By Leon Thompson
November 24, 2014 – (San Diego County) - “November is recognized as National American Indian Heritage Month. America's first peoples have endured, and they remain a vital cultural, political, social, and moral presence. Tribal America has brought to this great country certain human values and political ideas that have become ingrained in the spirit of the United States of America.”
These are the words of Roy Cook who was selected as a 2014 American Indian Heritage Month Local Hero by KPBS and Union Bank. Roy has a deep understanding and knowledge of Native American history and culture.
A tribal writer, Native American singer, California Indian artist and teacher, Cook’s earliest memories are of people on Santa Ysabel Reservation in San Diego County.
Following traditional, military and G.I. Bill education, Cook studied English, fine art, and graphic communication. Though he was born in Tucson, Arizona, of Opata/Wazazee heritage, he moved to Southern California as a child. His father worked for the railroad and found employment in National City, eventually moving to Lake Henshaw, where Cook’s first recollections are of the people on the Santa Ysabel Reservation.
The Kumeyaay News has this to say about Roy Cook:
Cook, a U.S. Special Forces Army soldier, did tours with the U.S. Army Airborne, and Green Beret Special Forces during the Vietnam era. As the elected president of the San Diego American Indian Warriors Association and its official historian, as well as the historian for the Southern California American Indian Resource Center, he appreciates the opportunities he’s had to teach.
“I was invited by Palomar College to teach and I took great pleasure in teaching a short summer course on the Pala Band Indian reservation,” he says. “There were a lot of elders in that class and some young adolescents….I found it to be a fulfilling and a growing experience.”
Cook’s passion for teaching led him to a position at Grossmont College, where he ended up serving as Chairman of the Multicultural Studies Department, and had a full teaching load with classes that included Survey of American Indian Art, American Indian Lifestyles, and History and Culture of the Californian Indian.
He has also held positions at Mesa Community College, where he taught art for eight years, as well as at Southwestern and San Diego City Colleges.
Even now, at 71, Cook continues to serve as a 36-year member of the Golden State Gourd Dance Society, and has spent the last 20 years as an associate member of the Western Oklahoma Comanche Gourd Clan. And he continues to honor those who came before him.
"Throughout my life," says Cook, "elders would just start talking to me and would find a simpatico identity and they would share their experiences. I found that to be a fountain of knowledge to take with me and thereby in some way surrender that to the next generation.”