Amy Locklear Hertel, newly-selected director of the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was admonished by her grandmother to pursue her education. “Grandmother told me to get all the education you can. What you learn in your head no one can take away. You need to learn all you can and use it to serve your community. I like to think she would be proud of me,” says Locklear Hertel, who starts her new job May 1.
“All the education you can get” so far includes a B.A. in interpersonal communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), a master’s degree in social work and a Juris doctor from Washington University in St. Louis and a nearly-completed Ph.D. from Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work.
Going back to UNC will take Locklear Hertel, her husband and their young children, Ava, 3, and Ahren, 1, back home. “I’ve wanted to go home for years, but the right opportunity never came up. I know my purpose is to serve our tribal communities in North Carolina. When this position became available, I felt like I had been training for it all along, with my interdisciplinary work, advocacy, and research in tribal communities. This job fits my interests and abilities and for me it answers the question, ‘How can I best serve our communities?’” Her family and community have been generous in welcoming her home. “Everybody back home has been wonderful, welcoming us,” she says. “They told me when I left I had to come back to serve in this community.”
Locklear Hertel grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a place halfway between her mother’s Coharie and her father’s Lumbee communities that her parents chose so that she and her younger brother would be able to participate in the life of both tribes. Her father worked in a glass factory, and her mother in the Fayetteville school system.
“I come from a long line of advocates for Indian education,” she explains. “My maternal great-grandfather would drive around the neighboring communities—his being one of the very few cars in the area at that time—and take children to stay with his family so they could attend the East Carolina Indian School. His son, my grandfather, lobbied the government for years to get supplies and teachers for the school. Mother was the first in her generation to go to college. She settled in Fayetteville to run Indian education there.”
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the perfect choice for Locklear Hertel’s undergraduate work. “It was just two hours from home, and they offered an excellent education,” she said. She majored in interpersonal communications in part because she was interested in how the dynamics in Native families were different from those in non-Native families. At UNC, Locklear Hertel served as president of the Carolina Indian Circle (a student group), was inducted into the Order of the Golden Fleece and co-founded Alpha Pi Omega Sorority Inc., the country’s oldest Native American Greek letter organization.
In addition to pursuing her own education, Locklear Hertel has served as a guest lecturer and teaching assistant at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, conducted research on financial issues in Indian country, practiced social work and served as corporate counsel and corporate and securities associate at three law firms since graduating from UNC.
Danny Bell, Lumbee/Coharie, has known Locklear Hertel’s family since he attended the East Carolina Indian School with her mother. Bell serves as a research assistant in the American Indian Studies department at UNC. “Amy left North Carolina after she graduated from the university to further her education in other settings. She will be able to bring best practices home.”
For her Ph.D. dissertation, Locklear Hertel is looking at how money is saved in the Lumbee community. “A lot has been happening in asset building for low-income populations in the mainstream. I am asking how do we borrow and transfer those financial tools for the Native community in culturally appropriate ways? Asset-building means improving long-term well-being; it can be financial or it can be human capital, such as education, which gives access to better jobs and health insurance. How do we help people build the assets they think are important?
“The idea of saving is not new in Native communities. We always knew how to save our resources by, for example, canning produce and salting and preserving meat. But that has not translated into the financial area.
“One factor could be the cultural values of redistribution and reciprocity. We redistribute our resources in our communities. I want to show that empirically and to try to understand how savings occurs, how redistribution and reciprocity affect how we save.”
Locklear Hertel will be finishing up her dissertation work as she begins her work as director of the center, now in its sixth year. “Students had been advocating for a Native American center at the university for many years,” she says.
“The center was established in 2006 under the leadership of Clara Sue Kidwell,” explains UNC Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Carol Tresolini. “Amy will be its second director. Clara Sue got the center off to a very good start and gave it a firm foundation. We are very, very fortunate to have Amy. We view the American Indian Center as a bridge between academic life and tribal communities. Amy knows the state well, as well as tribal issues on a national level. With her degrees, I see the potential for collaborative work between the center and the university’s departments of law, social work and government.”
As director of the American Indian Center at UNC, Locklear Hertel says she will focus on four areas: student scholarship, research and dissemination, American Indian community service and engagement and campus/state community engagement. She says the center “has a responsibility to teach, support, and mentor students on campus. The center will seek to promote research, mentorship, and service opportunities for Native students and students interested in working with Native communities.”
Relevance and reciprocity are critical to research and dissemination at the university, says Locklear Hertel. “I want to build reciprocity into the research done at the university by fostering communication between the tribes and the researchers,” she says. The center “will promote culturally important values of reciprocity by ensuring that tribes are active participants in research and that in exchange for their information and knowledge, tribes stand to benefit from the processes and/or outcomes of academic research. We want to protect traditional knowledge and build capacity by encouraging tribal leaders to use research to set priorities.”
Locklear Hertel says that on her watch the center will use the university’s resources to serve and engage Native communities and will strive to increase the visibility of the university locally and nationally. “People need to know that this is a friendly place for Native American students and that we have a phenomenal graduate education program. I would like to see the UNC graduate school become first in the nation for American Indian graduate student enrollment as well as research related to American Indian issues. Voted the best value for public colleges in the United States, the university values Native student scholarship, Native research, and professional development for Native scholars.”
The future is clear for Locklear Hertel. “I had envisioned the next director of the center as being there long-term, becoming part of the fabric of the UNC community. Now I see it as a long-term commitment for me.”
Bell says, “I look forward to having Amy here. She has expertise and passion to apply for educating the next generation of leaders we need to help us be participants in America’s future.”