Rose Joy Crutchfield Sundberg: 1932-2023


Rose Joy Crutchfield Sundberg, March 25, 1932, to Feb. 25, 2023.
  • Rose Joy Crutchfield Sundberg, March 25, 1932, to Feb. 25, 2023.
Rose Joy Crutchfield Sundberg peacefully returned to her Creator on Feb. 25, 2023, at the age of 90. She was surrounded by family that loves her deeply. She was born March 25, 1932, at Yah-ter he-wan on the Klamath River, the third of five children, to Lila and Edward Crutchfield. She grew up in Blue Lake and attended elementary school there and graduated Arcata High School with the class of 1950.

Joy was Yurok and descendant from many Yurok villages, both river and coastal ner-er-nerh. Her paternal grandmother was Susie Donnelly Crutchfield, born at the village of Cho’-kwee and the original land holder of their family property at Yah-ter he-wan within the Yurok Reservation. Her maternal grandmother was Mary Shaffer Natt, born at Tsurai village in Trinidad, and the granddaughter of Big Lagoon Charlie. Her maternal grandfather was Robert Natt Sr. from the village of Hop-pew on the Klamath River.

Joy had a radiant fresh faced beauty with sparkling eyes, raven black hair like Elizabeth Taylor, a sense of humor and quick wit, which earned her the affectionate title "the Native Betty White!"  Her beauty shined through all her stages of life. She was a charming hostess, a fashion trendsetter using her flair and daring wardrobe as a backdrop to showcase local and other tribal jewelry artists when she traveled to lobby for Indian rights. She remarked, “They may not remember my face but they’ll remember the flashy big Indian rings I wear!”

She was a teacher of true Indigenous history, speaking the hard (and sometimes unpopular) truth yet she had grace and diplomacy; a human rights, environmental and tribal rights activist; a servant leader; political activist in causes she believed in, a lifelong volunteer, and a magnificent storyteller and cook. She loved jokes and had a repertoire of many, delivering them with expert timing. Once her ex son-in-law laughed so hard he blacked out and fell to the floor!

An early act of defending human rights made her legendary to her classmates. She single handedly beat up the boy who was hitting girls with a switch and making them cry. She learned how to fight sparring with her brother Bill Crutchfield. To so many, she was a true friend. She learned from an old friend who told her, “Joy, if you want to have friends, you have to be a friend.” She had friends all over the world.
Joy was married for 34 years to Fred Sundberg, and together they had five sons Fred, Daniel, Marshall, Garth and Mark and daughter, Lisa. She has been the family matriarch of more than 65 grandchildren and counting. When her kids were young, the family split their time between their home in Trinidad and the family cabin on the Klamath River on the original family allotment. In the early 1960s the family operated the Paddle Inn near Johnson’s, where jet boat tourists stopped in for lunch. Joy served burgers and potato salad, and made fresh hot pies with locally harvested huckleberries and blackberries served a la mode! The pies were so good customers would fight for the last piece of pie and they wanted it served in the pan with all the leftover juices, while family members tried to hide any extra pieces of pie from each other to enjoy after the tourists left. On the coast, they ran Sundberg Trucking.

In the late 1970s the family owned and operated the Aketa Inn on the east side of the Arcata Plaza, which was a restaurant and bar. Joy kicked off its grand opening with the family’s favorite band and friend Merv George and his Band, who played at almost every Sundberg family event. Her favorite song she loved to dance to was “Running Bear.”

Joy and Fred were active supporting their children’s sports teams and education, Joy served on the PTA, Fred coached baseball, and they hosted crab feeds to raise money to support their children’s teams and school events. They started the Little League baseball program in Trinidad.

In the early 1960s Joy was one of the original assignees of the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria. Joy served as chairperson there for over 26 years, and she is the second longest seated female chairperson of any tribe in the State of California (1962-1988). During her time as chairwoman she establish the largest Indian bingo hall in Northern California.

Joy dedicated her life to the betterment of services for Indian people. Her accomplishments and contributions so numerous they would be impossible to state briefly. Among the many things she was the proudest of helping to establish culturally appropriate indigenous curriculum with the NICE Project; and serving on the United Indian Health Services, Inc. (UIHS) Board of Directors for 41 years, becoming the longest serving board member (1974 – 2015) and an outspoken advocate for health care for California Indian communities. Mental health was her principal concern, and she served on the Humboldt County Mental Health Advisory Board. Joy also proudly served as a board member for the Inter Tribal Council of California, the California Rural Indian Health Board, the National Congress of American Indians, American Indian Scholarship, Inc., and the Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Association (NICPA).

