David Risling Jr., the "father of Indian education" who spent his career
opening the doors of higher education to American Indian students, died
March 13 in Woodland, Calif. He was 83.
Throughout his career, Risling was a champion of Indian rights and
education - and a teacher who passed along the wisdom of his father to the
generations who came after.
He arrived at UC Davis in 1970 to help develop Native American Studies as
an academic discipline and taught as a senior lecturer for 21 years in the
program until he retired in 1991. He remained active on campus and at D-Q
University until shortly before his death.
Although his original focus was tackling injustices on behalf of California
Indians at the state level, by the mid '70s, Risling had gained national
renown. He was appointed by three U.S. presidents to serve on the National
Advisory Council on Indian Education and later was instrumental in the
creation of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
He also co-founded California Indian Legal Services and the Native American
Rights Fund, whose lawyers fought for long-ignored treaty rights in the
U.S. Supreme Court. Risling was integrally involved in passage of the
federal Indian Education and Indian Tribal Community College acts. That
legislation led to the founding of 31 Indian community colleges and dozens
of reservation education programs across the nation.
In California, he was respected by Natives for his instrumental role in
co-founding D-Q University in rural Davis and for his leadership in the
establishment of UC Davis' own full-fledged, nationally-recognized Native
American Studies department in 1993. It remains one of only three such
departments awarding doctoral degrees in North America.
"He was a person of absolute personal integrity, honesty and courage," said
Jack Forbes, UC Davis professor emeritus of Native American Studies and
Anthropology, and a friend of nearly 40 years. "He embodied in his life all
of the attributes of a Native American leader: warrior, compassionate
father, host, pathfinder, caretaker, facilitator, friend and counselor."