Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum and Indian Art Northwest, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland, OR USA (August 2002)

Anyone familiar with the concept of the "concert for a local cause" may be reluctant to attend such an event. Frequently such affairs involve a few passionate souls looking for a fundraising idea (let's put on a show!), a few local has-been or wanna-be bands, and a few hot dogs served with watered-down orange punch, all centered on some half-baked cause (Paint the Phillips Park Gazebo! Help Build Rex the Wonder Cat a Memorial!)

Everyone who neglected to attend Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum because they assumed it was that sort of an event missed out, and missed out big.

Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum (why-KAN-ush-pum) means "Salmon People." This two-day event is a fundraiser, an educational experience, a cultural celebration, a party, and an all-around heck of a good time. Coupled this year with Indian Art Northwest, a juried fine art market featuring native artists, the Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum festival serves each function equally well.

The opening ceremony was wonderful, and fulfilled not only the promise of entertainment but of education as well. Native dancers in full regalia performed accompanied by the Quartz Creek Drummers. Representatives of the Nez Perce Nation mounted on beautiful Appaloosas and elders from the Yakama Warriors Association presented the colors, and an elder prayed and sang the opening invocation. Emcee Chuck Greywolf opened the festival, and local radio personality Spider Moccasin took over to introduce the first musical guest, Obo Addy.

If you're not familiar with Obo Addy, he is a master drummer from Ghana, as well as a music professor at several colleges, and his music is guaranteed to get you up and moving. Even as I walked around the festival booths I kept finding myself dancing in place to Addy's incredible rhythms. Along with his band Kukrudu he kept the park jumping. Of course the rest of the weekend entertainers were nearly as amazing and included the very hip Boka Marimba, blues favorite Curtis Salgado, funky native diva Arigon Starr and the utterly sublime Native Roots. (Native American Reggae! Can you dig it? I definitely did!) In short, the music at Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum was a wonderful mix of styles, genres, and cultures and I wish I could have stayed to enjoy each and every artist.

Of course, there was also food...and at a festival devoted to salmon, just what do you think I had for lunch? Oh, yes. Indian-caught salmon grilled in lemon butter. With cornbread. And huckleberry cheesecake. Mmmmmmm. Oh, and of course, there was a booth selling frybread. Frybread, drizzled with honey or spread with fresh berry jam, is so good that I saw many customers purchase their bread, add their condiments, and then return to the end of the line to purchase another piece, eating the first piece while standing in line for the next.

I had a wonderful time touring the educational booths, learning more about the many native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Of course, Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum is primarily about the salmon which are so important to our Northwest way of life, and about how the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission plans to preserve and restore that way of life. So I learned quite a bit of history and biology too. But the presenters at this event entertained as well as enlightened, and that makes all the difference between becoming informed and being preached at. (I found myself thinking of the importance of the salmon in so many cultures, for not only is the salmon important to indigenous North American people, but it is one of the foundation creatures of the Celtic and even Norse myths and cultures as well. How appropriate that the motto of the festival was "We are all Salmon People.")

Storytelling, flintknapping, net tying, and bowmaking demonstrations in the Kah-nee-ta Traditions Tipi, petting sweet and gentle horses in the Nez Perce Appaloosa Stable, meeting and learning from delightful representatives of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama, and Warm Springs Nations, groovy music and delicious food...what's not to like?

I also had a fantastic time next door at Indian Art Northwest. So much beautiful artwork, so little time! Well, it wasn't so much that I was short on time, just on cash. I could have easily spent a month's salary on any combination of jewelry, sculpture, weaving, paintings, and carvings. What incredible work!

With around seventy artists it was nearly impossible to choose favorites, but some of the work really spoke to me. Astonishing lithographs by April White combine images of nature with Haida tribal totem pole figures. Ojibway/Ottawa artist Gordon M. Coons displayed some lovely linoleum block prints in handmade frames, including a piece called simply 'Crow' which immediately brought up an image of Charles de Lint's Someplace to be Flying. My husband was mesmerized by several pieces by Hopi Richard L. Dawavendewa. And I was absolutely stunned by Nino (Knee Know) Corpuz, a painter who uses just a few brush strokes in vibrant reds, blues, and purples and yet manages to capture spirits on canvas. One painting, called 'Wolf Spirit', was so evocative of the spirit world that I was literally captivated and returned twice just to gawk at the beautiful piece. I was entranced and amazed by the many gifted and gracious artisans that I met while wandering the grounds of IAN.

Last year, Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum was called Jammin' for Salmon, and it's possible that the name change confused those who enjoyed last year's festivities, causing some to miss out this year. Let me state it for the record, it's Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum! Don't miss it next year! I won't. In fact, I'll be first in line. We are all Salmon People!

[Maria Nutick]

For more wonderful artist web pages, see:


For more information on indigenous people of the Northwest, click to read about:

Nez Perce
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs
Yakama Nation