Mary Helen Cagey, Lummi, and her family offer an Honor Song at Coast Salish Day, July 9 in Bellingham, Washington. She said the song came to her family a couple of years back. “When the song came, it showed me all the struggles we have gone through. But without those battles, we wouldn't have victories in the end."

Native, non-Native communities celebrate Coast Salish Day

Richard Walker

Boulevard Park in Bellingham, Washington was again Si’ Selechem, its historic name. Coast Salish canoes once again landed on her shores. Languages familiar to the ancestors were spoken, and songs familiar to the ancestors were sung. Smoked salmon scented the air.

Coast Salish and non-Native communities worked together to present the fourth annual Coast Salish Day on July 9, a celebration of the traditional culture of this place, which is within the Lummi Nation’s historic territory.

Canoes from Lummi, Nooksack, Samish, Swinomish and Quinault were welcomed. Local, state and federal officials offered welcoming remarks. There were artists, learning booths, and traditional foods. Canoe rides were offered as a fundraiser for the Canoe Journey, an annual gathering of Northwest indigenous nations.

Jonah Ballew, 13, of the Lummi Nation told in story and song about how the Coast Salish people survived the Great Flood. Marilyn Bard, Quinault, and Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen shared memories of the Paddle to Seattle in 1989, which spawned the modern Canoe Journey. Lummi violinist Swil Kanim and Yaqui flutist Peter Ali performed. The Unangax Inuit Dancers shared some of their traditional dances.

Pete Kremen, chief executive of Whatcom County, called the day “a celebration of canoes that have landed here for centuries and will land here for centuries to come.” Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike said he hoped the intercultural collaboration that went into presenting the day was a sign “we are bringing back the relationship that we haven’t always honored properly.”

James “Smitty” Hillaire, Lummi Nation cultural director, said, “We are the nation that has always been willing to share what we have. We are so proud to have this happen in our traditional land.”

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