Joy was an early protector so when traditional fishing on the Klamath were being challenged, she leveraged her position as a tribal government leader and stood in the gap where she could to protect the rights of the Yurok people until they had a form of a government to protect the salmon, other natural resources and ceremonial rights. She would take Yurok people to the state Capitol to rally and defend their rights. She knew having their own government would give the people services they were eligible for, like housing, etc. So when the opportunities came to form a Yurok Tribe she was supportive. After seeing a few failed attempts of the Yurok people organizing, she teamed up with Jesse Short and Jimmy James and other Yurok activists and used her diplomacy to work with Hoopa tribal leaders to resolve issues that arose from the four decades long legal battles called the Jesse Short Case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Its impact prompted a legislative effort that created the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act signed into law by President Reagan in 1988. Joy, Jesse and others made long trips to testify in Washington, D.C., in front of the House and Senate Select Committees on Indian Affairs in support of a tribal government for the Yurok people in their Indigenous lands and laid a foundation for the people to move forward. And it reaffirmed sovereignty of the Hoopa Tribe over their homelands and three Rancherias, including her own. They traveled throughout Yurok country, holding meetings to educate and consult the Yurok people about the legislation. While emotions and controversy abound with Yuroks on many sides over the issues of the legislation, in the end she meant well by her actions and loved the people. Many families were hurt over these conflicts. She found healing in feeding the people at the Sumeg brush dances and seeing the families come together to heal loved ones. Some of her greatest opponents became her friends through this process.

Appointed in 1975 by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California State Park and Recreation Commission, Joy made the unprecedented motion to repatriate the human remains from Yurok villages excavated by State Park sanctioned archaeologists and housed at a State Park’s warehouse in West Sacramento. Her motion was seconded and passed, and she called her friend back home, Walter Lara, Sr. The next day he and Victor Cutnose showed up to take the bones back home for reburial in an undisclosed location. Walt recalled they tried to stop him and flashed him papers, but he pushed past them and brought the ancestors back home.

In 1976, the Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Association (NICPA) was founded by Walt’s Uncle Milton Marks, the first grassroots Indian organization of its kind in the nation. Marks reached out to professor Dave Fredrickson (Sonoma State University), to team up with conscientious archaeology students to help NICPA develop an Indian owned consulting business to conduct field reviews of projects and make suitable recommendations for site avoidance and protection. Joy, Walt, and many others were active in NICPA, educating people (including archaeologists) about the sins of archaeology that robbed graves in the name of science. Years later historian Tony Platt would interview Joy, Walt and others about their experiences in his book Grave Matters (2011, Heyday Books, Berkeley).

The idea for a State Park featuring a reconstructed Yurok village was first proposed in 1928 by Alfred Kroeber. In 1991, the concept finally became a reality with the opening of Sumeg village at Patrick's Point State Park, since renamed Sue-meg State Park. Given her family ties to the Ner-er-nerh coastal Yurok at Trinidad and Big Lagoon, Joy was a key member of the Sumeg Advisory Committee appointed by Superintendent Bill Beat, who met over two years to provide guidance and help plan the design, uses and operation of Sumeg for education and the cultural enjoyment of all visitors. Every year on the last weekend in June, Joy and Walt Lara, Sr. and their families have organized the annual Brush Dance at Sumeg Village for more than 30 years, a healing ceremony that brought together participants from the Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, Tolowa and Wiyot tribes and the greater community (Indian and not). Every year Joy mustered an army of potato peelers, cooks, servers and dishwashers, and fresh salmon was cooked Yurok-style on redwood sticks over the fire. She raised funds each year to pay the Medicine Woman and to feed the hundreds of dancers and observers by holding an annual “Tea by the Sea,” at truly high tea replete with table linens, fine china cups and saucers (pinky finger extended was a must), delectable tea cakes, little sandwiches and such, and a silent auction with wonderful items donated by her wide reach of friends and associates. Hats and girdles were mandatory attire, with prizes for the best hats. She was the best hostess ever, we all felt at home and happy to support the Brush Dance at Sumeg.


In her later years she traveled the world — China with her sister Elaine, and Africa, Egypt, the Caribbean, England, Scotland and Ireland, Italy, Lake Titicaca in Peru, Mexico’s Copper Canyon by train, New Zealand at the invitation of Maoris, and more with her many dear girlfriends and daughter. Joy and the girlfriends would get together for weekly dinners and walks up on Trinidad Head for moon and sun rises on Easter and New Year’s, and an annual Winter Solstice Party. She had a rule they followed, "We’ll listen about your aches and pains for three minutes, then you have to shut up!” They preferred to focus on having fun. And we can’t forget the “Moonies,” she loved gathering with her friends and howling at the full moon! While some of the girls are still upright, she will be happy to see her dear friends at the Pearly Gates, including but not limited to Nancy Hilfiker, Peggy Stebbins, Maxine Raymond-Lewis, Jenny Hawks and Olivia Jackson.

