Jack Forbes, 1934-2011

March 17, 2011

Jack Forbes, a pioneer of Native American studies, was not afraid to take "unpopular and risky" decisions, and helped to found the first Native American college in California.

Professor Forbes was born on 7 January 1934 in Long Beach, California and studied for an associate's degree in political science from Glendale College. He then moved to the University of Southern California, where he earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy in 1955.

Professor Forbes studied for a master's degree in history in 1956 and a doctorate in history and anthropology in 1959 from the same institution.

In the early 1960s, Professor Forbes became heavily involved in the Native American Movement, which pressed for the rights of Native Americans against government policies of assimilation.

After teaching at San Fernando Valley State College and the University of Nevada, Reno, he joined the University of California, Davis in 1969 as one of the founding professors of a Native American study programme.

Professor Forbes also held visiting positions at the University of Warwick, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the University of Oxford and the University of Essex.

He wrote early in his career about the possibility of a higher education institution exclusively for Native American students.

In 1971, this was realised with the founding of Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University. Although the university has since closed, Professor Forbes served on its board and taught there on a voluntary basis for more than 25 years.

Professor Forbes retired from UC Davis in 1994 after helping to expand the Native American study programme into a full academic department. However, he remained active in the department, and continued teaching up until late 2009.

Inés Hernández-Avila, current chair of the UC Davis Department of Native American Studies, said: "Jack was a man of magnificent vision, with a poet's heart. He devoted his life's work, passionately, brilliantly, as a true great spirit, with all the power of his words and actions, to finding indigenous peoples, recognising them, and celebrating their faces and hearts in all their colours."

Linda Katehi, chancellor of UC Davis, said that Professor Forbes' death was a loss to the entire Native American studies community.

"He bravely took positions that others might have deemed unpopular and risky, and he fought for what he believed in. He will be missed," she said.

Professor Forbes died on 23 February 2011 after a short illness and is survived by his wife, Carolyn, and two children from a previous marriage.


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