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David Risling Jr., 83; Helped Found UC Davis Native American Studies Program, College for Indians

March 16, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

David Risling Jr., a Hoopa Indian who co-founded UC Davis' Native American studies program and D-Q University and served on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education, has died. He was 83.

Risling, who had Alzheimer's disease, died Sunday at Woodland Memorial Hospital in Davis.

Two months ago, Risling participated in the decision to close D-Q University, the state's only private Native American college, because it lost its accreditation. Risling, who helped create the school at a surplus military base in 1971, served many years as president of the institution's board of trustees. The school's name is taken from Deganawidah, a Huron peacemaker, and Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec god.

Born in Weitchpec on the Klamath River, Risling was of Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk ancestry and grew up on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in Humboldt County. An accomplished athlete, he participated in native hunting and fishing and became a champion in the Golden Gloves boxing circuit.

Risling earned bachelor's and master's degrees in vocational agriculture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and taught agriculture at Modesto Junior College for 20 years before Native American activism sent him in a different direction.

In 1970, he moved to Davis to help found the university's Native American studies program, one of the nation's first, and taught there until his retirement in 1993.

Risling helped found California Indian Legal Services, the Native American Rights Fund and the California Indian Education Assn. In addition to serving on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education, he worked for passage of federal acts leading to creation of 31 Indian community colleges and dozens of schools on reservations.

The educator also worked for creation of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, and helped assure that the Hoopas were represented in its inauguration ceremonies last fall.

Risling served in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters Kathy Wallace, Peg Murray and Lyn Risling; a son, Ken Risling; several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Hoopa Neighborhood Facility, Hoopa, Calif.

Memorial donations may be made to the David Risling Award, a scholarship given to UC Davis students of California Native American descent, by sending checks to UC Regents, c/o Judy LaDeaux, Department of Native American Studies, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616.

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