by Betty Lou Gaeng
Christmas at Tulalip Reservation’s St. Anne’s Mission in 1876 was a particularly happy one. They had weathered a tough year with a measles epidemic, the serious illness of their pastor Fr. CHIROUSE, and the death of a young teacher. This season they were visited by a delegation of Suquamish Indians from the Port Madison Reservation who had come to Tulalip Bay to see the agent, and were invited to stay and celebrate the holiday with Fr. CHIROUSE, the Sisters of Providence, the staff of the school, and the students and their parents.
Fr. CHIROUSE celebrated midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and Monday, Christmas morning, the little church overflowed with worshippers. On Christmas evening, a children’s festival was held featuring Christmas hymns and recitations by the children. Fr. CHIROUSE spoke briefly to the Indians in their own language, and then he translated for Agent MALLETT when he expressed greetings on behalf of the government. Gifts were distributed—each student, teacher and guest receiving one. The young girls distributed candy and the Sisters gave gifts of fruit. Following all the festivities, and more Christmas songs, the festival ended with Benediction by Fr. CHIROUSE. The Indians from Port Madison returned to their homes, cheered by the warm reception they had received from their friends at St. Anne’s Mission.
The lengthy illness Fr. CHIROUSE suffered during the winter of 1875-76 had taken a toll on his health and vigor and he was beginning to wonder if he could continue his pastoral and teaching work. When he was urged by some to rest, he would tell them: “I must do my work.” When others suggested that a change would be good for him—ministering to white people instead of Indians—he replied: “The Indians need me; the whites do not. This is my life; I wish to die among my Indians.” Fr. CHIROUSE at times would joke, saying that he no longer felt at home among the whites. In fact, when people saw him in his canoe with his young Indian paddlers, they often mistook him for an Indian himself. Having spent so much time out in the open, his complexion, swarthy from birth, was now very similar to the Indians’. Fr. CHIROUSE had truly become one with the Indian people he had loved and lived with for much of his lifetime.
A few years earlier, one man who knew how hard this particular priest worked, commented “It must be a very satisfying life, if you can manage to work 18 hours every day.” Fr. CHIROUSE had to agree—his missionary work, the privations, and responsibility were becoming difficult for him. In 1877, Bishop D’HERBOMEZ, Superior at the Provincial House in British Columbia, announced to Bishop BLANCHET that he intended transferring Fr. CHIROUSE to Canada before he was lost to them.
Bishop BLANCHET was not happy about this decision as his supply of priests was already inadequate. The Indians were more than unhappy—they were desolate. They presented Bishop BLANCHET with a petition asking to keep Fr. CHIROUSE with them, but the bishop told them that he had already pleaded with the Oblate superiors and nothing would change their minds. On May 10, 1878, Bishop BLANCHET sent a letter to the Indians of Old Man House Reservation [Port Madison] stating that he gathered that the bereaved Indians intended to petition the Pope to keep Fr. CHIROUSE from being sent to Canada and Bishop BLANCHET advised them to abandon this plan.
Following orders from his Oblate superiors, Fr. CHIROUSE severed his ties to the Indian Bureau, resigning as superintendent of the first contract Indian school established by the federal government. He then said good-bye to all his old friends, leaving the pastoral work in the hands of Fr. Jean-Baptiste BOULET, and August 15, 1878, 31 years after he had arrived in the United States, Fr. CHIROUSE left the Diocese of Nesqually for Canada’s New Westminster, British Columbia.
During the 21 years Fr. CHIROUSE had been with the Indians of Puget Sound, many changes had taken place, but with their strong advocate now gone, many more changes were coming, not always for the benefit of the Indians. Little by little, the federal government was making an effort to remove the influence of religion in Indian reservation schools—and with this would come the strict enforcement of “ENGLISH ONLY.” The school continued for a few years with the Sisters of Providence as teachers. However, in 1896, Congress decided to abolish sectarian schools on Indian reservations, and began an annual decrease of about 20 percent in contracts, with the plan of eliminating all of these schools at the end of five years. The diocese for a time made up the difference in funds at the Tulalip school. However, in 1901 the sisters were forced to withdraw, and the government then took control. The school which Fr. CHIROUSE had envisioned and worked so hard to establish was no longer part of the mission.
