The effects of European colonization on the genomes of Native Americans may have produced excesses of potentially deleterious features, mainly due to the severe reductions in population size and corresponding losses of genetic diversity. This assumption, however, neither considers actual genomic patterns that existed before colonization nor does it adequately capture the effects of admixture. In this study, we analyze the whole-exome sequences of modern and ancient individuals from a Northwest Coast First Nation, with a demographic history similar to other indigenous populations from the Americas. We show that in approximately ten generations from initial European contact, the modern individuals exhibit reduced levels of novel and low-frequency variants, a lower proportion of potentially deleterious alleles, and decreased heterozygosity when compared to their ancestors. This pattern can be explained by a dramatic population decline, resulting in the loss of potentially damaging low-frequency variants, and subsequent admixture. We also find evidence that the indigenous population was on a steady decline in effective population size for several thousand years before contact, which emphasizes regional demography over the common conception of a uniform expansion after entry into the Americas. This study examines the genomic consequences of colonialism on an indigenous group and describes the continuing role of gene flow among modern populations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes