Festival of the River highlights tribal culture, natural resources, watershed | SLIDESHOW

ARLINGTON — An estimated 1,200 attendees turned out for the Friday, Aug. 10, concert of the 23rd annual Stillaguamish Festival of the River, and Stillaguamish Tribal Chair Shawn Yanity believes the Festival’s three days at the River Meadows County Park this year more than kept pace with last year’s Festival.

The 2011 Stillaguamish Festival of the River marked the debut of a third day, Friday, to serve exclusively as a concert day, and the three-day event drew approximately 18,000 visitors over the weekend last year.

“We brought back Buffy Sainte-Marie, to help represent the indigenous people,” Yanity said of the musical acts that performed on the main entertainment stage from Aug. 10-12. “We really mixed up the list to offer some diversity.”

The country and classic rock musicians who put in appearances this year included Dave Mason, Dr. John, LeRoy Bell & His Only Friends, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Los Lonely Boys, Jana Kramer, Brett Eldredge and Lee Brice.

At the same time, the Festival’s Pow Wow on Saturday, Aug. 11, and Sunday, Aug. 12, afforded entertainment and Native American cultural representation of its own, this year for the first time under an overarching tarp designed to help shade the roughly 100 dancers from about 30 different tribes from the hot summer sun.

“I remember back when we had hay bales for chairs here, and were given permission to take off our moccasins that year because of the rain,” said Ralph Akers of the Omaha Tribe, who came from Bellingham with his wife Sharon. “I like that you have space to dance both clockwise and counterclockwise here. This is a communal event, rather than one that’s about individual affiliations, so everybody makes allowances for each other’s customs.”

Yakama member Raymond Rehaume of Wapato, Wash., attended the Stillaguamish Festival of the River Pow Wow for the first time this year, with plenty of nieces and nephews in tow, and appreciated that it gave younger dancers a chance to “build their confidence in front of crowds, with no pressure.”

While the Akers like that the Festival’s Pow Wow is so close, Jeff Medicine Bear of the Pabaska Dakota has brought his family to the Pow Wow from Winlock, Wash., for at least the past half-dozen years.

“It’s a 144-mile trip, and we brought about 20 family members this year,” Medicine Bear said. “If you want to know what makes it worth it, just look around,” he added, gesturing to the nearby forest and river. “It’s a traditional family gathering.”

Medicine Bear, like local Cherokee dancer Will Miller, also volunteers at the Sarvey Wildlife Center, which not only had its usual lineup of injured and orphaned birds of prey on display, but also ensures that the Stillaguamish Festival of the River Pow Wow is one of the few Pow Wows to include live eagles.

While this year’s Festival boasted familiar favorites such as the Stilly Fun Run and a tribal salmon bake over alder coals, as well as a number of children’s activities, Yanity noted that the Festival’s broader purpose can be seen in features such as its watershed education exhibits, fly casting and tying instruction, and interpretive river and forest walks.

“We want people to know about the Stillaguamish Tribe’s efforts on behalf of natural resources, salmon recovery and clean water, in conjunction with our local jurisdictions, which benefit the quality of life of everyone in the Stillaguamish watershed,” Yanity said. “We’ve been able to focus on key areas of the river and watershed, and we’re working with local farmers to try and take the tension out of the relationship between agriculture and fisheries.”


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