Over 98 years after the death of Fr. CHIROUSE, an act regarding Native Americans and their languages was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. Fr. CHIROUSE would probably have applauded, and for once agreed with the government regarding school policy. It had been the historic policy of the federal government to suppress native languages in Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and other schools until this policy was reversed October 30, 1990 when President George H. W. BUSH signed into law the Native American Languages Act, Public Law 101-477, which had been sponsored by Sen. Daniel INOUYE, and enacted and approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Congress found that “the status of the cultures and languages of Native Americans is unique and the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of these unique cultures and languages.” [102.1] Further, Congress made it the policy of the United States to “preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice and develop Native American languages.” [104.1] “The right of Indian tribes and other Native American governing bodies to use the Native American languages as a medium of instruction in all schools funded by the Secretary of the Interior” was recognized [104.5] Also, the act put forth that “the right of Native Americans to express themselves through the use of Native American languages should not be restricted in any public proceeding, including publicly supported education programs”  The federal policy statement defined native Americans as American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Native Pacific Islanders of any island in the Pacific Ocean that is a territory or possession of the United States.
Fr. CHIROUSE did not live to see the destruction of St. Anne’s at Mission Beach when it was destroyed by fire early on the morning of Saturday, March 29, 1902, the day before Easter. A young boy, Emil WILLIAMS, with some of the other young students, rescued the French Madonna statue which had graced the little church for many years. The statue along with the old church bell is now part of the present-day St. Anne’s Catholic Church. Following the fire the children attending the school were all sent home, and a school did not open again until 1905 when a new one was built a short distance to the west. However, since this was now a federal government facility, as were all the other buildings in the compound, the newly built St. Anne’s Mission Church was no longer at its center, as it had always been. It was now separate, set farther back on the hillside. The separation of church and state had become reality. There were now only lay teachers in the school. Dr. Charles Milton BUCHANAN, who had been the medical doctor on the reservation since 1894, was appointed as superintendent, a post he held until his death in 1920.
In 1857, when the Oblates of Mary Immaculate first decided to leave Washington Territory and move their headquarters from Olympia to British Columbia, they first picked a site on Vancouver Island near Esquimault. At that time Fr. CHIROUSE, in the company of Fr. Louis FOUQUET, O. M. I., was chosen to assist with the establishment of this new mission. Fr. CHIROUSE was already familiar with Vancouver Island, having made a trip previously. He did not, however, remain, as he had just begun his own mission at Tulalip Bay and was needed back in Washington Territory. Fr. CHIROUSE made other trips back to Esquimault and also farther north on Vancouver Island, where he helped with the vaccination of the Indians during the rampant smallpox epidemic of 1862-1863. According to records, Fr. CHIROUSE himself vaccinated thousands of Indians throughout the Puget Sound area and Vancouver Island. St. Anne’s Mission on the Tulalip Reservation was, however, his home, where those closest to him lived and he was always anxious to return.
In 1861, the Oblates decided to move their headquarters from Esquimault when Fr. FOUQUET found what was considered to be a more suitable location along the Fraser River near what is now New Westminster, British Columbia. The new mission was established and named St. Mary’s. A residential school was opened, its objective being to educate the children of the First Nations people. The Oblate priests continued to follow their doctrine established many years before in France: education of the Native poor.
Thus in 1878, when Fr. CHIROUSE left his Tulalip Reservation home of 21 years, his destination was Mission City, British Columbia and St. Mary’s Mission and Indian Residential School. At St. Mary’s, Fr. CHIROUSE found his workload less arduous than what it had been, and also his responsibilities were lighter. He was appointed superior of St. Mary’s and principal of the Indian school. He did not cease altogether to travel, however; Fr. CHIROUSE often visited the Indians along the Fraser River where he again became a beloved figure, known as the Good Old Father.
