Penn Cove Water Festival makes a splash May 19

The Penn Cove Water Festival is famous for its Native American canoe races. Cheer the teams on Saturday, May 19. - --
The Penn Cove Water Festival is famous for its Native American canoe races. Cheer the teams on Saturday, May 19.
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With a new slew of volunteer board members, work continues on organizing a popular celebration of Native American culture.

The Penn Cove Water Festival takes place Saturday, May 19 and it features canoe races that attract Native Americans from across the Puget Sound region along with dancers and storytellers that make the festival a popular pre-summer attraction.

The previous committee had spent more than 20 years organizing the Penn Cove Water Festival. Even though they successfully organized the event year after year, board members were starting to tire and considered shelving the festival unless they could find some new help.

Six newcomers eventually joined the board, giving the festival new life.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Lisa Haas, president of the Penn Cove Water Festival. “We’ve had a ball putting this thing together.”

Seven Indian tribes from Washington state and Canada have signed up for the races and Haas said she expects several more teams to arrive on race day.

The races start at noon and continue through the afternoon.

Races from single-person to 11-person canoes take place throughout Penn Cove. Racers gather at Captain Coupe Park. Spectators can catch the races by walking onto the pier leading to the Coupeville Wharf.

The Penn Cove Water Festival began in the 1930s and centered on the canoe races.

World War II prompted the cancellation of the festival and it wasn’t revived until 1991. It has been held every spring since then.

In addition to the canoe races, a variety of storytellers, dancers and performers will be on hand to entertain the thousands of people who will wander through Coupeville Saturday.

The entertainment stage will feature performances by Native American violinist Swil Kanim and the Tshimshain Haayuuk Dancers.

Storytellers Rosie James and Lou Labombard will share Native American oral histories. They will speak near the blockhouse located at the Island County Museum.

In addition to the Water Festival, the Native Spirit Art Show takes place both Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

Haas said the new group initially had trouble raising money.

But, thanks to some anonymous donations, along with support from Puget Sound Energy and the Honor Works Foundation, the festival was able to continue providing entertainment.

She hopes the festival will expand to include a second day next year and include such additions as a parade.

“We’re trying to make it a whole weekend festival,” Haas said.


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