Internationally Respected Leader Risling, Jr. Passes

May 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 16-4: International Indigenous Education
By Gerald E. Gipp, Ph.D.
Gerald E. Gipp

We were saddened to hear of the passing of David Risling, Jr., on March 13. David was born April 10, 1921, and grew up on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in California. He attended Hoopa Indian School.

His father, David Risling, Sr. (Chief Su-Wohrom), led a group of people who took over that school from the federal government in 1931 — school officials punished the children if they dared to speak their Native language. This was decades before the Indian-controlled school movement, and the experience inspired David to fight for Indian education for the rest of his life.

He married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Phelps, and with her support graduated from California State Polytechnic College with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They had four children, and Barbara stood by his side, shoulder to shoulder, for over 60 years.

During the 1950s and early ‘60s, David, Jr., traveled with his father throughout the state, reviving Native American dances and interest in key California Indian issues. While others confronted authority in the late ’60s and early ’70s, he worked behind the scenes, building relationships in Congress and lobbying for recognition of Indian rights and educational opportunities.

In 1971, David was one of the founders of D-Q University, the only tribal college in California. When D-Q joined with the other five tribally controlled colleges in 1973 to charter the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), David was there. He served as the parliamentarian, keeping the meetings on track for several years.

He also helped found the Native American Rights Fund, California Indian Legal Services, the California Indian Education Association, and the Native American Studies program at the University of California-Davis. David was known by indigenous educators around the world. He traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and New Zealand where the Maori people treated him as the true leader he was.

David’s father taught him that if you start something, you must finish it. Remembering his father’s legacy, he served on the D-Q Board of Trustees until his death.

David Risling will be missed for his insights and his wisdom. Donations in David Risling’s name may be made out to the UC Regents. Indicate they are for the David Risling Award, a scholarship given to UC Davis students of California Native American descent. Send checks to Judy La Deaux, Department of Native American Studies, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616.

Our prayers and good wishes go out to his family.

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