One month after Fr. CHIROUSE’s arrival in Canada, he was visited by William McCLUSKEY, who told the father that back at Tulalip Bay he was missed and his loss was hard to bear. Shortly thereafter, the young McCLUSKEY, in order to be closer to the father, returned to live at his former home on the Lummi Reservation. Meanwhile, even though Fr. CHIROUSE was expected to take life easier, before the close of 1878, he was credited with the establishment of a mission at Kamloops, British Columbia. In 1879 Fr. CHIROUSE wrote a letter to Charles JULES telling him that it made him happy to be able to visit the Indians at the missions along the Fraser River.
Fr. CHIROUSE also made trips to see his old friends back in the United States. According to records in the archives of the Archdiocese of Seattle, he made frequent trips back to minister to his friends, the Indians of the Tulalip Agency. 1879 records of the Chancery office show that Fr. CHIROUSE baptized three Indian children at Port Madison—the record signed by Fr. BOULET. The 1883 records show the baptism of two children at Tulalip and a funeral at Port Madison—the record signed by Fr. CHIROUSE himself. Also, the Archdiocese’s records show that Our Lady of Good Help Church of Seattle in 1883 reported a baptism at Newcastle by Fr. CHIROUSE—record signed by Fr. CHIROUSE. In 1884, at the Swinomish Reservation, Fr. CHIROUSE performed a marriage—the record signed by Fr. BOULET. According to Sister Mary Louise, Fr. CHIROUSE made many summer visits to see the Indians of Puget Sound, including the years mentioned above; he also returned in 1881. In her thesis, Sister Mary Louise stated that many of those she interviewed spoke of the great honor in having their old priest officiate at their marriages and baptisms when he visited. They felt so comfortable with him; his knowledge of their language was special to the Indians. He personally visited many, and was welcomed into their homes.
On one of his early visits to his Lummi Reservation children, by that time the home of his foster son William McCLUSKEY, Fr. CHIROUSE, arriving by canoe, found a great crowd waiting. As the canoe neared the shore, some of the Indians ran out into the water to greet him and his paddlers. Fr. CHIROUSE was lifted onto their shoulders and carried ashore. Those on the shore were filled with excitement and there was weeping, shouting, laughing and happy greetings—much of it from Fr. CHIROUSE himself. There were shouts of “Oh! oh, oh! Our old Father has come to see us again!” “Oh, no,” he said with tears of joy streaming down his cheeks, “I am not your father anymore; Fr. BOULET is your father now, but I will always be your grandfather.” This statement was joined by shouts and laughter.
Through the years, Fr. CHIROUSE wrote often to his children and old friends back at the Tulalip mission. Returning to his home at St. Mary’s after a visit to see them, he wrote a letter to the young people. The following is an extract from that letter:
After dwelling on his happiness at revisiting his former flock, Fr. CHIROUSE praised the good work of his successor, of the Sisters, and the agent. He rejoiced that the Indians were remaining loyal to the teachings of Christianity, and the return of some who had been remiss. Commenting on his visit to the Tulalip school, Fr. CHIROUSE said:
“That reception you gave me, those eloquent addresses, those pieces you well executed, those charming dialogues and joyful hymns, those palms, flags, garlands and flowers, together with my joy mingled with yours, shall ever remain engraved in my memory, as a reminder of the gratitude I owe to your teachers and to you also.”
In August of 1891, the year before his death, 70-year-old Fr. CHIROUSE made his final trip back to the Tulalip Reservation, his home for so many years. The occasion was to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as to celebrate the anniversary of the day Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE, as a young man, had taken his perpetual vows at Marseilles, France on August 15, 1844. Here again he was greeted with much enthusiasm by about 400 of his old friends, many of them former pupils. William Howard PHELPS, writing for the Portland Oregonian, gave an account of Fr. CHIROUSE’s reception by the Tulalip Indians during this 1891 visit. Following is an excerpt from Mr. PHELPS’ article:
“There was a crowd of them at the wharf…They paid no heed to aught else, and as he came from the boat, they met him with bared heads and eager, loving words of welcome. The older men with deep wrinkles in their faces, met him first, and then gave way to the next younger, and so on. It was his world and his life, he had traveled far to reach it, and he had conquered it by love and devotion.”
