John Chaske Rouillard
Chairman: American Indian Studies
San Diego State University, 1971-1983

By Roy Cook

Indian Studies 35th Anniversary Tribute at SDSU Click Here for Flier

In 1971, the year I earned my BFA, at San Diego State College the Urban and Rural Indian community organized to petition for a department of American Indian Studies. John Rouillard, Santee Dakota Sioux is the first Chairman of the American Indian Studies program and now Department at San Diego State University. Prior to John’s selection, Dr. Gwen Cooper, Cherokee, was assigned to be the collage advisor to the newly chartered Native American Students Association, NASA. Gwen Cooper was a full time SDSU faculty since 1966 and was also assigned to be the schools' liaison to the local tribes and educators.

Gwen was the advisor to the SDSC Indian student club in 1970: Frank Begay, Navajo, Joey Paisano, Laguna Pueblo, Wayne Lancamp, Roy Cook, Opata-Oodham and Sam Brown, Los Conejos Band of the Kumeyaay were students at San Diego State College at this American Indian Studies formative time. They selected to call the club: Native American Students Association, NASA-SDSC.

Sam Brown recalls a story John told him of his service at the end of WWII: “Military story, John was supposed to be in the military band. When he was transferred to Japan he ended up in the 7th Calvary. He played the Baritone Trombone but there was no military code for Baritone so someone type in BAR. As soon as his record was reviewed they thought he was a specialist in the Browning automatic rifle. He informed them that he was a Sioux, petitioned vigorously and eventually was transferred out and when he left he noticed that his exit papers were signed by George Armstrong Custer III.” Sam is a lifelong friend and is now a self labeled (Karuk).

American Indian community and educators efforts succeeded in appointing Helix High School bandleader, John Rouillard to head the Indian Studies office and organize classes and events. John was a, Santee Dakota Sioux, educator, and professional musician and high school band teacher. He brought a lifelong interest in traditional American Indian music to the SDSU campus. Students, staff and community members produced workshops, conferences and pow wows. In 1973 John bought a pow wow drum and I completed the requirements for the MA from USIU. This drum was the heartbeat of the 'San Diego State Boys' intertribal singing group. Art Ketcheshano, Kickapoo, was an accomplished head singer living in, Bell, the Los Angeles area. He was the first to come down to San Diego and teach about the protocol of the Southern song tradition. John’s energy was always ready for projects and workshops that may benefit the local Luiseno and Diegueno tribes. I was honored to work and teach with him for ten years at SDSU.

Some of John’s exceptional accomplishments were to bring in a large, dynamic and representative group of American Indian scholars. He was also to achieve department status for the American Indian program. These milestone accomplishments still stand as testimonials of his leadership. His first hires were with any programs that he could partner with that could augment the initial program budget. Naturally these were all before the advent of Tribal gaming and casinos.

John Rouillard, Santee Dakota Sioux, tirelessly championed language courses at San Diego State University. Under his leadership: Navajo, Sioux and Kumeyaay classes were offered. As the Native American Studies Chairperson he organized workshops, symposiums and recruited local native speakers to work with linguistic graduate students to teach the local Kumeyaay language. In doing these things and many others he moved beyond the previously utilized avenues of Tribal informant and institution expert. This step validated the authority of the native speaker in the classroom. I feel his example led to a new continuousness and changed Native Language study in Southern California. Local Tribal language is often referred as; Diegueno or Kumeyaay, Ipai, Tipai or Metipai. Anna Sandoval and Florence Barret were the first teachers of Tipi at San Diego State University. There are regional and tribal band dialect differences; some significant others slight and there are various levels of 'loan' words. The reality of this issue has been a stumbling block to language acquisition. It may be too easy to disregard the effort with a remark, "Oh, that is not the way we say things here." But it is definitely past time, and we hope not too late, to move beyond this regional difference issues and work toward the appreciation of local: oral literature, song and the richness of the local conversational oral tradition.
We need to be bold. We need to be ready to make mistakes. Only the Creator is perfect. We need to be willing to be teased when we make the obvious ‘mistake’. This too is an important Native American tradition. Each one of us needs to take pride in the phrases we do know. At the same time continue to work toward improving our language skills.

In the summer of 1978, 18 parents and elders representing Diegueno, Havasupai, Hualapai, Mohave, and Yavapai language communities traveled to San Diego State University for the first Yuman Language Institute. There they worked with academic linguists and bilingual educators who shared their interest in the literate forms of Yuman languages and a commitment to use linguistic knowledge to improve curriculum and practice in Indian schools. What has come to be known as the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) began with this small group and participants' desire to "learn to read and write my language" (Salas, 1982, p. 36). Their efforts ultimately would reach far beyond the Yuman language family to influence indigenous language education throughout the United States, Canada, and Latin America.

Conceived by Lucille Watahomigie (Hualapai), director of the nationally recognized Hualapai Bilingual/Bicultural Program (see Watahomigie & Yamamoto, 1987; 1992), linguist Leanne Hinton, and the late John Rouillard (Sioux) of San Diego State University, the institute trained 18 native speakers of the five Yuman languages. The only program requirement, Hinton et al. (1982, p. 22) was that participants be native speakers interested in working with their respective languages. The focus of the first institute was "Historical/Comparative Linguistics: Syntax and Orthography of Yuman Languages".

The following year joined by the late Milo Kalecteca (Hopi), director of the Bilingual Education Service Center at Arizona State University (ASU) and linguists Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O'odham) and Akira Y. Yamamoto, the institute teamed academic linguists with 50 native speakers in an intensive four-week training program. During that time institute participants examined their languages, developed practical writing systems, designed curriculum, and created native language teaching materials. The focus of this second institute, which included Tohono O'odham (formerly Papago) and Akimel O'odham (Pima), was "Orthography, Phonetics, Phonology, and Curriculum Development".

