Tuesday, April 18, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Quinault Indian leader Joe DeLaCruz dies

Seattle Times staff reporter

Joe DeLaCruz, a giant cedar of a man who helped lead his Quinault Indian Nation and other Native American tribes toward self-government, died Sunday (April 16) at age 62.

From his roots in the coastal Olympic rain forest, Mr. DeLaCruz rose to the presidency of his tribe and eventually became a national spokesman for Native Americans insisting on their right to govern themselves and control their own destiny.

"Everywhere you look among Native Americans, you see Joe's imprint," said Suzan Harjo, a Cheyenne-Muskogee Indian activist in Washington, D.C. "I am in disbelief. It is a heavy blow when you lose one of those Great Cedars."

That stature is likely to be evident Saturday, when hundreds of Indian leaders from around the continent converge on Ocean Shores, Grays Harbor County, for a funeral at the new Quinault Beach Resort. The services are scheduled for 1 p.m.

Mr. DeLaCruz was the eldest of 10 children raised in the reservation village of Taholah, Grays Harbor County, where he was student-body president and a four-sport athlete in high school. In the summers he fished on the Quinault River with his grandfather.

"All that while he was driving a school bus and working at the mill," recalled sister Myrna Fitt.

After a two-year stint in the Army in Germany, Mr. DeLaCruz attended Portland State University, then went to work for the federal government in Portland.

But he was lured back to the reservation to become tribal business manager in 1967. Four years later, he was elected tribal president.

"Everyone knew he was going to be a leader," recalled Hank Adams, a longtime family friend. "It just came naturally to him. He had that charisma. He worked well with everyone."

Mr. DeLaCruz held the presidency for 22 years, during which he became one of the nation's best-known Native American leaders. In 1971 he was one of the tribal leaders who organized a protest against companies that were logging on tribal lands. The tribe blocked logging roads at the Chow Chow Bridge and demanded the right to manage its own natural resources.

"I grew up believing the Quinaults had great strength," Mr. DeLaCruz recalled many years later. "But I did not know until Chow Chow how much we had and how well we could use it."

Under his leadership, the tribe asserted its rights to timber, salmon and coastal beaches. The nation hired juvenile counselors, police officers and foresters.

"Joe started a lot of things," Harjo said. "His programs became models for Native Americans everywhere."

In 1977 he was elected president of the National Tribal Chairmen's Association and in 1981 became president of the National Congress of American Indians, serving four years in that post at a time when Indians were fending off what they saw as political assaults from the Reagan administration.

Tom Keefe, a former U.S. Senate aide, said Mr. DeLaCruz's political skills were critical as tribes struggled for the right to govern themselves.

"He was very bright and articulate," Keefe said. "And he stayed focused. He was devoted to the notion that someone needs to speak for the rights of indigenous people - not just in this nation but around the globe."

It is appropriate, Keefe added, that Mr. DeLaCruz died while waiting for a plane to take him to a national meeting on Indian health care in Oklahoma. He suffered a heart attack at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

"That's the way he would have wanted to go - on his way to another battle," Keefe said.

Survivors include Mr. DeLaCruz's wife, Dorothy of Hoquiam; his mother and stepfather, Edna and Ike Ebling of Hoquiam; his daughters, Gayle DeLaCruz and Lisa DeLaCruz Kyle, both of Inchelium on the Colville Indian Reservation, and Tina DeLaCruz of Hoquiam; his sons, Steve of Inchelium and Joe of Hoquiam; his brothers, Franklin and Allen Ebling, both of Moclips, Grays Harbor County, Edward of Central Park, Grays Harbor County, and James of Taholah; his sisters, Sharon McCrory and Arlene DeLaCruz, both of Taholah, Everelda Brooks of Moclips and Myrna Fitt of Pacific Beach, Grays Harbor County; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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