One especially was so very happy to see his old teacher again: Charles JULES, who had been the little 10-year-old boy who had happily greeted Fr. CHIROUSE as he approached the beach many years before. Years later, on July 11, 1931, when he was interviewed by Sister Mary Louise, Mr. JULES spoke of being especially thrilled when Fr. CHIROUSE accepted his invitation during this visit to spend the night at the JULES’ home. Feeling that this could very well be the last reunion, he took his old friend and teacher to Marysville that very afternoon and had a photograph taken of Fr. CHIROUSE, and in 1931 that treasured picture of the “holy priest with a kindly heart” was still hanging on the wall of the JULES home. Information from a newspaper article included in the Mary Koch Collection shows that Charles JULES’ daughter Agnes JAMES was living in the old family home when on August 26, 1957 it burned and everything was destroyed.
In December of 1891, Fr. CHIROUSE suffered a paralyzing stroke and was recuperating at St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia. On January 5, 1892, sixteen days later, from his hospital room Fr. CHIROUSE wrote to Charles JULES, telling him that he was feeling much better and that the Sisters of Providence were taking excellent care of him.
Friday, March 4, 1892, was St. Casimir’s feast day. This was Fr. CHIROUSE’s name day—the day on which he annually received congratulatory messages from his many friends. This year they were especially numerous, but none were more appreciated by him than those from his children of the Tulalip School. They remembered him—to the last he was their dear Father, and they were his affectionate children.
God bestowed on Fr. CHIROUSE many gifts, and he used them wisely. He never attained high office in the Church as did many of the men he had mentored. Fr. CHIROUSE remained a simple missionary priest, but his faith and works set an example that, according to superiors in the Church, no one else matched. As a young man in 1847, traveling with the wagon train on the long and difficult journey from St. Louis to Walla Walla, Oregon Territory, he brought cheer to the others with his music in the evenings when they were at rest. Did the Indians hear the joyful music of the accordion and the beautiful voice raised in songs of faith—the sounds vibrating across the prairies? Did they observe the young man in the black robe and wonder at the strange apparatus? Fr. CHIROUSE never lost this gifted spirit for entertaining—it became part of his missionary work. At Tulalip, he taught his boys to sing, play instruments and to love music as he did. Their well-trained voices were heard at Mass—in their own native language, English and Latin. Along with the Father, they traveled to the lumber camps to perform and earn money so they could continue their education. The sound of the singing voices as they paddled canoes through the waterways never failed to provide enjoyment. Their music especially provided much joy for the elders. As a young priest, Fr. CHIROUSE had been reprimanded for not always being pious, but his superiors must have learned that Fr. CHIROUSE’s joyful exuberance for life, so often expressed in music, was what endeared him to the Indians and made him such a successful missionary.
At Canada’s St. Mary’s Mission, Sunday, April 17, 1892, Fr. CHIROUSE awoke to another Easter. He had always looked forward to this great feast. He was now frail, suffering the results of the stroke, along with rheumatism from the years of hard work during harsh weather, but he still had that ever-present twinkle in his eyes, and he enjoyed reading all the letters he was receiving from his former pupils whom he had watched grow from little children to adulthood. Confined to his hospital room, he must have wished to be back at St. Mary’s Mission to partake in the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. Later, the Indian tribes from the Fraser River area, the Stabes, Squamish, Sechelt, Stekine and Tlayamen, would gather on the mission grounds for their performance of the very popular Passion Play. About 1500 tribal members had set up their tents to form a great city of white canvas around the chapel. Fr. CHIROUSE no doubt longed to be with them to take part in the celebration just one more time.
