February 16, 2002

Widely respected La Jolla tribal elder dies


Keywords: Obituaries Henry Rodriguez La Jolla Mission Indians tribal elder spiritual leader Pala reservation Gathering of EaglesSan Pasqual Band of Mission Indians Luisenos original inhabitants of the North County and Southwestern Riverside County reservations La Jolla Pechanga Pala Pauma Rincon Pauma Band of Mission Indians Southern California Intertribal Council Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association North County reservations native american activist 18 people who could speak the ancient Luiseno language tribal leader

Author: Edward Sifuentes
Staff Writer, NCTimes

LA JOLLA INDIAN RESERVATION —- Henry Rodriguez, one of North County’s most widely respected tribal elders, died Thursday morning in a traffic accident. He was one of only about 18 people who could speak the ancient Luiseno language.

“It is a great loss,” said his daughter, Donna Buchimora. “We know what he’s meant to the community.”

Rodriguez, 82, was driving his pickup north on Sengme Oaks Road at 9:10 a.m. Thursday. He stopped at the stop sign at Highway 76, then drove onto Highway 76 in front of an oncoming pickup truck, according to the California Highway Patrol.

That truck slammed into the driver’s side door of Rodriguez’s truck. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The CHP is investigating the accident.

“Uncle Henry,” as Rodriguez was affectionately known, was a spiritual leader to many in the American Indian community, tribal leaders said.

He often was asked to bless important events, such as last week’s “A Gathering of Eagles” at the Pala reservation, where Rodriguez was among 45 American Indian war veterans honored.

“It will be a terrible loss to the Indian community because of his knowledge,” said Allen Lawson, chairman of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians. “He was a person who helped expose our culture to the local community in a positive light.”

As a tribal elder, Rodriguez was an important source of information about his people. He was one of only about 18 people who could speak the ancient Luiseno language.

Luisenos are the original inhabitants of the North County and Southwestern Riverside County region. They now live on five reservations at La Jolla, Pechanga, Pala, Pauma and Rincon.

Henry Rodriquez
Tribal elder and spiritual leader

“He was a great educator and he loved his people,” said Chris Devers, chairman of the Pauma Band of Mission Indians. “I’m going to miss him.”

Rodriguez was a tribal leader, teacher, mentor and scholar to his people.

As a young man, Rodriguez joined the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II and later became an adobe home builder. But he said he turned to politics when he saw the “injustices” of federal, state and local governments upon his people.

He served on the La Jolla band’s tribal council and later became tribal chairman and was instrumental in establishing the Southern California Intertribal Council, now the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, which represents more than 20 San Diego and Riverside county tribes.

Along with other tribal leaders, he fought for water rights of the San Luis Rey River, the lifeblood and namesake of the Luiseno people.

In 1988, local Luisenos won a long-standing battle with the federal government to retain rights to water that flows through North County reservations but is tapped by Vista and Escondido governments.

In the end, federal legislation awarded local Luisenos $30 million for economic development on the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala reservations and rights to 16,000 acre-feet of water each year.

“I guess I’m an activist, and I’m damn good at it,” Rodriguez said half-smiling, in an interview last year.

Rodriguez received an honorary doctoral degree from Cal State San Marcos in June recognizing his lifelong work.

“It’s like losing an entire library,” said Bonnie Biggs, a professor at CSUSM who is working with local tribes to preserve and expand tribal libraries. “I often asked him, ‘Henry, what would we do without you?’ ”

For nearly 40 years, Rodriguez recorded songs and stories for future generations on reel-to-reel tapes that Grossmont College is preserving.

Rodriguez is survived by his two sons, Robert and Richard Rodriguez; and three daughters, Patricia Rodriguez, Betty Robeen and Donna Buchimora.

“He was a family member to the whole tribe,” said Jack Musick, a former chairman of the La Jolla band.


Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-5426 or

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