Penn Cover Water Festival on Saturday

Get ready to cheer on canoe racers, watch dance performances, listen to storytelling and eat some authentic Native American cuisine for this year’s upcoming Penn Cove Water Festival, an annual celebration of Native American heritage.

The free family festival is 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 12 along Coupeville’s historic waterfront district.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the Pacific Northwest native traditions,” said Vicky Reyes, the president of the Penn Cover Water Festival Association. “We have storytellers who give the history of Native Americans. There’s music, dancing, storytelling and then the Tsimshian Haayuuk Dancers invite the audience to participate and that’s always very popular.”

This year’s performers and speakers include violinist and storyteller Swil Kanim, flute-player Peter Ali, college professor Louis LaBombard, Samish Cultural Development Coordinator Rosie James, musician J.P. Falcon Grady and flutist Rona Yellow Robe.

Vendors and artists will sell merchandise for purchase. All items are made by Native Americans and not mass-produced according to Nina Goddeau, who is in charge of the Arts and Crafts vendors. Vendors will sell jewelry, wood carvings, dream catchers, bead work, wind chimes, 3D wood maps, hand-woven blankets and more. Food vendors will serve Native American cuisine.

The main event, the canoe races, begin at the boat launch, run along Front Street and end at the wharf. At the boat launch opening ceremony, racers are presented with a ceremonial loaves of bread baked by community volunteers. Baking bread for the festival’s tribal participants comes from tribal potlatch traditions, Reyes said.

This year, there will be between an estimated 75 and 100 pullers, which is the term for the canoe rowers. Canoe Race Coordinator Susan Berta said so far, the Lummi Canoe Club, Marisa Mae Canoe Club, Makah Ocean Thunder Canoe Club, Skowkale Ultimate Warrior Canoe Club and the Burrard Canoe Club have registered to compete. In the past, racers from the Nooksak, Samish and Swinomish have also competed.

Each year, an estimated three or four thousand people show up to the festival, which is now in its 27th year, Reyes said. It takes roughly 150 volunteers to manage the annual festival.

The 2018 festival is dedicated in memory of graphic artist Jackie Feusier, who digitized this year’s festival logo, the white raven. Also being honored are Ginny Vracin and Linda Spirit Dove Imburgia, who each served on the Penn Cover Water Festival Association.

The first Coupeville festival with canoe races was in 1930 in order to draw in tourists, according to the festival’s website. From there, the races bloomed from three canoes to today’s showing of up to 22 tribes. At one time, Puget Sound once had between 1,000 to 2,000 canoes regularly on the water. The racing tradition was halted when World War II broke out, then modernized in 1992 into the first Penn Cove Water festival.

A map can be found on page A7 of today’s edition of the Whidbey News-Times.