This was not to be. Fr. CHIROUSE seemed to be recovering, and on May 28th he heard confessions and assisted at Benediction, when suddenly he faltered. His mind, which had always been so active, seemed to still. Fr. OUELLETTE administered the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church just before Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE slipped away into his final Sleep in the Peace of God. The beloved Good Old Father was gone. His body was then put on the train for the trip from the hospital back to St. Mary’s Mission, his home for the past 14 years, and there at the mission cemetery he was to be laid to rest. Back at the mission, the sad news that their reverend priest was gone forever reached the Indians and mournful cries were heard. As the train bearing Fr. CHIROUSE’s body approached, every tribal member present went to the station and formed two long lines along the tracks. The De Profundis was intoned and repeated in many different languages. The procession then began to move forward toward the church. Bishop DURIEU of New Westminster, who as a young priest had learned at the side of Fr. CHIROUSE, celebrated the Requiem High Mass and led the prayers, with the Indians singing the liturgical chants. Then Fr. CHIROUSE’s beloved Indians escorted the body to its final resting place beside the Fraser River. A small cross was placed over his grave. Sadly, a few years ago, the mission cemetery was vandalized and the cross that marked Fr. CHIROUSE’s grave was stolen and never recovered. Ironically, there is one cross in the cemetery that does bear the inscribed name Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE, O. M. I., but that cross marks the grave of the nephew and namesake of the Good Old Father. Fr. CHIROUSE’s nephew had come to the mission several years before and died there in 1927.
On the Tulalip Reservation and the other reservations where Fr. CHIROUSE served, the people who fondly remembered the kindly black-robed priest who had lived among them for over two decades are all gone now. With the passage of the years, as with most historical figures who have passed quietly through our lives, the name of the Reverend Father Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE, O. M. I. has mostly faded from memory. But, as a pioneer in our Puget Sound country, he left his legacy in the churches he established, and geographically he left his mark on the land of the Tulalip Reservation. Two reminders of his former presence are the name Priest Point where he had his mission and school, and Priest Point Cemetery located on land cleared by Fr. CHIROUSE and his boys for the burials near the mission. His spirit hovers over Mission Beach located at the head of Tulalip Bay, where he established St. Anne’s Mission, with its little church where he held so many Sunday services—many in the Indians’ own native language. Here he baptized, married and held burial services for the ancestors of those still living nearby. In the compound with the church was the first government contract school for Indians in our nation, where the Sisters of Providence came so the girls could receive an education at Our Lady of Seven Dolors school. On the hill behind the old St. Anne’s Mission property is Mission Beach Cemetery where Fr. CHIROUSE and his boys had cleared land for the burial of their people. Many of the “boys” now rest here or at Priest Point Cemetery. Running through the land is Mission Creek, another reminder that there once was a Catholic priest, who had come from faraway France to settle and make his home amid the Indians on their reservation, and was accepted, respected and beloved. Many of the male ancestors of those now living at Tulalip and other reservations along the Sound were given the name of Eugene or Casimir—another little-noted legacy of Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE.
This simple man of God is now part of history. Fr. CHIROUSE was a man who never sought greatness in the Church hierarchy, only wishing to fulfill his vow to shepherd the poor. In doing this, he was rewarded with a family: an orphan himself, he became father to many orphans.
Several years after the death of Fr. CHIROUSE, Dr. Charles BUCHANAN wrote the following regarding this one-of-a-kind beloved priest:
“He came of an ancient lineage and it showed, all his life, the characteristics of his race. He carried his head like one with high peaks and heavenly visions before him. He was small in stature, but robust, well-built, keenly intelligent, persistent, and sincere, in fact a true son of the Rhône Valley. Father CHIROUSE was an optimist, cheerful, hopeful and saw good in everyone. He ever had a kind, encouraging word for all he met, and was as simple, as naïve, as a child. All who approached him felt the warm and generous nature of his heart.”
The Indian Sentinel, a quarterly magazine of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Washington, D. C., published in January 1918 what was called the Chirouse Number. Included was a photograph of a young Fr. CHIROUSE and on the opposite page there appeared a sonnet by Charles J. QUIRK, S. J.
A plaque in front of present-day historic St. Anne’s Catholic Mission on the Tulalip Reservation commemorates the name of Fr. CHIROUSE as the founder of the original mission. The plaque, however, erroneously states that the early teachers at the mission school were Jesuit priests. There were never any Jesuit teachers at the school, only Oblates of Mary Immaculate, with Fr. CHIROUSE, O. M. I., the founder of the mission, the first and the last. After he left, the Sisters of Providence continued as the teachers until the school was taken over by the federal government. Diocesan priests conducted services at the little mission church after Fr. CHIROUSE departed.
