Lummi Nation’s Stommish Celebrates Veterans and Traditions

Americans think of Veteran’s Day as occurring on November 11 but tribal members of Lummi Nation honored the service, bravery and commitment of their veterans this past weekend during the tribe’s 72nd annual Stommish celebration.  It’s a three-day event that takes place on Lummi Nation’s Stommish Grounds located just a 30-minute drive north of Bellingham.  The waterfront festival is open to everyone and draws people from throughout the region.

Stommish means ‘warrior’ in the Halkomelem language, the language of the Lummi and Cowichan tribal people. It began in 1946 when tribal members Edith and Victor Jones planned a community celebration to honor and welcome home their two sons, Bill and Stanley Solomon, from World War II. Of the 720 Lummi members in 1946, 104 served in the armed forces and 101 of them returned safely home to return to their Lummi way of life.  Today, the event has become an annual festival that not only recognizes those veterans, but also one that traditional dancing, games, food and canoe races.   Stommish starts, however, with an opening ceremony during which the veterans who are introduced to the assembled crowd.

Afterwards, celebrants line the beach along the stretch of Hale’s Passage to watch as teams of canoers compete.  The sleek, cedar canoes are paddled by teams of twos and sixes, with some racers as young a 10-years-old, down one length of the course and back again while those onshore cheer them on.  The boats are beautiful on the blue water and bright summer sun.  The paddlers are strong and at the race’s end dripping with sweat from the effort.

Teams compete in the cedar canoe race in the waters where tribal ancestors have paddled for generations.

In another section of the grounds people participate and watch the traditional Sal Hal Bone Game. Sal Hal is an old Native American Pacific Coast guessing and gambling game.  It involves teams of players who face each and must correctly guess which hand holds the unmarked bone.  Correct guesses or losses are tallied with a set of sticks.  The team or person with the most sticks at the end of the game wins and collects the money that has been wagered.  The game is accompanied by traditional song and instruments performed by the team hiding the bones in their hands. It all makes for good-spirited fun and, for the winning teams, a pocketful of cash.

A set of sticks is used to keep track of the wins and losses of the team guessing during the traditional Sla Hal Bone Game.
A tribal dancer performs.

No celebration is complete without dancing. Lummi tribal members wearing traditional costumes performed a number of dances for those who gathered around an artificial grass carpet.  Dancers of all ages entertained while those of us on the sidelines watched or,  during one number, joined in as participants.

Throughout the day, people feast on a variety of food sold by the different vendors set up on the Stommish Grounds. The most popular of all, however, was the delicious $10 salmon filet plate served with side dishes and the large, fresh cooked crab so tasty, juicy and caught right from the bay beyond the festival grounds.  People, like me, enjoyed the seafood while viewing the canoe races taking place.

Fresh cooked crab caught right from the waters beyond the Stommish Grounds was a treat for hungry attendees.

Under the canopies of booths set up around the grounds, people demonstrated and sold Native American arts, handicrafts and souvenirs. Handcrafted woven reed hats, made in the traditional way and skirted style, was one of the many items for sale. Bold, geometric Native designs decorated the t-shirts  and hooded sweatshirts that could also be purchased.  Cruising through the various tents provided an opportunity for a little holiday or birthday gift shopping.  I did both!

The day’s activities also included an old-fashioned Princess and Warrior crowning, a cute baby contest, oldest Veteran recognition and a small carnival with rides for kids.  It’s a festival full of family oriented fun that, judging by those attending this past weekend, was enjoyed by everyone.

Stommish starts at noon and lasts well late into the long summer day.  Campers, both in tents and recreational vehicles, are packed tightly into the designated overnight area on the grounds. Parking can be challenging so car-pooling is a good idea.  The event was a great way to spend a summer weekend day with the friends and families of this Native Nation, to become familiar with this proud tribe’s traditions and to join tribal members in saluting and thanking those who served in the United States military and returned. Hy’ shqe! (Thank you!)

A child checks out the curious but probably significant arrangement of found items placed on the floor of the beach shelter.

You can view more of my Stommish day images in my blog portfolio.



Climate Marchers: Listen with Your Heart

I had planned to write something else for my blog post today, but decided after participating in today’s Climate March that I needed to write about this instead.  I, and about 750 other Bellinghamsters, gathered in chilly 30 degree weather this morning in Maritime Heritage Park to show our support, along with marchers in 2,000 other cities throughout the country, for the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change which begins tomorrow, November 30.

Climate Marchers gathered in Bellingham's Maritime Heritage Park and paused for a moment of silence for victims of terror in Paris before setting out.
Climate Marchers gathered in Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park and paused for a moment of silence for victims of terror in Paris before setting out.

After a moment of silence for all the victims of recent terrorist actions in Paris and elsewhere, the group was rallied with signs bearing environmental slogans and set out on a short march through downtown Bellingham. The mood was not exactly festive but determined as people made their way en masse to a downtown building that currently serves as the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary space.

Participants in the Climate March carried signs with environmental slogans as they walked through downtown.
Participants in the Climate March carried signs with environmental slogans as they walked through downtown.

People poured into the building to the lively beat of drummers positioned at the front doors. Shortly afterwards, Lummi Nation elder Darrell Hillaire introduced the guest speakers who took to the stage and spoke about the importance of taking care of our environment as one day we will all meet our creator and have to account for our actions.  They instructed us to ‘listen with our hearts, instead of our ears,’ when it comes to climate matters because if we do, it will stay with us.

First Nations guest speakers urged the climate marchers to 'listen with their hearts' when it comes to climate justice issues.
First Nations guest speakers urged the climate marchers to ‘listen with their hearts’ when it comes to climate justice issues.

The Lummi Nation will send an Indigenous Delegation to Paris later this week to participate in the conference and to present the video, “The Earth is Alive” which has been made especially for the big event. The Lummi Nation has taken center stage in the environmental arena locally as they work together with other environmental groups such as ReSources, Climate Solutions,  350 Seattle and the Sierra Club to block the construction of a shipping terminal that would threaten and likely destroy their fishing waters.

The sign posted at Sunday's Climate March said it all.
The sign posted at Sunday’s Climate March said it all.

Treaties made back with President Ulysses S. Grant gave the Lummi Nation protection of its natural resources, salmon being among them. They argue that building the proposed shipping terminal, intended to ship coal from here to China, would jeopardize and break that that treaty.

Just two weeks ago, a Lummi Nation delegation appeared at the White House Tribal First Nations Conference to express their concerns about these violations and to rally other First Nations to support their efforts.

No decision has yet been made regarding the terminal but it has bonded, and in some cases, divided the entire county and the state.  At stake is the environmental well-being of the entire corridor that runs the length of the Salish Sea as increased train traffic, up to 25 trains per day, would run to and from the terminal carrying loads of coal destined for export.

Wendy, a member of the Squamish Nation from British Columbia, was among those present at the Bellingjham Climate March and premiere of "The Earth is Alive,' to be shown in Paris during the Climate Conference.
Wendy,in silhouette here, is a member of the Squamish Nation from British Columbia and was among those present at the Bellingham Climate March and premiere of “The Earth is Alive,’ to be shown in Paris during the Climate Conference.

Today’s march, while part of the larger worldwide effort to show solidarity for climate justice, was much more personal to those in Bellingham.

More of my photos from Bellingham’s Climate March can be seen on my Portfolio page.