Opinion

Editorial: Coupeville festival on the right path

The Penn Cove Water Festival in Coupeville has been around for 19 years in its present incarnation, and each year it grows better as it focuses more on Native American life before and after the European settlers arrived.

Operated by the nonprofit Penn Cove Water Festival Association, it is now more than ever emphasizing Native American culture and traditions. The traditional canoe races are fun to watch and draw Native American paddlers from throughout the Northwest, but there’s much more than that at the modern Water Festival.

In recent years organizers have added Native American art, songs, dances and storytelling thanks to the renewed interest region-wide in keeping these skills and arts alive for the next generation. Native foods, exhibits, displays and children’s games should find an appreciative audience of Whidbey Islanders and visitors from the mainland.

It’s hard to believe looking at Coupeville today, but a couple of centuries ago Penn Cove was a favorite place for local Indians. There were longhouses for living, plentiful shellfish and wildlife, and the prairie filled with camas to be harvested as a food staple. By no means did farming begin with the arrival of white settlers.

The Native way of life was disrupted and nearly destroyed in the ensuing decades and centuries, but now it’s making a comeback through art, storytelling, native skills and renewed interest in trying to keep Native languages from disappearing.

The Penn Cove Water Festival organizers deserve credit for reaching out to Native Americans to become an ever-growing part of the festival. It’s a real education for the youth of Whidbey Island. Make sure you attend this Saturday, May 22, and don’t bring your iPods. The music you hear will be more unique and interesting than anything they offer on iTunes.

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