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Larry Campbell, Swinomish spokesperson, recalls tribal teachings

Swinomish Tribal Traditions
by Patricia Green, Earthwatch Teacher Fellow, Washington

In the evening, we had a guest speaker from the Swinomish tribe. Larry Campbell is the cultural manager for his tribe. He said that he considers himself fortunate because he is not only Swinomish, but is related to several different tribes in the region. His background includes Swinomish, Upper Skagit, S'Klallam, Samish, and Colville. He explained later that many of the tribes are related through intermarriage. There are 29 tribes all together in the state of Washington.

Campbell talked about what it means to be a tribal person. He started by telling us to relax and to put down our pens and not take notes. He said, "Listen with an open heart and when the time comes, it will come to you when you need it."

He also spoke about the importance of learning from the tribal elders. He explained, "They never tell us what to do, but they suggest ways that it has been done in the past, and how to think about it."

According to Campbell, the Swinomish have always been a fishing people. This is because of abundance of salmon. He said at one time people used to say that the salmon were so thick that you could walk across the water on them. His people learned not only how to catch the fish, but to preserve them, and put them away for the winter.

as Larry Campbell explains that the Swinomish have always been a fishing people.

Even during the abundant times, there were always years when there were no salmon. His tribe would go to a relative in another tribe that was having a good season and ask to participate in their fishery. Campbell said that if you asked in the proper way the permission was never denied. And the next year if you were having a good fishing year, you would help them in any way that you could.

Campbell explained to us that this is the way Indian people take care of one another, and that in Indian culture everything is reciprocal.

Photos courtesy of Earthwatch