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‘More than biological’: Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves as Indigenous countergenetic fiction


This article reads Métis writer Cherie Dimaline’s novel The Marrow Thieves as one among a growing number of Indigenous countergenetic fictions. Dimaline targets two initiatives that reductively define indigeneity as residing in so-called Native American DNA: (1) direct-to-consumer genetic testing, through which an increasing number of people lay dubious claim to Indigenous ancestry, and (2) population genetics projects that seek urgently to sample Indigenous genetic diversity before Indigenous Peoples become too admixed and therefore extinct. Dimaline unabashedly incorporates the terminology of genetics into her novel, but I argue that she does so in order ultimately to underscore that genetics is ill-equipped to understand Indigenous ways of articulating kinship and belonging. The novel carefully articulates the full complexity of Indigenous self-recognition practices, urging us to wrestle with the importance of both the biological (DNA, blood and relation) and the ‘more than biological’ (story, memory, reciprocal ties of obligation and language) for Indigenous self-recognition and continuity. The novel shows that,to grasp Indigenous modes of self-recognition is to understand that Indigenous belonging exceeds any superficial sense of connection that a DNA test may produce and that, contrary to population geneticists’ claims, Indigenous Peoples are not vanishing but instead are actively engaged in everyday practices of survival. Finally, I point out that Dimaline—who identifies as Two-Spirit—does not idealise Indigenous communities and their ways of recognising their own; The Marrow Thieves also explicitly gestures to the ways in which Indigenous kinship-making practices themselves need to be rethought in order to be more inclusive of queer Indigenous Peoples.

  • medical humanities
  • genetics
  • queer theory

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