southeast India (perhaps) doesn’t mean they were all from the region. Some could have come from North India or West India.

Finally, Harris is a major family surname of mine, and the Harris cousins I’m related to are Native American. So with that said, Vice President Kamala Harris could very well be Native American — and a cousin to me and my cousin clan.

A DNA test could help to clear all the confusion up, and it is my hope that Kamala Harris submits to it at some point in the near future. And when she comes up bearing Native American ancestry, me and my Native American cousin clan will accept her with open arms.