Stommish Water Festival

Welcoming the weekend warriors

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

From the back porch of our family’s cabin on Lummi Island, it’s possible to look across the waters of Hale Passage and view many postcard-worthy geographical landmarks—Mt. Baker, Portage Island, and Bellingham Bay among them.

And in the weeks and days leading up to the annual Lummi Stommish Water Festival, there’s always a good chance that, at some point during the course of the afternoon, those perched on the deck in order to view the lovely landscape will also be gifted with the vision of a variety of long canoes making their way quickly through the waves.

That’s when it’s time to get out the binoculars and focus your eyes on the scores of paddles hitting the water at precisely the same time, propelling the boats forward with the speed of warriors rushing to battle or athletes competing in exhilarating displays of athleticism to see who is the strongest—and the fastest.

As the war canoe races are an important part of the festival, it’s only natural the men, women and children who participate in them for three days every June want to put in as much practice time as possible. When the big day comes—when they join with their teammates or compete solo in their own canoes to continue the tradition of honoring those who came before them—they want to be ready.

“Week of the Warrior,” this year’s Stommish theme, hearkens back to the event’s beginning 67 years ago, when World War I veterans and Lummi Nation members Herbert John and Alphonso “Bunny” Washington got the idea to throw a celebration welcoming those who were returning home after surviving World War II. (Presumably, they were also honoring the memories of those who didn’t make it back to their earthly stomping grounds.)

After issuing an invitation to other regional tribes to get to Gooseberry Point for the festivities—which, much as they do today, also included barbecued salmon, singing, dancing, pageantry, music, games for the younger set and a carnival—the Lummi Stommish Water Festival was born.

By all accounts, the inaugural event was a popular one, with tribes coming from points both north and south to join in the celebration. Many of them even brought their own canoes so they could take part in the war canoe races.

These days, whether you’re admiring the view from afar or hanging out closer to the action, it’s clear that the idea Herbert John and Bunny Washington had to honor those who had sacrificed their time, energy and lives to defend their land was a successful one. Please remember them.

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