Frank C. Dukepoo was a geneticist, but he was equally well known for his tireless efforts to improve Native American education. As one of a handful of Native Americans with science doctorates, he was a crusader for scientific and educational change.
Dukepoo was born in 1944 on Arizona's Mohave Indian Reservation to working class parents Eunice, a Laguna, and Anthony Dukepoo, a Hopi. His older brother Freddie, a former lab technician, and his high school counselor, Abraham Lincoln Herm, served as his role models.
As a college freshman in 1961 (when Native American college students were virtually nonexistent), Dukepoo experienced rampant racism at Arizona State University (ASU). Struggling with the enormous freedom and responsibility he found in transitioning from high school to college, he lost all five of his scholarships.
Fortunately, Charles Woolf, a professor of zoology at ASU, mentored Dukepoo. Woolf helped him raise his grade point average from 1.16 to near 4.0 and helped him initiate his birth defects research in Southwest Native Americans, as well as research on albinism and inbreeding in northern Arizona's Hopi.
As a Native American geneticist, Dukepoo was in the unique position of understanding the science involved and acting as an advocate for Native Americans being used as subjects in research projects. Dukepoo struggled to prevent scientific studies from exploiting Native Americans. He voiced Native Americans' concerns about being used as subjects in the Human Genome Diversity Project's planned global genetic database. Many Native Americans are wary of scientists, who they feel have exploited them. Geneticists are especially mistrusted because some Native Americans consider any part of their body sacred. Consequently, taking genetic samples from them can be seen as sacrilegious.
During his career, Dukepoo taught at several schools, including San Diego State University, and held administrative executive positions with the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. However, Dukepoo chose Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, where he became the director of Indian Education before becoming a biology professor there.
To open educational opportunities for other Native Americans, Dukepoo was a founding member of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. He also founded and coordinated the National Native American Honor Society in 1982, which recognizes students from fourth grade through graduate and professional school who earn a 4.0 during any semester.
Before his untimely death of natural causes at his home in Flagstaff at age 56, Dukepoo was awarded the John Hay Whitney Fellowship, Ford Foundation fellowship, Bo Jack Humanitarian Award, and Iron Eyes Cody Medal of Freedom Award.
1. " Biographical Sketch of Frank C. Dukepoo." Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Native American Cancer Research Web site on 29 July 2004.
2. D. Rice, "NAU geneticist was first HOPI Ph.D." Arizona Daily Sun, April 1990. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Native American Cancer Research Web site on 29 July 2004: http://members.aol.com/natamcan2/frank.htm
3. R. Andrews, " American Indians in Science: Moving Forward, But Slowly." The Scientist, March 1992. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Native American Cancer Research Web site on 29 July 2004.
4. " Profile of Frank C. Dukepoo." Native American Publications. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Native American Publications Web site on 29 July 2004.