John Rouillard achievements and testimonials

The President Jimmy Carter, May 3, 1979, announced the appointment of John C. Rouillard, of La Mesa, Calif., to be a member of the National Advisory Council on Indian Education for a term expiring September 29, 1981. Rouillard is chairman of the Department of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. He is a member of the Santee Sioux and a former high school teacher.

John’s daughter Amy Rouillard relates her thoughts on her father, “I moved with my family from the small town of Streator, Illinois, to California when I was 6 years old. But this is really the remarkable story of my father, John Rouillard, and the series of events that drastically changed his life’s work.

It was my father who made the decision to move our family of nine to San Diego in 1969. A strong believer in the value of higher education, my father put himself through college on the GI bill and received a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University, where he met and married my mother. It was his dream that we all have an opportunity to attend college. Sending seven children to college on a high-school band teacher’s salary was not going to be an easy feat. So when he was offered a job teaching band at Helix High School in San Diego, the deciding factor for him was the affordable college system in California and the opportunity the move would provide for his seven children to get a higher education.

My father had a keen interest in American Indian culture and people. He was a descendant of the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe, and he spent his childhood on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. After moving to San Diego, my father discovered a large community of Native Americans living in this area. He was very interested in learning about the local tribes and often took our family to cultural gatherings. Over time my father became involved in that community and made close acquaintance with some of its leaders.

It was pure serendipity when in 1971, San Diego State University created an American Indian Studies Department, and several tribal leaders recommended my father as a strong candidate for department head. Thus my father’s new career began. Self-taught, he had truly found his calling and became a pioneer in Indian education, working tirelessly on both national and local levels for the American Indian community until his death from leukemia in 1983. He was 54 years old.

I’m proud to say that because of my father’s remarkable foresight, six of his children (including me) utilized the community college system and went on to get degrees at universities in California. And many American Indians benefited greatly from his innovative and incessant work on Indian education issues. He was a truly remarkable person, and I’m very proud to tell his story.

Other testimonials include:

John Hood, Dine: former student SDSU, 1974.

“Mr. John Rouillard, mentor. As a Vietnam veteran, soul searching the cliffs of the canyons to latch on to reality, my flight of despair and anguish supplanted in Southern California; a journey lost in the turmoil of the Vietnam War. The magnitude and intense psychogenic silently revealed its bold colors. Drowning in the sea of macabre, nebulous nightmares my only exit was through series of paths of self remedies and therapies that none brought closure. As a seasoned Navajo with traditional values, one of my mentors, in life, was John Rouillard, a soft spoken man, as traditional, with leadership values entered my world of a distraught vision. His humor, acceptance of respect for others renewed my confidence. The quintessence, vision and his advocacy for the American Indians was a mission admired.

Thoughts of my elders talking in circles were memories revisited as Mr. Rouillard engaged with students with his ubiquitous stature resolving issues and concerns. Did he ever have a bad day? Just adjusting his fall-down hair with a swoop of his hand may have been his bad day, perhaps a bad hair day. The years I’ve known him was that of a ten-year-old out exploring and building things. I surmise that he was christened beneath the positive work ethics of his elders, constantly living like no tomorrow. I just found someone like my past, where hard work, responsibilities and ceremonies tasted like cool water.

As the sun waited at my door many times after, silence of thoughts pierce my mind when I heard Mr. Rouillard was stricken with Leukemia. I did not know the illness, I burned sage laced with prayers and hoped for the best for a dear friend. Decades later, I found myself confronted with Leukemia; my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia. The struggles of a healthy young child of mine was unforgiving; I lost my daughter, at 22 years, as well. The absence of her love has tormented this old soul, but the inferno for the love of my child rages internally, the millions of tears withstanding.

When people touch your life, you have stepped on honor to withhold. The love of people, advancement for students, retention of cultures and languages; his true core values silently ascended with respect and ethics for others to drink from.

Thank you Mr. Rouillard.

Maurice Kenny, Mohawk poet, has been involved in several radio, television and film productions, in 1990, commissioned by New American Radio. In particular he lists Reno Hill . . . Little Big Horn written especially for John Rouillard and NBC-TV in San Diego in commemoration of the Custer Centennial.

Virginia Thomas, Muscogee Creek, Hometown: Okmulgee, Oklahoma Education: B.A., San Diego State University
Current Position: Manager of the Muscogee Creek Nation's JOM Program

Virginia said: "The true mentor in my life was John Rouillard out of San Diego State University. He was the first person who believed in my talent and also to become a teacher. He laid the foundation of who I am today. My philosophy on education stems back to my parent’s experience in that school system of the time. They were both products of the Indian boarding school era. They never finished school and actually ran away from Chilocco in the mid 1930s.

John Hood reminds us of the: John C. Rouillard and Alice Tonemah Memorial Scholarships (Scholarships available for doctoral, master's and graduate work.)

NIEA awards the John C. Rouillard and Alice Tonemah Memorial Scholarship each year to deserving full-time undergraduate, masters and doctoral students who are American Indian, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian. Nominees must demonstrate leadership qualities, maintain high academic achievement and serve as a role model for students. They also promote an understanding and appreciation of Native American culture in educational settings and demonstrate active leadership in student affairs and community activities.

These scholarships are in honor of the late John C. Rouillard, Santee Dakota Sioux, and Alice Tonemah, Kiowa/Comanche. Rouillard tirelessly championed Kumeyaay language courses at San Diego State University in San Diego, CA. Tonemah was the director of the Sands Springs Indian Education program in Lawton, OK. NIEA is very grateful to honor their legacy through an annual scholarship.

Notes: Indian Studies 35th Anniversary Tribute at SDSU Click Here for Flier