Bead by bead, three-and-a-half year old Ezra Malloy strung together a colorful bracelet as Jackie Wenala explained the significance of each bead’s color to the toddler.
Each color represents a different stage in the life cycle of the salmon—grey for gravel, pink for eggs, clear for the fresh water of the Pacific Northwest.
Wenala is from the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, a local group that works to help restore salmon populations and educate the public.
Malloy was one of the many visitors to the numerous booths at the Penn Cove Water Festival on Saturday, where salmon was a prominent theme due to its significance to the tribes of the Pacific Northwest.
The Water Festival brings together people of all ages wanting to learn more about Native American culture, our environment and to watch the annual traditional tribal canoe races.
The six-hour long festival blended Pacific Northwest native culture with environmental education.
The day-long canoe races kicked off at noon, starting with the single woman races and ending with 11-man races.
Coupeville Mayor Molly Hughes and Penn Cove Water Festival Association President Vicky Reyes thanked guests for attending and welcomed festival-goers to the day of fun ahead of them.
Language program specialist and Samish tribal member Kelly Hall sang a tribal song at the canoe opening ceremonies as she accepted a ceremonial loaf of bread that welcomed tribal members to the races.
The participating clubs were the Morning Star Canoe Club, SeaWolf Canoe Club, Lady Rose/Merisa May Canoe Club and the Ultimate Warrior Canoe Club from the Lummi Nation and Sto:lo Chief Canoe Club from Chiliwack.
“It was wonderful to have so many clubs show up, especially from Lummi, since the Nooksack Mother’s Day races were taking place in Bellingham right near Lummi, but they chose to come south to our races, which makes us feel very good and honored that they chose to support our race,” Canoe Race Coordinator Susan Berta said in an email.
“It was a beautiful day and is always such a great sight to see the canoes on Penn Cove.”
At the festival, rows of vendors sold handcrafted merchandise, from dream catchers to blankets. Salmon and fry bread was served up, and an ice cream truck helped cool down customers in the hot, sunny afternoon.
Children visited educational booths with “passports,” receiving a stamp for each of their stops.
Skagit Valley College professor Lou LaBombard of Seneca-Mohawk heritage told stories about creation myths and mischievous “trickster” animals, such as the raven. Other performers included Rona Yellowrobe’s flute-playing and Swil Kanim with his violin.
The day finished with the Tshimshian Haayuuk Dancers, who let the audience dance alongside them.
LaBombard said he talked with people from out of town who were impressed with the festival and plan on coming back next year.
All in all, the 27th annual Penn Cove Water Festival ran smoothly and successfully, according to Reyes, who said there were between 3,800 and 4,000 attendees.
“We were very pleased, between the beautiful weather and the number of volunteers who showed up to help out,” she said.