Native spirit paddles into Coupeville

Penn Cove was bustling with activity Saturday afternoon as Native Americans and First Nation peoples from the United States and Canada spent the afternoon racing canoes.

The races, featuring everything from small, single-person canoes to larger 11-person boats, took place throughout the afternoon during the annual Penn Cove Water Festival in Coupeville. The races, sponsored by a variety of Coupeville businesses, typically took place between the boat launch at Captain Coupe Park and the Coupeville Wharf.

“We had great weather and a great turnout,” said Susan Berta, member of the Penn Cove Water Festival Association, adding that an eagle was seen flying over the stage during the day.

Canoe clubs representing approximately a dozen tribes from Washington to British Columbia participated in Saturday’s races.

Berta said there were fewer participants this year because another race was taking place at the Lummi reservation. However, several clubs from Lummi sent boats to Coupeville.

The racers received a warm welcome when they arrived in town. In keeping with tradition Coupeville residents teamed up to bake bread that was given to every participant. Then, once the races finished up, the Coupeville Town Council cooked dinner for the participants at Town Park.

More than just canoe races, people could get a glimpse of other aspects of Native American culture by simply wandering through downtown Coupeville. Storytellers Lou LaBombard and Harvest Moon shared their tales inside the Island County Museum. The stage in front of the museum featured musicians and dancers from around the region. Violinist Swil Kanim, the Tsimshian Haayuuk Dancers and the Tulalip Singers performed while people perused the vendors selling on Front Street, ate fry bread and watched the canoe races.

Berta said people came as far away as Georgia to attend the Water Festival. That particular family learned about the festival from the Internet.

Just up the street on Alexander, children were busy building small boats and then floating them in pools, and participating in a variety of activities, including rope making.

Harking back to the water festivals that took place in Coupeville during the early 20th Century, the water festival also featured environmental education displays by such groups as Orca Network and the Beach Watchers.

Berta said organizers are always looking for volunteers for the event. Information can be found on the Internet at or by calling 678-6768.

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