Water Festival makes a splash

Native American canoeists descended upon Coupeville Saturday afternoon. They came from as far as Vancouver, B.C., and Portland to participate in the races that highlight of the annual Penn Cove Water Festival.

Nine tribes competed in 11 different races ranging from one-man races to large family canoe races. This year, five tribes brought the large canoes to race this year, compared to only one that competed last year.

“That was really nice to have this year,” said Susan Berta, president of the Penn Cove Water Festival Association.

The canoe races are just a part of the Water Festival’s emphasis on American Indian culture.

“We’ve been trying, for the last couple years, to bring the festival back to its roots,” said Molly Hughes, member of the Penn Cove Water Festival Association. The festival harks back to the 1930s, where canoe clubs from all around Washington and Canada came to Coupeville to compete in the annual canoe races.

Along with the galleries, restaurants and gift shops that dominate historic Front Street, festival-goers could browse the booths where Indian arts and crafts were sold.

A lady selling obsidian knives and a Navajo silversmith were some of the more notable vendors at the Water Festival. People could also sample several specialty foods including salmon and fry bread.

“We love that salmon,” said Jay Kramer, a Bellevue resident who, along with his wife and child, attended the festival.

Even though it was a cloudy day, the weather held out and it didn’t rain. That allowed people to easily wander the streets of downtown Coupeville.

In addition to the arts and crafts, they also enjoyed such performers as Swil Kanim, a Lummi fiddler and the Tsimshian Haayuuk Dancers.

One Oak Harbor resident came to the festival to see Kanim, whom she met earlier in the week. She also used the festival to find ideas to teach in her history class at Oak Harbor Middle School.

“I thought I’d come and experience my new friend and experience what all the children experience,” teacher Evett Morgan-Mueller said. She encouraged her students to attend the festival and later write an extra-credit report about what they learned.

While the festival is taking on a more American Indian theme, several exhibitions that have been Water Festival staples in recent years were also available. Environmental and educational expositions filled the Coupeville Recreation Hall. Children enjoyed a petting zoo and educational activities sponsored by the Beach Watchers.

Now that the Penn Cove Water Festival is finished, planning can begin on next year’s. Berta said it takes a year to plan the festival and the association is also looking for volunteers. For more information about volunteering for the Penn Cove Water Festival, call 678-3451 or 678-3310.

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