Water festival honors native heritage and more

— Created May 11, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

It may look a little different this year, but the Penn Cove Water Festival returns Saturday with a day of Native American music, dancing and storytelling starting at 11 a.m. in the Coupeville town park.

There are no canoe races this year, nor will there be arts and crafts vendors or educational booths, but Penn Cove Water Festival board members say they have tried to keep the heart of the festival intact as best they could, given COVID restrictions in place at the beginning of the year.

“We originally wanted to go back to a full festival,” said board president Nina Marie Goddeau. “Normally we have to have our permit submitted in January, but we couldn’t put our permits in because we weren’t sure we could even have a festival at that point.”

Knowing how important an in-person event would be, even if it was smaller, plans were put in place to scale the festival back, but still retain the core of what makes the festival special.

“We did want to honor the fact [the festival] is about the canoe races and water, so we are doing the opening ceremony, water ceremony, honoring the water,” Goddeau said. “We didn’t want it to just be commercialized, so we are having some music and songs to celebrate the culture and we wanted to have stories to remind us of the importance of connecting with nature and the water, to show appreciation. We will also have the traditional dancers and the ending ceremony, just like always, but it will be up in the park.”

Goddeau said planning for the event this year has been challenging.

“COVID has changed everything,” she said. “We have had to rethink things. We’re excited about having a live event. Everybody has been so trapped in their houses and the whole community needs that contact. We just have to think about different ways to get together. And the community needs to know we’re doing something.”

Music and storytelling will play a large role in this year’s water festival. The Shifty Sailors will take the stage at 11:15 a.m., following the opening ceremony.

“I know the Shifty Sailors aren’t Native American, but we all agreed they will be honoring the water, which is all part of the festival,” Goddeau said.

There will be Native American music from artists like Peter Ali and J.P. Falcon Grady. Rona Yellow Robe and Bruce Witham will share music and storytelling. Longtime PCWF participant and board advisor Lou LaBombard will bring his storytelling to the stage at 2 p.m. LaBombard will also host storytelling around the bonfire Friday evening at 7 p.m. at Pacific Rim Institute, 180 Parker Road, in Coupeville. This event is free and open to the public, as is the rest of the festival.

One of the highlights of the water festival is always an appearance by the Tsimshain Haayuuk Dancers. Those who enjoy that part of the annual water festival will not be disappointed. The dancers will take the stage at 4 p.m., performing traditional dances to the beat of wooden box drums unique to the Tsimshain tribe.

“I feel we tried to touch on the things that are important to the festival,” Goddeau said. “Yes, we will miss the racers, yes, we will miss the vendors, but we wanted to get the essence of the festival. It’s about the people, gathering and honoring the water.”

While there will not be any educational booths this year, there will be ongoing children’s activities throughout the day, with several craft projects for kids to make. Goddeau said the hope for future festivals is to have educational booths that better represent the area’s tribes.

“There are a lot of issues we would like to be better represented,” she said. “But we also need to talk about ways to get newer generations involved. We don’t want this to just die out.”

According to Goddeau, volunteers are still needed for Saturday’s event and are welcome to contact her by phone at 360-969-3703, or by email at penncovewaterfestival@gmail.com.

“I want to thank all the volunteers for all the hard work,” she said. “The board members’ dedication and hard work is unbelievable. They are truly amazing individuals.”

A Native American herself, descended from the Blackfoot tribe, Goddeau said she has a special place in her heart for this festival and all that it means.

“I truly enjoy the whole event, but my favorite part is the opening ceremonies, the drums,” she said. “I have the Native American culture in me and when it starts, it just goes straight to the heart. I came out here in hopes of connecting with people who could tell me more and to learn more. The stories, opening ceremony, music, the wooden flute, it speaks right to the heart.

“There’s a need to remember these things, a need to carry this on,” Goddeau continued. “I want people to get involved, keep bringing this forward year after year. I want to bring the canoes back next year. I want people to know there’s stories and history to bring on into the future to keep them going.”

Find the festival schedule and learn more about the Penn Cove Water Festival and its history at penncovewaterfestival.com.