Native American Cultures HomeScholastic Explorers

Prehistoric Pueblos field reports
Canyon Rock Art field reports
Native American Cultures HomeEarthwatch
List of Skagit River Field Reports

Chester Cayou, Swinomish elder is honored on his 80th birthday.

Swinomish Birthday Celebration
by Maureen Leydon, Earthwatch Teacher Fellow, Massachusetts

The highlight of my experience was attending a celebration on the Swinomish reservation. It was the 80th birthday of Chester Cayou, a tribal elder. We felt pleased and flattered to be among a small number of non-Native Americans. Outsiders are rarely invited to these symbolic events.

We drove into the reservation and met in the community gymnasium. About 300 people were there. The tables were heaped with cracked crab, smoked salmon, clams, oysters, homemade Indian bread, and other side dishes. The festivities started with grace given in both English and Lashootseed, the language of the tribe.

We listened as representatives of local tribes rose from their seats one at a time to speak in honor of Chester. The speeches emphasized Chester's life of service to his family, his tribe, and his country. Chester recalled with pride his service as a paratrooper during World War II. People raised their hands as a traditional way of expressing praise and thanks. A tribal member beat a large drum.

The speakers were each given blankets by Chester's children. The gifts symbolized the reciprocal nature of giving and receiving. Those who receive today may be called upon to return the favor tomorrow. The grandchildren were then invited to come up and be recognized. They gave their grandpa a Mariners jacket with his Swinomish name embroidered on the back.

During the festivities great respect was shown to Chester, the guest of honor, and the other tribal elders. They were first to be served their meals by the young people of the tribe, who brought meals right to the table for those who were infirm.

I left the party feeling that although much had been taken away from them, the Swinomish tribe has held on to values that are rare and enviable.

Photos courtesy of Earthwatch