A rise in people identifying as Aboriginal traced to DNA ancestry kits – while Indigenous leaders speak of “middle-class liberal progressives” with no real cultural ties
- Bear in mind that DIY DNA testing will inflate tribal numbers
- Those who tick the census box as indigenous may only have distant relatives
- Inflated numbers could divert resources from more vulnerable communities
A sharp increase in Australia’s Aboriginal population has been prompted by so-called ‘box tickers’, who claim a newfound Indigenous identity but have no real cultural ties to the Aboriginal communities.
university Sydney Anthropologist and Wiradjuri woman Suzanne Ingram said data from the latest census showed a massive surge in “middle-class liberal progressives” who identified as indigenous because of a very distant relative.
In 2021, 812,728 people in Australia identified themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, accounting for 3.2 per cent of the population.
This was an increase of more than 25 percent since the last census data was collected in 2016 and far exceeded the overall population increase of 8.6 percent.
In 2021, 812,728 people in Australia identified themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, accounting for 3.2 per cent of the population
There are concerns that at-home DNA testing kits (pictured) are being used by people with no cultural ties to the community to identify themselves as Indigenous
While some of the increase is due to natural fertility or children of mixed partnerships choosing to be identified as Indigenous, it also attests to a growing enthusiasm for testing to find Indigenous DNA using home kits.
Home testing kits from US companies like AncestryDNA are increasingly being used by people looking for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander DNA to help people identify as Aboriginal.
“In the South East, particularly along the coast, a growing number of middle-class liberal progressives are identifying with themselves and claiming to be their Aboriginal people through a distant relative,” Ms Ingram said the Sydney Morning Herald.
Although the tests are considered accurate, there are concerns it could skew the allocation of Indigenous resources by diverting them away from the most disadvantaged areas.
The Yothu Yindi Foundation, which represents the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land, has argued that “careless census data” has resulted in the Northern Territory being allocated less GST than it should be.
“My analysis of health communication shows how it affects politics.” Ms. Ingram said at an academic conference in Canada earlier this year.
“It seems to have started in housing policy – but it has picked up a lot in the education sector and the statistics show, probably unsurprisingly, that the east coast of Australia is the epicentre.
She said there is a “performative element” on which these claims of legitimacy rest.
“How we recognize each other depends on the local mob, within our kinship networks. We’re doing something about it now, and I know that’s happening elsewhere, but the discussion is more open in North America than it is here.”
The number of people identifying as Indigenous increased by 25 percent in the last census compared to five years ago
Palawa man and playwright Nathan Maynard says being indigenous is ‘fashionable’
Individuals who identify themselves as Indigenous in the census are not required to provide evidence.
When applying for grants, programs, or positions assigned to Indigenous government agencies and other organizations, so-called “work criteria” apply to assess eligibility.
This includes being of Indigenous descent, identifying as Indigenous, and being accepted by a community, which may require ratification of a letter or certificate.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the vast majority of people who identify themselves as Indigenous do so honestly.
‘Box ticking’ was the subject covered by playwright and Palawa man Nathan Maynard in his widely acclaimed play At What Cost, which premiered in Sydney earlier this year.
“We’re trending right now,” said Mr. Maynard.
“We’re trendier than mashed avocado on toast. In this world, people want something special about themselves and they see it as a difference to be Aboriginal.”