Record crowds flock to Stillaguamish Tribe’s annual Pow Wow

ARLINGTON — Adding a third day to its events calendar delivered a record attendance for the Stillaguamish Festival of the River in its 22nd year at the River Meadows County Park.

Stillaguamish Tribal Chair Shawn Yanity estimated that the Aug. 12-14 event drew 18,000 visitors over the weekend, thanks in part to an expanded music lineup that started one day early on Friday, Aug. 12.

“We were worried about that Friday night, since that was a first-time thing for us, but it went well,” Yanity said. “The bands said they couldn’t believe how beautiful Arlington is. They told me they really enjoyed the small hometown feel of the community.”

Yanity also credited the annual Pow Wow, which takes place during the Saturday and Sunday of each year’s Festival, with packing in crowds from across North America. Lila Pierce and Viola Spencer, the co-coordinators of the Pow Wow, reported that 150 dancers and 13 drum groups turned out to sing and dance in a likewise larger performance area.

“We moved the floor out further to open it up and make it bigger,” said Pierce, who recalls the first Festival Pow Wow relying on barely more than half a dozen participants, complete with a cassette player for musical backing. “When I peeked around my tent and saw all the people who were here, I said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it,’” she laughed.

While Yanity, Pierce and Spencer were all pleased to keep the crowds entertained, they also aimed to educate visitors about the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians and Native American culture as a whole.

“It’s neat to meet people from all over and share what we do,” Yanity said. “We have vast riches of natural resources, but we need to partner with state, county and city agencies to keep them from being depleted. We’re also grateful that members of so many nations honor us by coming to drum and dance in our homeland.”

“It keeps those traditions alive,” Spencer said.

Docavie Vendiola takes his P ow Wow dancing seriously for that reason. The 16-year-old Nevada native’s heritage is a mix of Shoshone, Hopi, Swinomish and Lummi, and although he’s been dancing at pow wows since he could walk, this year’s Stillaguamish Festival of the River Pow Wow marked his second Pow Wow dance in the state of Washington.

“I’ve been coming to this festival for three years, but this is my first time dancing at its pow wow,” Vendiola said. “I just feel good about dancing. I pray for people while I’m doing it. There’s a lot of power in that. You have to keep your mind and body clean while you’re doing it. You can’t disrespect it, because you’re dancing for other people more than for yourself.”

Leon Cordier of the Yakama Nation agreed with Vendiola that Pow Wows offer onlookers an opportunity to unlearn Hollywood stereotypes about Native American culture. Cordier, an adult who’s been coming to the Stillaguamish Festival of the River Pow Wow for 10 years, pulled double-duty as a dancer and a member of the Spearfish drum group. When asked what advice he had for those interested in taking part in Pow Wows, he laughed, “Make sure you drink lots of water.”

The Stillaguamish Festival of the River Pow Wow is one of the few Pow Wows to include live eagles, thanks to the Sarvey Wildlife Center of Arlington, which had its usual lineup of injured and orphaned birds of prey on display. Robert Lee, a volunteer educator with Sarvey, explained that the center is stepping up its efforts to remind the public that wild animals are not pets.

“We’re also constructing new enclosures for our educational animals,” Lee said. “Our baby season is waning right now, but we could still use chicken feed, paper towels and garbage bags.”

City of Arlington Natural Resources Director Bill Blake was heartened by the number of discussions at the Festival about sustainability.

“We want to protect our natural resources as we continue to grow, but we also want our existing agriculture and forestry to continue to flourish,” Blake said. “We need to make sure we’re doing the right things today to adapt for tomorrow.”


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