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Originally published Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:59 PM

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Swinomish tribal member, 28, dies in ceremony

A 28-year-old Swinomish Tribe member died Tuesday morning while performing a ceremony in the tribe's traditional long house. Initial reports indicate that Romain James, of Puyallup, died of hyperthermia, or overheating of the body, according to Brian Cladoosby, tribal chairman.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A 28-year-old member of the Swinomish Tribe died Tuesday morning while participating in a ceremony in the tribe's traditional long house near La Conner, Skagit County.

Initial reports indicate that Romain James, of Puyallup, died of hyperthermia, or overheating of the body, according to Brian Cladoosby, tribal chairman.

"It just happened so quick," Cladoosby said. "Our condolences go out to the family."

The tribe is not releasing much information while it waits for official reports about the death from the coroner and tribal police. More information should be available Thursday, Cladoosby said.

James had been in the building for less than two days before he died, said Cladoosby, who explained that James was "only starting the process" of a secretive winter ceremony.

Many Coast Salish tribes in Washington and in British Columbia hold ceremonial gatherings during the winter time. Events at the gatherings, and the teachings around them, are private.

Cladoosby would not discuss details of the ceremony, citing tribal laws. He said the long house has been a part of the tribe's culture "for time immemorial."

Tuesday's death was not the first at the 200-by-70 foot wooden long house on the Swinomish Reservation.

In January 1998, Allison Edwards, 17, collapsed and died after 10 days in the long house during a tribal ceremony described as a rite of passage. FBI and tribal police investigated his death but did not make any arrests.

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Lynda Mapes and The Seattle Times' archives was used in this report.

Brian Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com

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