What brought her joy was having margaritas, going to parties for family and friends, seeing her namesake great granddaughters Kaia Rose and Kalia Joy, going to the Dollar Tree and playing slots at the Heights Casino, and shocking the casino host John Morias with one of her jokes.

She was preceded in death by her parents Lila Natt Crutchfield and Edward Crutchfield; grandmothers Susie Donnelly Crutchfield and Mary Shaffer Natt; Grandfathers Robert Natt Sr. and William Crutchfield, her sisters Elaine Clary and Mary “Jackie” Birchfield; brother William Crutchfield, Sr., and her son Marshall Sundberg.

Joy is survived by her brother Robert Crutchfield, Cousin Jean Walker, her dear friends Jackie Hammer, Rachael Joseph, Janet Eidsness, Shirley Shortridge, Walt Lara and her weekly dinner crew Lesley Sundberg, Lisa Spellenberg, Cathy Coffman, Susie Knight, Yoshika Skelton and her niece Tracy Lee Crutchfield. Her children: Fred Sundberg, Sr., Dan Sundberg, Garth Sundberg, Mark Sundberg, Sr. and Lisa Sundberg; grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends too numerous to mention here by name but she loved and cherished each and every one. Even if she didn’t always get your name right she’d say, “At least I didn’t call you by the dog’s name.”

There will be a viewing at her daughter Lisa’s home on Sunday, March 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Joy’s fire will be going, and an opportunity for friends and family to send Joy the things she will need in the next world. Joy will be laid to rest in a private ceremony at the family graveyard at Yah-ter he-wan on March 6. She will be followed by a procession (more information below) leaving 1220 Boyd Road in Arcata at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, March 6, heading west on State Route 299 to U.S. Highway 101 north. They will exit at Trinidad where she will be led by the Trinidad and Westhaven Fire Departments at 9 a.m. to make her final drive through the Trinidad Rancheria and the city of Trinidad then they will proceed north to be loaded into the Klamath at Ter-wer. She will then be carried by boat to her final resting place. Family graveside services will start at 11 a.m.

Pallbearers are her first line of grandchildren: Marci Sundberg, Chris Sundberg, Fred Sundberg, Rachel Sundberg, Adam Sundberg, Megan Sundberg, Nick Sundberg, Max Sundberg, Ryan Sundberg, Angela Sundberg, Ronald Sundberg, Sheri Sundberg, Jennifer Sundberg, Randy Sundberg, Renea Sundberg, Mark Sundberg II, Stacy Sundberg, Terry Brown, Aliesha Brown, Zack Brown and Kayla Maulson.

Honorary Pallbearers: Bob Crutchfield, Bill Crutchfield, Ron Birchfield, Terrance Brown, Kevin Maulson, Danny Chapman, James Brown, Justin Brown, Michael Cady, Nate Cady, Mike Ruiz, Nick High, Matt Rivas, Nate Quinn, Jerry Brink, John Provolt, Brandon Sundberg, Jordan Brown, Jeremiah Brown, Thomas Brown, Cameron Cox, Willard Carlson, Will-bear Carlson, Walt Lara, Sr., Walt Lara, Jr., Ernie Albers Jr., Muss Colegrove, Walter Gray, Gary Risling, Merv George Jr., John Green, Ted Hernandez, Virgil Moorehead, Sr., Rodney Vigil, Frank Masten, Matthew Sylvia, Peter Nix, Joe Giovanetti, Loren Bommelyn, Leo Carpenter, Jr., Joe Lindgren, Danny Cox, Bill Briggs, Travis Nabahe, Greg Anderson, Dick Kidder, John Morias and Butch Rindels.

In lieu flowers, please make donations to the Trinidad and Westhaven Volunteer Fire Departments in gratitude to those who served her as her health failed. (Checks made out to either, or for tax deductable donations receipts, the Westhaven Volunteers is a 501(C)3 non-profit.). TVFD PO Box 370, Trinidad, CA 95570 or WVFD PO Box 2141 Trinidad, CA 95570 or at

The family also wishes to thank Joy’s doctor Antoinette Martinez and the team at UIHS for the years of care, as well as the staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital who graciously hosted the family as we said our goodbyes.

We also would like to thank Paul’s Mortuary in services they provided so we could carry out our private ceremonies and burial.

Her family is hosting a celebration of Joy’s life on April 15, 2023, at the Bingo Hall at the Heights in Trinidad, from Noon to 3 p.m. For questions please contact Lisa Sundberg at (951) 833-8888 or by email at [email protected]

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