Lummi connect past and future with canoe races 6-24-07

LUMMI RESERVATION, Wash. (AP) - Tribes from all over the Pacific Northwest and Canada gathered at the Lummi Indian Reservation this weekend for a cross-cultural celebration - from canoe races and traditional dances to carnival rides and a cutest baby contest.

The 61st annual Lummi Stommish Water Festival began as a way to honor veterans returning from World War II. Over the years it has developed into a major community gathering that attracts tribes from around the region.

Edward Jones was 7 during the first Stommish which means “warrior” in Lummi - when there was nothing on the south end of the Lummi Peninsula except for the ferry dock and a store, he said.

Jones, who competed as a youth and trained a canoe team in the late 1960s, said the races are important to Lummi culture and help keep kids out of trouble.

“It was the only good thing to do,” Jones said. “There was hardly any money or jobs or anything. It helps keep (kids) off of whatever bad things are going on.”

Jones said training for the Stommish and other canoe races is a full time job.

“It<s like any other sport - you've gotta be committed,” he said. “I had kids that wanted to play baseball. I told them, 'You either pull canoe or you play baseball. We're here to win races.”'

Jones remembers his teams often being beaten by the Geronimo Canoe Club organized by Wayne Morris of the Tsartlip First Nation on Vancouver Island.

Morris said the races have a cultural significance aside from the competitive aspect.

“A lot of people forget that the history of our people is of canoes,” Morris said. “It was a means of survival.”

Barb Cameron, an Australian traveling through the Pacific Northwest, was impressed by the strength and ability of the canoeists.

“It's phenomenal,” she said. “They can turn on a dime with one paddle. It's beautiful to watch.”