Even though Fr. CHIROUSE was gone, this narrative cannot end here. On March 15, 1893, almost one year after his death, at the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Kitsap County, a little Suquamish boy, Eli GEORGE, was born. Eli was a descendant of Fr. CHIROUSE’s old friend, Chief SEALTH (Seattle). Fr. CHIROUSE had even officiated at the funeral of the old Chief. When Eli was of school age, he was sent to the Tulalip government school and attended for several years. On June 15, 1917, as a young man of 24, Eli registered for the World War I military draft. Under the question as to his race, Eli, a full Suquamish Indian, simply entered American. Shortly following his registration, Eli became a soldier in the U. S. Army and was sent to France. On Christmas day, 1917, Eli lost his life in that far-off country where 96 years earlier Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE had been born. As a young man of 26, Fr. CHIROUSE left his home in France to live his life with the Indians of the Pacific Northwest, never to return to his birth home. As a young man of 24, Eli GEORGE traveled from his home along the shores of Puget Sound to the battlefields of France. Eli GEORGE never returned to his Port Madison home; instead he is buried at Chaumont in France.
Two other young men, schoolmates of Eli GEORGE at the Tulalip school, lost their lives in France while serving in the United States Army in World War I—Alphonsus BOB and Elson JAMES. Both, however, were brought back to be buried near their homes on the Tulalip Reservation. Alphonsus rests at Mission Beach Cemetery, and Elson at Priest Point Cemetery.
The narrative of the remarkable man from across the sea, and the people who became his beloved family, now comes to a bittersweet end. The little lad from France, who so early in life made a vow to God and lived a life few can even imagine, now rests. There can be no more fitting conclusion than the eloquent words of Dr. Charles BUCHANAN upon receiving news of the death of Eli GEORGE.
In America, Father Chirouse slumbers, and in France, Eli’s dust is a part of that land — in Chaumont he slumbers. Half a world intervenes between the two, but the thunders of war disturb not their slumber.
Note: I have not used the term Lushootseed in reference to the language and culture of the Puget Sound Indians, as this is a word that came into use long after the time of Fr. CHIROUSE and would not be appropriate in the historical context of his story.
As I stated in the first chapter of this story, when I undertook the task of writing about the Reverend Father Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE, O. M. I., the story was meant to be a short biography of Father CHIROUSE’s life. As soon as I began my research, however, I was astonished to learn how much of an impact he had on the early history of Oregon and Washington Territories, and on the lives of the people who knew him. Father CHIROUSE is hardly mentioned in our history books, but he was a major player during this volatile time, and I felt his story needed to be told.
In my personal life, I am not of the Catholic faith, and here I would be writing about a Roman Catholic priest. Could I be unbiased? My own ancestors were of many faiths: Mennonite, Puritan, Church of England, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, and others. Because of this diverse background, I have always tried to stay neutral in my writing, focusing more on the person than on his or her religion. I hope in this story of Eugene Casimir CHIROUSE that I have been able to present him as a man among men—a man whose faith, compassion, strength, intellect, and love of life and people transcended any religious denomination. He was a man who did his best, always striving to put the needs of others before his own. He never lost his joyful exuberance for life, even though he had experienced sorrow and hardship. To me, Father CHIROUSE is an example of what God intended man to be, and it is my pleasure to tell his story.
Betty Lou Gaeng
Correction: The courtesy acknowledgement was inadvertently left out from the photo of Fr. Chirouse’s censer in the previous issue of the Sounder. It should have read: Courtesy of Abundance of Grace: The History of the Archdiocese of Seattle 1850-2000, by Patricia O’Connell Killen and Christine M. Taylor. Christine Taylor is the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, who gave permission for the photo to be reprinted.>
Photo from Terry Glavin’s book Amongst God’s Own: The Enduring Legacy
of St. Mary’s Mission, 2002. This picture was taken in 1892 during the
time of Fr. Chirouse’s death and shows the white tents of the Indians
at the mission.
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