Frederick "Sonny" Woodruff Jr., a longtime elder of the Quileute Nation and an instrumental spark in transforming the tradition of canoe journeys into an annual event, died of a heart attack Sept. 26. He was 58.
Frederick “Sonny” Woodruff Jr., a longtime elder of the Quileute Nation and an instrumental spark in transforming the tradition of canoe journeys into an annual event, died of a heart attack Sept. 26. He was 58.
Every year, Mr. Woodruff, of La Push, coordinated the tribe’s participation in the event and served as captain of the Quileute Paddlers.
But his influence and character was felt far beyond that. Like his father, Frederick Sr., and brothers, Doug and Russell, he accepted leadership and represented both practical and communal interests of the tribe.
He could be found each Wednesday night at the “Ak-a-lat” Center in La Push for healing drum circles. He was a lifelong fisherman, sometimes from a dugout cedar canoe he built. He was an accomplished heavy-equipment operator. He also represented his tribe at potlatches throughout the region.
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Tribal officials say Mr. Woodruff was a tireless spokesman for Indian rights and chairman of numerous committees and panels, including the Tribal Council, Tribal School Board, as well as housing, planning and cultural boards. He also served as a natural-resource policy representative for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
Mr. Woodruff helped many in his community, through encouragement, constant reminders about the value of Native culture, and intervening in the lives of those battling drugs and alcohol. He emphasized helping youths, often incorporating Quileute culture as a way to help young people to reconcile problems and live more stable lives.
“He was everything to our tribe,” said Bonita Cleveland, his niece and vice chairwoman of the Quileute Tribal Council. “We were so close, like brother and sister. We grew up together and I have never known anyone like him. He never, ever asked for a thing, but always gave recognition to all. He was a strong leader, someone who made sure all things were right. And he adored his grandchildren.”
The annual canoe journey was one of those things he always made sure was right. The cultural event, joined by several tribes in the region, traces ancestral trading routes of tribes from Western Washington and British Columbia.
“It’s kind of a rebirth of our culture,” Mr. Woodruff recently told the Peninsula Daily News during the event’s 20th anniversary. “It’s an awakening of a lot of communities.”
He graduated from Forks High School and was the son of Fred Woodruff Sr. and Sarah Hines Woodruff, both of whom preceded him in death — as did his brother, Doug, and his sisters Pearl and Shirley.
He is survived by his wife, Jill, sons Dakwa and Rick, daughters Sharra, Brandy and Maria; brother Russell, sisters Pat, Delores, Bertha, Mary and Donna, and numerous nieces, nephews and grandchildren.
Potlatch-style services were held last week at the A-Ka-Lat Center in La Push.