When Dr. Courtney DeMayo approached her history student, Alex Hampton, about giving a presentation during the Lichtman-Behm Genocide Lecture Series this month, he jumped at the chance.
The series alternates year to year, exploring the Holocaust or another example of genocide as its topic. This year’s topic – the genocide of Native American people – is near to Alex’s heart. Last spring, he presented his research paper, “The Genocide that Keeps on Giving: The Genocide of Native Americans and the Structural Violence that Persists Today," at Heidelberg’s Student Research Conference.
But it was more than a passing research interest for Alex. His grandmother on his dad’s side is full-blooded Native American – half Cherokee and half Blackfoot. That makes him one-quarter Native American.
“I remember as a kid being bothered by the rosy picture being painted of the Native Americans’ (plight), and how everyone wanted to wash away the bad parts,” says Alex, a history and political science double major from Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
“It’s become so important to me to understand and see the whole picture, accept the bad and the good, and be proud you’re from this nation.”
Alex’s hometown of Upper Sandusky sits in Wyandot County, home of Ohio’s last Native American reservation. That piece of history isn’t lost on him, either.
Throughout his research process, Alex found “very biased” accounts of Native American genocide through several hundred years of history, dating back to 1492. “People tend to gloss over the fact that 90 percent of the Native American population was killed by disease and they don’t take into account that the Europeans used disease as a weapon,” he explains.
It didn’t surprise Alex to learn that rates of alcoholism, suicide and drug use among Native American populations are among the highest in the country. “A lot of that is tied to the system they have been placed in. They have no advantages. Every advantage they ever had has been taken from them,” he says.
That’s part of the message he plans to convey to some of the 1,100 middle-school and high-school students who will come to Heidelberg next Tuesday to hear the Lichtman-Behm Genocide Lecture Series keynote speaker Billy Friend, chief of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma. Prior to Chief Friend’s keynote, the students participate in mini-sessions by ‘Berg faculty and staff designed to introduce them to the topic about which they will hear. Alex is the first student ever asked to present a mini-session.
Alex plans to talk to the students about life on the reservation, the struggles faced by Native Americans because of their lack of access to jobs and healthcare and their poor living conditions.
Essentially, he wants them to realize that the genocide of Native Americans is real and there are things that can be done to help them regain their proud heritage and traditions.
“Strengthening Native American communities would strengthen the U.S. as a whole, in my opinion,” Alex says.