The Penn Cove Water Festival is now in its 28th year. (File photo)

The Penn Cove Water Festival is now in its 28th year. (File photo)

Penn Cove Water Festival next weekend

Coupeville celebration of culture, community and canoes is 28 years strong

A celebration of culture, community and canoes is once again coming to Coupeville. Preparations are underway for the 28th annual Penn Cove Water Festival on Saturday, May 4 in Coupeville.

The popular festival celebrates Native American culture with canoe races, Native American-style crafts, art vendors, storytelling, music, dancing and more.

The grand event — the canoe races — have racers, or pullers, from many tribes each year. Currently, there are about 350 canoe pullers participating, according to canoe race coordinator Susan Berta of the Orca Network.

As of Thursday, six tribes are registered to race: the Lummi, Nooksack, Swinomish, Chilliwack, Makah and Skowkale First Nations, with 11 total clubs pre-registered, Berta said, and she expects more to join as the date approaches.

Berta has been involved with the canoe races since 1992 and said she’s enjoys seeing the tradition continue. She joked it makes her feel old to see the former “Jr. Bucks” race participants now grown into adult canoe club captains with children of their own.

“The Penn Cove Water Festival is such a unique event and one of few opportunities for people to learn about Native culture and our natural resources, while enjoying music, dancing, storytelling and watching canoe races,” she said in an email.

“It is wonderful to watch the canoe-racing tradition being passed along through the younger generations.”

The races can be viewed at two places, the Coupeville wharf or the Capt. Coupe Park Boat Launch farther south where the main canoe action takes place, she said.

Canoe pullers of all ages train for racing long before the season begins, Berta said, and oftentimes families travel from race to race around the Pacific Northwest to participate.

Last year, the event fell on Mother’s Day weekend and was in conflict with other races farther north.

“This year were are really excited there aren’t any conflicting races and we expect a pretty good turnout,” Penn Cove Water Festival Association President Vicky Reyes said.

Reyes says the association is seeking festival volunteers as well as putting out a call for people interested in becoming leaders for future festivals, as she and other longtime organizers will be looking to retire their duties and bring in new leadership.

On Friday, May 3, storyteller and anthropologist Lou LaBombard will tell stories around a bonfire at 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Rim Institute.

Saturday, May 4, there are two locations to experience the Penn Cove Water Festival: at Alexander and Front Street or at the boat launch on 9th Street.

At the stage at Alexander and Front Street, the festivities kick off with the opening ceremony at 11 a.m.

Performers, storytellers and musicians will rotate on the main stage from 11:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The order will be: flutist Peter Ali at 11:15, musician JP Falcon Grady at 12:15, storyteller and musician Rona Yellowrobe at 1:15, violinist Swil Kanim at 2:15, storyteller Lou LaBombard at 3:15, and concluding with the Tshimshian Haayuuk Dancers, who will begin dancing at 4 p.m.

Updates on the canoe races will be announced throughout the day.

More information about the schedule can be found at the Penn Cove Water Festival’s site, www.penncovewaterfestival.com

At the boat launch, the festival welcome will be at noon and the canoe races will take place during the rest of the afternoon, from 12:30-5 p.m.

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